In Denham, A. (2020). Making Sorrow Sweet: Emotion and Empathy in the Experience of Fiction. In A. Houen (Ed.), Affect and Literature (Cambridge Critical Concepts, pp. 190-210). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781108339339.011. Cambridge, UK: pp. 190-210 (2020)
The nature and consequences of readers’ affective engagement with literature has, in recent years, captured the attention of experimental psychologists and philosophers alike. Psychological studies have focused principally on the causal mechanisms explaining our affective interactions with fictions, prescinding from questions concerning their rational justifiability. Transportation Theory, for instance, has sought to map out the mechanisms the reader tracks the narrative experientially, mirroring its descriptions through first-personal perceptual imaginings, affective and motor responses and even evaluative beliefs. Analytical philosophers, by contrast, have largely focussed on the problems fiction poses for traditional theories of rationality (as in the ‘Paradox of Fiction), challenging fiction’s wider epistemic value. The result has been a theoretical impasse in which the power of fiction to affectively ‘transport’ a reader is at once often lauded (by psychologists) as a privileged route to interpersonal understanding, and condemned (by philosophers) as an abdication of the authority of reason. This chapter surveys some of the central claims on both sides, tracing the source of the debate to competing conceptions of rationality.