Leave me out of it: De re, but not de se, imaginative engagement with fiction

Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 64 (4):451–459 (2006)
I have been dissatisfied with Walton’s make-believe model of appreciator engagement with fiction ever since my first encounter with it as a graduate student.1 What I have always objected to is not the suggestion that such engagement is broadly speaking imaginative; rather, it is the suggestion that it specifically involves de se imaginative activity on the part of appreciators. That is, while I concede that appreciators imagine (de re) of the fictional works they experience that they are thus and so, I deny that they imagine (de se) experiencing an object that is thus and so.2 The main source of my dissatisfaction with the make-believe model is that it is phenomenologically unfamiliar; I have never been aware of de se imaginings of the requisite sort while appreciatively engaged with fiction.3 Of course, one could argue that it nevertheless occurs, albeit sub-consciously. But in order for this manoeuvre to be plausible, it would have to be established that there are appreciative phenomena that can only (or best) be explained by the supposition that appreciators engage in de se imagining, and which cannot be adequately explained by the supposition that they merely engage in de re imagining. Currie, for example, has argued that we need to make the former supposition in order to find a solution to the “problem of personality,” the problem of explaining why our emotional reactions to the plights of fictional characters often differ from our reactions to the similar plights of actual people.4 What I want to argue in this paper is that Currie’s defense of de se imaginative engagement is..
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