This article deals with the phenomenology of reading narrative fictions, in particular with the production of mental imagery in the process of reading. Because readers differ in their capacities to visualize, this article proposes a distinction between default visualization and vivid images, a difference experienced by readers regardless of whether they are prone to more or less visual imagining. It argues that the default mode of visualization is unlike actual perception. It is indistinct, transient, and lacking in saturation and memorability, since it relies on cultural schemata and prototypes for efficient processing of the text. These indeterminacies do not, however, disturb readers or cause dissonance. Rather, they are advantageous, as they allow the constant accommodation of new incoming facts. In contrast to what is assumed by traditional reader response theories, gaps left in default visualization do not for the most part need filling in. At certain stages in the reading process, however, narrative texts do trigger a kind of vivid imagery that is akin to actual perception. Based on recent neuroscientific experiments, this article suggests that these highlighted and especially vivid images occur when fictional acts of seeing force readers to shift from action-oriented visualization to object visualization. Some pertinent examples of these close-up, focalized descriptions of perception are discussed, which encourage substituting the automatic default mode with a more conscious and focused object visualization.
Renate Brosch; Experiencing Narratives: Default and Vivid Modes of Visualization. Poetics Today 1 June 2017; 38 (2): 255–272. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-3868527
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