Phenomenological Reviews

Series | Book | Chapter


Temporal aspects of literary reading

David S. Miall

pp. 15-30


One of the prominent features of literary reading is a sense of defamiliarization: a passage describing an object, event, or person in the mundane world unexpectedly seems strange, so that the reader is made to pause or slow the pace of reading in order to reflect. In Owen Barfield's words, such moments seem to come from "a different plane or mode of consciousness" (Poetic diction: a study in meaning. McGraw-Hill, New York, 1964, p. 171), and they demonstrate the "unfamiliar" of the artwork discussed by Shklovsky (Art as technique. In: Russian formalist criticism: four essays, eds. and trans. Lemon LT, Reis MJ. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1965, p. 12). I identify several mental processes that help constitute the sense of strangeness and that may contribute distinctive elements to the presence of literariness. I examine the initial moments of the experience of literary reading, those occurring in the first few hundred milliseconds as suggested by studies of EEG waves: these include absence of habituation, the deferral of intention, the thwarting of prototypical feeling, bodily alertness, and the experience of animacy. I then consider some sequential features that guide and shape response on a larger scale, focusing in particular on the processes of feeling and their impact on the reader.

Publication details

Published in:

Bundgaard Peer F., Stjernfelt Frederik (2015) Investigations into the phenomenology and the ontology of the work of art: what are artworks and how do we experience them?. Dordrecht, Springer.

Pages: 15-30

DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-14090-2_2

Full citation:

Miall David S. (2015) „Temporal aspects of literary reading“, In: P. F. Bundgaard & F. Stjernfelt (eds.), Investigations into the phenomenology and the ontology of the work of art, Dordrecht, Springer, 15–30.