Phenomenological Reviews

Series | Book | Chapter


Memory and mental states in the appreciation of literature

Marisa Bortolussi Peter Dixon

pp. 31-49


An implicit supposition in literary studies is that ideal readers have unconstrained access to the text. However, we argue instead that the processing of literary narrative must be mediated by the fragmentary and distorted memory of real readers. In the present chapter, we focus on an important determinant of memory: the variation in readers' mental states during reading. In particular, we identify two prevalent fluctuations that have critical implications for memory and literary appreciation: mind wandering, in which the reader momentarily gives relatively little priority to processing the text; and engagement, in which the reader constructs elaborate and personally meaningful representations of the story world. We describe how the variation in these mental states over the course of reading affects reading processes and determines memory for both text and aesthetic reactions. This analysis is supported by the results of two experiments in which readers' mental states were probed online during reading.

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: 31-49

DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-14090-2_3

Full citation:

Bortolussi Marisa, Dixon Peter (2015) „Memory and mental states in the appreciation of literature“, In: P. F. Bundgaard & F. Stjernfelt (eds.), Investigations into the phenomenology and the ontology of the work of art, Dordrecht, Springer, 31–49.