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Nicholas Dames, “Wave-Theories and Affective Physiologies: The Cognitive Strain in Victorian Novel Theories” (2004)

Article that studies a “wave-theory of novelistic affect,” according to which novel-reading is an experience characterized by “continual oscillation between ‘relaxing’ subplots … and the more rigidly hermeneutic drives of suspense and revelation that create a particularly rapt, if necessarily short-lived, form of attentiveness”:

“The picture given us by this body of theory is of reading as an automatic performance; it is less a conscious construal of meaning, as in contemporary reader-response theory, than a submission to the rhythms of the text. Thus E. S. Dallas’s description of reading as similar to musical performance: “Many lines of action which when first attempted require to be carried on by distinct efforts of volition become through practice mechanical, involuntary movements of which we are wholly unaware. In the act of reading we find the mind similarly at work for us, with a mechanical ease that is independent of our care….” Reading is, in short, reflexive: it is an act with ties closer to the autonomic actions of the body and spinal column than to higher cortical activities, since to read well is no longer to pay attention to the act of reading. It is the task of the physiologized critic, therefore, to bring into consciousness what (during the act of reading itself) is less than conscious–to elucidate the rhythms of automatic cognition that different literary forms configure differently.” (from article)

Starter Links & References: Print article, Victorian Studies 46.2 (2004): 206-216 | Online version in Project Muse (requires institutional subscription)

  tl, 01.13.06

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