VIth Biannual IGEL Conference


August 26-29, 1998

The Reader Response Research Group,
University of Alberta (Miall, Kuiken, et al.),
presented the following six papers

Alamir A. Corrêa, David S. Miall, and Don Kuiken. Response to environments and to literary texts: The role of national identity.

There is a common critical understanding that setting plays a major role in regional fictional narratives, not only because of its visibility in the text, but also because of a noticeable intention to establish a connection between setting and action, or setting and characters' mood and behaviour. In regional fiction there is a tendency to build and portray regional and sometimes national identities by the use of such connections. However, whether readers give setting the attention this suggests should be examined empirically.

To explore the process of reading regional fiction we chose two short stories, a Canadian text (set in Alberta) and a Brazilian text (in English translation), and examined the responses of a group of Canadian readers (students at the University of Alberta). The study has these objectives: (a) to find out which constructs people commonly use when judging environments and if they are also used to judge passages from a text; (b) to examine how much attention readers pay to passages in which setting (as physical depiction) is present; and (c) to see whether readers with no personal knowledge of the environment portrayed in a narrative will focus on cultural rather than physical depictions in a text.

The two stories chosen were divided into short segments (usually a phrase in length), then analysed using a binary matrix that identified the occurrence of (a) physical depiction, (b) physical response, (c) cultural depiction and (d) cultural response (the latter two having the agent, character or narrator, also identified). During the first reading of a story, reading times per segment were recorded. Participants also completed two repertory grids, one about environments they personally find important, and another on their response to passages from the story that they found striking or evocative. Preliminary analyses suggest that readers' familiarity (or lack thereof) with the environment portrayed in a narrative influences participants' choice of passages as striking or evocative. Further explorations of the data will be reported at the conference.

Don Kuiken, David S. Miall, Michael Bears, and Laurie Smith. Defamiliarization in dreaming and reading: Eye movements and attentional disengagement.

The fictional world imaginatively constituted during literary reading is sometimes compared with the imaginal world created during dreaming (cf. Coleridge, States). Although these comparisons typically emphasize narrative structure, it may be more fruitful to consider parallels between the defamiliarization that occurs in response to stylistic variations within literary texts (Miall & Kuiken, 1995) and the unsettling transformations of familiar objects, characters, and events that are found in dreams (Kuiken, 1995).

At the core of both reading and dreaming may be the type of attentional adjustment that occurs when deviations from expected events emerge in experience. During dreaming, markers of this attentional adjustment - and of the related transformations of dream content - are the eye movements characteristic of REM sleep. Recent studies of a form of therapy found effective in the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder suggest that eye movements induced during wakefulness may similarly prompt dreamlike transformations of imaginative activity. We hypothesized that induced eye movements would also facilitate defamiliarization in response to sentences with metaphoric endings.

We assigned twenty-five participants (11 men, 14 women) to either an eye movement (EM) condition, in which participants completed 20 seconds of induced eye movements, or to a no eye movement (noEM) condition, in which participants completed 20 seconds with attentional fixation. First, these manipulations were repeated in alternation with three blocks of trials on Posner's precueing task (Posner & Cohen, 1984). This measure of covert orienting activity required that participants detect stimuli the locations of which were cued accurately on the majority of trials (valid trials) but cued inaccurately on the minority of trials (invalid trials). Second, the EM manipulations were completed prior to a sentence rating task, in which participants were asked to rate how striking they found sentences completed by either metaphoric or non-metaphoric endings.

On the Posner task, we found that the EM manipulation facilitated disengagement from these inappropriate expectations: with 1 sec delay between cue and target, participants in the eye movement condition responded faster to targets in unexpected locations than did participants in the noEM condition. These findings confirm that induced eye movements facilitate attentional reorientation toward unexpected stimuli. On the sentence rating task, participants in the noEM condition rated the metaphoric sentences as less striking as the task progressed, whereas participants in the EM condition persistently rated the metaphoric sentences as quite striking. These results suggest that induced eye movements facilitate attentional reorientation toward the novel meanings found in metaphoric expressions.

