Literary reading has the capacity to implicate the self and deepen self-understanding, but little is known about how and when these effects occur. The present article examines two forms of self-implication in literary reading. In one form, which functions like simile, there is explicitly recognized similarity between personal memories and some aspect of the world of the text (A is like B). In another form, which functions like metaphor, the reader becomes identified with some aspect of the world of the text, usually the narrator or a character (A is B). These forms of self-implication can be differentiated within readers' open-ended comments about their reading experiences. The results of a phenomenological study indicate that such metaphors of personal identification are a pivotal feature of expressive enactment, a type of reading experience marked by (1) explicit descriptions of feelings in response to situations and events in the text, (2) blurred boundaries between oneself and the narrator of the text, and (3) active and iterative modification of an emergent affective theme. The self-modifying feelings characteristic of expressive enactment give it a fugal form, manifest as thematic developments that move toward saturation, richness, and depth. The results of an experimental study suggest that expressive enactment occurs frequently among individuals who remain depressed about a significant loss that occurred some time ago. Together with the phenomenological study, this research suggests that expressive enactment is a form of reading that penetrates and alters a reader's understanding of everyday life, especially following a personal crisis.
Research Article|June 01 2004
Forms of Self-Implication in Literary Reading
Poetics Today (2004) 25 (2): 171-203.