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Durham University

Department of English Studies

Event Archive

This is an archive of past events within the Department of English Studies. Please see our current events for forthcoming activities.

Some of our public events are recorded and are available as podcasts via our Research English At Durham blog.

Crossing the (B)order of Immersion: Phantasmal Intersubjectivity, Co-Presence and the Emersivity of Literary Characters

23rd May 2018, 17:30 to 18:30, Seminar Room, Hallgarth House, Dr. Marco Bernini (Durham University)

An Inventions of the Text seminar, looking at the psychology behind readers' experiences of fiction.

In a study we have conducted with 400 readers of the 2014 Edinburgh Book Festival (Bernini, M; Alderson-Day, B., Fernyhough, C. 2017. ‘Uncharted Features of Reading: Voices, Characters, and Crossing of Experiences’, Consciousness and Cognition), we were surprised to find that 20% of the readers reported to experience the presence of fictional characters outside of the immediate context of reading. I have suggested to call this phenomenon ‘experiential crossing’, because characters seem to cross the boundary 
of the storyworlds and accompany or “stay with” the 
reader in real-world situations. This crossing seems to be spontaneously activated by a wide range of triggers (mainly contextual or affective); to have a complex phenomenology (characters are perceived either as silent, auditory, multi-sensory or conceptual presences); and show different degrees of felt presence in the reader’s minds, or even in their physical environment. This type of imaginative or ‘phantasmal’ emersion is experientially and theoretically intriguing and complex, because it raises important issues regarding the possibility of entertaining in the real world intersubjective relations with non-actual beings or, what I will call a ‘phantasmal intersubjecitivty’. To date, cognitive literary studies (and in particular, theories of immersion; Gerrig 1993; Zwaan 2008; Angeles Martinez 2014; Ryan 2015) have focused exclusively on the other direction of transit: namely, on how our real past experiences can sustain, enhance or modify our experience of a literary narrative (or its storyworld immersivity). By contrast, how fictional elements from a storyworld can surface or transmigrate into real life cognition has been basically ignored. Building on, and adapting, models of narrative immersion, the paper will present a theory and a model for what it will be called the emersivity of literary characters.

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Research in English At Durham (READ) blog showcasing the the literary research emerging from the Department of English Studies


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