The present study provides evidence that dreaming and reading may involve a similar "defamiliarizing" attentional adjustment. Whereas this attentional adjustment may occur endogenously during dreaming, during reading it may occur in response to the distinctive stylistic features of literary texts.

David S. Miall and Don Kuiken. What is literariness? Empirical traces of reading.

It is now widely maintained that the concept of "literariness" has been critically examined and found deficient. Prominent literary theorists such as Eagleton and Fish have argued that there are no special characteristics that distinguish literary from other texts. Similar views have been offered by Van Dijk, Schmidt, and other empirical researchers, who argue that literary reading can be subsumed within a general theory of discourse processing. In general they claim that specific practices, embedded primarily in education and publishing, bring the literary into being and determine the conventions by which we recognize and read it. The theoretical positions that support these claims are, however, limited in one of two ways: either by dependence on a poststructuralist semiotic that fails to account for the capabilities of the literary reader, or by a discourse model that has yet to account for the constructive role of feeling. Thus, a review of empirical studies of actual readers reveals traces of literariness that appear irreducible to either of the current explanatory frameworks.

In this paper, we will refer to a group of empirical studies that highlight these traces. Collectively, these studies suggest a conception of literariness that becomes manifest at three different levels of analysis. First, literary texts, considered as linguistic artifacts, manifest stylistic features that differentiate them from nonliterary texts (Dolozel, 1969). These features may not be explicitly recognized by ordinary readers, but they can be reliably identified by discerning investigators. Second, ordinary readers implicitly recognize these stylistic features, as indicated by their consistent tendency to find them striking, evocative of feeling, and worthy of prolonged consideration (i.e., extended reading time; Miall & Kuiken, 1994). In fact, reanalysis of a study reported by Zwaan, Magliano, & Graesser (1995) indicates that these stylistic variations account for variance in reading time that is not accounted for by the situation model of discourse processing.

These first two levels of analysis, which might also include striking features due to genre or narrative, are necessary but insufficient to identify literariness. A third level of analysis depends upon reader's attempts to articulate the phenomena within the text that are found striking and evocative of feeling. To clarify the form of articulation that we consider literary and fully aesthetic, we will refer to readers' commentaries on passages they found striking or evocative in one of our studies (described more fully in a parallel proposal: Sikora, Kuiken, and Miall [below]). In a form of articulation that we refer to as "enactment," some readers progressively transformed an affective theme across striking or evocative passages, becoming implicated in the existential concerns embodied in those passages and experiencing a blurring of boundaries between themselves and the narrator.

We suggest that a conception of literariness can be appropriately grounded in this three-leveled analysis. Furthermore, we will argue that the processes of distinctively literary reading are not simply conventional but rather reflective of those aspects of our psychobiological inheritance that involve linguistic capabilities, feeling expression, and self-perception.

Shelley Sikora, Don Kuiken, and David S. Miall. Enactment versus interpretation: A phenomenological study of readers' responses to Coleridge's 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.'

"We know we are in the presence of a poet when he makes a poet of us" - S.T. Coleridge

Although aesthetic experience is said to entail depth of expression (cf. Dufrenne, 1973), the implications of this depth metaphor in accounts of aesthetic engagement with literary texts have not been empirically articulated. In pursuit of this objective, we used systematic phenomenological methods (cf. Kuiken & Miall, 1995) to identify different types of reading experience and their distinctive attributes. One type of reading experience identified in this way provided an opportunity to examine closely the sense in which certain readings of literary texts attain expressive depth.

