Responses to fiction

RMJon23 rmjon23 at aol.comnotrash
Sat Jun 16 19:21:14 EST 2001

Someone previously mentioned Eco, which I thought was a great idea - even
though obviously not properly neurosci lit. Another author who writes both
fiction and "non" and who has a Ph.D in Psychology is Robert Anton Wilson. He's
similar to Eco in some ways. He writes a lot about gnosticism/experience, the
brain, effects of advertising, propaganda, Method Acting, magick and ritual,
different forms of media and their effects on nervous systems and societies,
initiation experiences, human ethology, yoga, mathematics, epistemology, brain
machines, various drugs and their effects on society and individuals,
semantics, the role of heretics in history, brainwashing and hypnosis, etc.,
etc., etc.

If you read his fiction, you might get the odd feeling that much of it is
somehow "about" his own previous reading of fiction, and what it "does" or "has
done" to/for him. His writing is often tinged with satirical, ironic, and
surrealist tones, and much of this is conveyed through a liberal recursivity:
the allusion, citation, and play with previous texts.This is perhaps most
obvious when Wilson writes about Joyce's Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, the latter
perhaps the most "writerly" text there will ever be, in the sense that Roland
Barthes uses the term. (Although Wilson would emphasize the gestalten of the
reader creating the text she's engaged with...to some extent. He comes close to
Derrida in this respect, yet Wilson's writing is anything but opaque.) I know
we might say this about most authors, but with Wilson it seems to me we get a
special case.

As far as your topic, I'd say his writings about the phenomenology of reading
and how writers create certain effects might be of interest to you. He's rarely
discussed this directly though; he addresses these ideas by examples
shot-through all his books, even the "non-fic" ones, strange to say.

There's no doubt that Wilson and other authors feel a potent and continually 
transforming potential for the reader of fiction. He does not describe how this
happens in a hard neuroscientific prose style, though. Perhaps the closest he
gets to what you're looking for is in his guerrilla ontology manual Quantum
Psychology (1990 New Falcon Pub.) He has also often written eloquently about
the subjective impact of film. See, for example, "Films Open Doors For Me (And
So Does Probability Theory)" in his Cosmic Trigger Vol.2, pp.104-106. He argues
that great films allowed him to experience "virtual reality" decades before the
term was coined. He also compares the phenomenology of film with the subjective
experiences of psychedelic drugs.

In a 1980 interview he described the subjective feelings of his writing process
as "controlled hedonic schizophrenia."

 Isomorphic to this tangential response, see the book by philosopher Mark
Johnson and cog. scientist George Lakoff called Metaphors We Live By, if you
haven't already.

I find the subject of your query fascinating too, btw.

-rmjon23 of Los Angeles

This thread originated with the following:
>>I would like to identify publications bearing on what we know, or what
research is ongoing, on human response to fiction.

When I say "fiction," I don't mean just the experience of reading
fictional material. I'm also thinking of response to theater, TV,
film, video, storytelling, mime, dance, opera and so forth--all the
ways and means of storytelling in ordinary use.

What interests me is the fact that people can and do experience deep,
rich, sustained and authentic emotional response to fiction. In the
course of reading a story, watching a play, or viewing a film, people
often experience emotional responses comparable in intensity, though
different in nature, to those experienced in connection with real

I'm also interested in the fact that people who create
fictions--actors, writers, dancers, singers, filmmakers and so
on--also have these kinds of highly authentic emotional responses to
fictional materials. For example, in the course of rehearsal and
performance, actors can and often do enter and sustain very powerful
and authentic emotional states and states of interpersonal
relationship vastly different than their ordinary emotional states and
relationships and very much influenced by the purely fictional nature
of the story portrayed in the material being rehearsed or performed.

Recent items I've happened across, such as the article in the current
Scientific American on hypnosis, seem to show that recent research is
able to differentiate between neurological events occuring in response
to imagination, hallucination, and reality. There seem to be
fascinating phenomena going on relative to how the brain authenticates
experience, differential pathways by which experience--fictional or
real--reaches those areas of the brain which control emotional

If anyone can suggest psychology or neurology texts that would help me
learn more about this area, I'd very much appreciate it. I have a
pretty good background in psychology and neurology for a layman, but
I'm not a psychologist or neurologist. I am, in fact, a working
theater professional and teacher of acting.

I'll be checking back here on the newsgroup, and I'm also reachable at
rbethune at mediaone dot net.

Many thanks for your time.<<

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