In our empirical research we (i.e., Miall and Kuiken) have focused primarily on the attempt to understand the role of formal features of literary texts in shaping the response of readers. Although interpretations of texts appear to differ widely across individuals (despite Stanley Fish's claim to a conformity enforced by the so-called "interpretive community"), readers appear to be systematically influenced by such formal aspects of texts as foregrounding (striking stylistic features) and such narrative features as shifts in time or space, or changes in focal perspective. We hypothesise that the formal structures we can identify in texts serve to evoke issues in readers that are distinctive to the concerns of the individual. In this paper I briefly outline some of the relationships we have identified between formal features and the constructive role played by readers' feelings and their self-concept issues. In particular I situate our research within the framework of evolutionary psychology, raising two key issues: first, whether there is anything distinctive about literary response that has made it adaptive; and second, in what long-standing psychological capacities should we look to find the roots of literary response.
David S. Miall
David S. Miall is Associate Professor English (B.A. Stirling, 1976; Ph.D. Wales, 1980) taught for thirteen years in England before moving to the University of Alberta in 1990. His primary interest is in Romantic literature, especially Gothic fiction and environmental and psychological aspects of the writings of Coleridge and Wordsworth. He is the designer and co-editor (with Duncan Wu) of Romanticism: The CD-ROM (Blackwell, 1997). He is interested in the practice and theory of computers in literary studies, and recently taught a graduate course on hypertext theory. He studies literary reading empirically and theoretically: this research has been supported by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada. His articles have been published in a range of journals, including Studies in Romanticism, European Romantic Review, The Wordsworth Circle, Poetics, Journal of Literary Semantics, English Quarterly, Research in the Teaching of English, and the British Journal of Psychology.
In psychology he draws on both neuropsychology and cognitive studies
to explore feeling and self-concept issues as these relate to literary
reading. He has published a number of papers on psychological topics, including
several reports of empirical studies.
Miall, D. S., and Kuiken, D. (1998). The Form of Reading: Empirical Studies of Literariness. Poetics 25: 327-341. Abstract.
Miall, D. S. (1997). The Body in Literature: Mark Johnson, Metaphor,
and Feeling. Journal of
Literary Semantics 26: 191-210. Abstract. External full text.
Miall, D. S. (1996). Empowering the reader: Literary response and classroom
learning. In Roger J. Kreuz and Mary Sue MacNealy, Eds., Empirical Approaches
to Literature and Aesthetics (pp.
463-478). Ablex, 1996.
Miall, D. S. (1995). Anticipation and feeling in literary response: A neuropsychological perspective. Poetics, 23, 275-298. External full text.
Miall, D. S. (1994). Beyond cognitivism: Studying readers. Stanford
Humanities Review, suppl.
Miall, D. S., and Kuiken, D. (1994). Foregrounding, defamiliarization, and affect: Response to literary stories. Poetics, 22, 389-407.
Miall, D. S., and Kuiken, D. (1994). Beyond text theory: Understanding literary response. Discourse Processes, 17, 337-352.
Miall, D. S. (1990). Readers' responses to narrative: Evaluating, relating,
anticipating. Poetics, 19,
Miall, D. S. (1989). Beyond the schema given: Affective comprehension
of literary narratives.
Cognition and Emotion, 3, 55-78.
Miall, D. S. (1988). Affect and narrative: A model of response to stories. Poetics, 17, 259-272.
Miall, D. S. (1986). Emotion and the self: The context of remembering.
British Journal of Psychology, 77, 389-397.