After reading Coleridge's long poem, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" three times during one week, each of 40 readers chose five passages that they found striking or evocative and then commented on their experience of each one. This yielded 200 commentaries that we transcribed and subjected to a two-phased analysis. In the first phase, the commentaries were scored for the presence or absence of each item in an array of phenomenologically derived attributes. A cluster analytic algorithm was used to group commentaries according to the similarities in their profiles of attributes. Six distinct patterns were identified. The results of this analysis were then used in the second phase of the study to identify patterns of individual differences across readers. Among the distinct styles of reading experience identified in this way, one in particular was consistent with Coleridge's claim regarding the poet. Readers in this group evidenced a pattern in which (1) an emergent affective theme was progressively transformed across the selected passages; (2) turning points in the expression of an affective theme occurred following moments of kinesthetic engagement with imagery in the poem; and (3) readers appeared to become centrally implicated in existential concerns embodied in the text, a phenomenon that involved a blurring of boundaries between the reader and the perspective of the narrator within the poem.

In characterizing this mode of engagement with the poem, the language of enactment seems appropriate; it contrasts with the other modes of response that we identified, including allegorical interpretations of imagery, explication of the poem's narrative action, and elaboration of disengaging autobiographical associations. We situate these findings in a discussion of relevant aspects of nineteenth-century Romantic theories of imagination and, in particular, offer a rationale for reconsidering the heuristic value of Coleridge's commentary on reading and imagination.

Teresa M. Dobson and David S. Miall. Orienting the reader? A study of literary hypertexts.

Empirical studies of hypertext readers demonstrate significant reader disorientation within non-hierarchical, multiply-linked text environments (Foss 1989). Such disorientation is often attributed to the reader's inability to locate him or herself spatially within a hypertext, and is said to be alleviated with increased exposure to its network structure. Readers, it is postulated, learn the space of an electronic text in much the same way they learn the layout of a new locale: they orient themselves first to landmarks, then to significant routes, and finally to secondary routes (Leventhal et al 1993).

While this spatial metaphor might be appropriate for informational hypertexts, it fails to illuminate how readers orient themselves within literary hypertexts, many of which are purposely devoid of "landmarks" and "significant routes." Whereas expository texts are amenable to analysis according to the principles of discourse theory, with its emphasis on schemata or macrostructure, the polyvalence of literary texts suggests an analysis in terms of significant foregrounded features and their role in structuring readers' responses (Miall & Kuiken 1994). Such features appear to capture and direct readers' attention at several levels, including genre, style, and narrative.

Thus, in this paper we will ask whether readers of hypertext fictions (such as those by Moulthrop and Joyce) are able to orientate themselves according to foregrounded features. This study has important implications for the development of electronic media for literary reading (cf. Ryan 1994). We will report a pilot study with readers of a literary hypertext in which readers provided us with evidence of their reading processes, enabling us to analyse readers' pathways through a hypertext in relation to reading times per node and talk-aloud comments. This study is helping us determine which textual features and design features prompt readers' choice of links and how readers reach a sense of closure.

David S. Miall. Hypertextual reading. What's the difference?

An increasing chorus of voices in the last few years has been telling us that the book is dead, and that hypertext and hypermedia will bring about fundamental changes in reading and writing. Also in prospect are radical changes in learning: the introduction of the computer will force teachers to rethink their practices, while students will be empowered to learn in new ways. Although this perspective is now common, it may also be misleading. The issue should perhaps be framed differently: given what we know about reading and writing, and the psychological processes that support them, how effectively does hypertext electronically embody those processes? To what extent does hypertext change these processes, or promote some component process to a more prominent role? Put this way, the issue moves away from the implications of facilitating a technological development that has come to seem inevitable, however desirable that development may turn out to be. Instead the question is how well do we currently understand those underlying processes. Until we have some convincing answers to this question the impact of hypertext on reading or writing must be unpredictable: we cannot be sure whether we are supercharging the process or throwing a monkey-wrench into it. In this discussion I will focus on three specific aspects of the problem: (1) an assessment of the commitment to the topographical nature of the medium emphasised by most hypertext proponents (Bolter, Moulthrop, etc.); (2) the rhetoric of empowerment in the light of current hypertext design, particularly hypertext fiction; and (3) discontinuities between hypertext models of reading and much previous understanding of reading. The discussion will be illustrated by demonstrations of several hypertext products.

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Document revised September 5th 1998