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Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction
by Keith Oatley
References to this work on external resources.
Wikipedia in English
Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0470974575, Paperback)
From the Author: Is Reading Fiction Worth Our Time? Author Keith Oatley
Literature departments have zealously defended fiction, but Keith Oatley’s book Such Stuff as Dreams comes at the question from the direction of psychology. This book explores the ways in which fiction is an important—even vital—part of understanding others and ourselves.
Ideas in this book include:
Fiction is the mind’s flight simulator
For more than two thousand years people have argued that fiction is good for you. But why? Raymond Mar, Keith Oatley and colleagues have shown that reading fiction increases empathy and improves people’s understanding of others. (Reading nonfiction increases knowledge of its subject matter, but doesn’t have this social effect.) The association between fiction and social skills isn't because socially empathetic people prefer to read novels. It's because fiction is about selves in the social world. Fiction is the mind's flight simulator. If you want to get better at flying a plane, you can spend time in a flight simulator. If you want to get better at understanding others, you can read fiction.
Fiction teaches us about our emotions
We wouldn't read a novel or go to a film unless we expected to be moved by it. Fiction offers us experiences of emotions, not the emotions of fictional characters, but our own. It can allow us to experience emotions not too strongly so that they overwhelm us, and not too faintly that they pass us by, but at a strength and in a context that lets us both experience them and understand them.
Metaphors and metonyms: Not just literary devices
Metaphors and metonyms are ways of thinking. When Hamlet says "Denmark's a prison," this metaphor is more effective than a list of complaints. When, later in the same scene, Hamlet says to his friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern "There is a kind of confession in your looks," he was using a metonym—part for whole—in which the looks of his friends were a part that suggested their whole guilty consciences. Metaphors and metonyms are extensions of mind.
Novels were raw material for human rights
Literature was important in creating the idea of human rights in the eighteenth century. One way in which this occurred was with novels—new at that time—in which people read about characters who were different from themselves. The 1740 novel Pamela, by Samuel Richardson, was about a servant girl whom her master tried to seduce. People read and discussed this novel eagerly, and it created an awareness in readers that emotions experienced by servants and slaves were much as they would themselves feel in the same circumstances.
Readers’ interpretations are as important as those of experts
Interpretations of plays and novels have long been taught in literature classes. But times are changing. A play or novel or poem doesn't have just one correct interpretation. The best art has an individual meaning for each individual reader. Interpretation is moving from the classroom into conversations and into reading groups—very good places for it.
(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:32 -0400)
Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction explores how fiction works in the brains and imagination of both readers and writers. Demonstrates how reading fiction can contribute to a greater understanding of, and the ability to change, ourselves. Informed by the latest psychological research which focuses on, for example, how identification with fictional characters occurs, and how literature can improve social abilities. Explores traditional aspects of fiction, including character, plot, setting, and theme, as well as a number of classic techniques, such as metaphor, metonymy, defamiliarization, and cues. Includes extensive end-notes, which ground the work in psychological studies. Features excerpts from fiction which are discussed throughout the text, including works by William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Kate Chopin, Anton Chekhov, James Baldwin, and others.
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