Traditionally, immersion and defamiliarization have been seen as describing opposing phenomena. Immersion has been conceived of as transparently directing attention toward what Marie-Laure Ryan referred to as the “language-independent reality” presented by a fictional text, while Uri Margolin has conceived of defamiliarization as directing the reader’s attention to the artificial nature of the construction of the fictional world. In this article we set out to show that it is productive to distinguish between different types of readerly engagement, typified under the continuums of suspension of disbelief and direction of attention, and thereby also demonstrate that understanding the process of immersion as opposite to the process of defamiliarization oversimplifies matters. Combining insights from cognitive and unnatural narratology and discussing texts from Chaucer, Kafka, and Borges, we argue for cases that exhibit a more complex dynamic, with the reader’s direction of attention varying from the real to fictional world and from low to high suspension of disbelief. We claim that immersion may also take place in works where the reader is more focused on the surface level of the text and that immersion and defamiliarization can both serve to imitate and to direct the attention of the reader toward immersion in the real world and, by means of providing new perceptions, can also lead readers to reconsider the nature of what lies beyond the work: their experience of the real world.
Immersion and Defamiliarization: Experiencing Literature and World
Miranda Anderson is a research fellow at the University of Edinburgh. Her research focuses on cognitive approaches to literature and culture. She initiated the History of Distributed Cognition Project (www.hdc.ed.ac.uk) and the Palimpsest Project (www.litlong.org), which were both funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. She is the author of The Renaissance Extended Mind (2015) and a coeditor of all four volumes in the forthcoming History of Distributed Cognition series (2018-19).
Stefan Iversen is associate professor at Aarhus University. He has published on unnatural narratives, narrative rhetoric, fictionality, and literary and narrative theory in edited collections as well as in journals such as Style, EJES, Narrative, and Storyworlds. His most recent monograph (in Danish) is The Uncanny Narrative: Unnatural Narratology and the Early Works of Johannes V. Jensen (2017). Iversen leads the Summer Course in Narrative Studies (www.sins.au.dk), held annually since 2013.
Miranda Anderson, Stefan Iversen; Immersion and Defamiliarization: Experiencing Literature and World. Poetics Today 1 September 2018; 39 (3): 569–595. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-7032760
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