Tagarchief: fictionality

On Immersion 26: Emotional art and expression, part 1 – Art and Emotion

The subject of Derek Matravers’ study Art and Emotion (1998) is our emotional engagement with art. Art in this sense means not ‘just’ representational art; music and other forms of less representational art are also at stake. Matravers asks two central questions. The first question is the one we saw earlier in the works of Currie and Walton (the paradox of fiction): how can it be that we feel emotions when we are engaged with representations? How do we feel emotions for things that do not happen to ourselves, but merely in a (fictional) work of art? Does it matter that we know the things described not to be real? The second question Matravers poses is how we can ‘recognize’ emotions in works of art and why we describe works of art in terms of emotion (‘this classical piece of music is just so sad!’, ‘this painting is very aggressive’…). Why do we see art as expressions of emotion? In the following posts, these two questions will be taken up. Although these questions are of course subject of fierce debates, Matravers’ theory does give us more insight in understanding the implications of these questions.


Derek Matravers’ Art and Emotion (1998)

References:
Currie, Gregory. Arts and Minds. Oxford: Clarendon, 2004.
Matravers, Dererk. Art and Emotion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Walton, Kendall L. Mimesis as Make-believe: on the Foundations of the Representational Arts. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1990.

On Immersion 25: From belief to imagination, part 10 – Some conclusions

Following Walton’s analogy to children’s games of make-believe, we place our (emotional) involvement with representations in the imagination instead of emphasizing on seeing in and seeing as. We can thus counter immediacy or unconscious illusion as a necessary condition for immersion, as our relation to representations takes place within the imagination. By changing belief as the necessary condition for immersion into imagination, we can understand why the willing suspension of disbelief is not sufficient as an explanation of how we deal with representations. Instead of suspending disbelief, we rather bracket our belief in imagination. We do not believe in the fictional propositions offered to us by representations, we ‘merely’ imagine accepting these propositions, making them truths in our imagination. Our relation to representations then becomes one of fictionality and imagination, rather than one of truth and belief.

We use the reality principle and the mutual belief principle to link what is represented to our own experience of reality and to recenter ourselves to be able to fictionally believe what we see, read or hear. Because of this, a representation does not need to be perfect (Murray 1999), strictly mimetic (Ryan 2001) or hermetic (Grau 2003) in order to stimulate immersion, as it stimulates the game of make-believe we play in our imagination. Just as we bracket or embed our belief in fictional propositions in our imagination, we also bracket our emotions towards fictional characters in our imagination. Because of this, it does not matter whether or not a fictional character has really existed. We use empathy to relate to fictional characters. We do not become a fictional character, we feel emotions through imagining how it would feel to be the fictional character, just as we empathize with real people. We imagine fictional characters to be real, and in this imagination, our emotional involvement takes place. This emotional involvement is colored by the extra-propositional properties of a representation, such as style, tone or narrative structures. Our stance towards the fictional world that is built up of fictional propositions is thus influenced by the representation itself. This role of representations accounts for differences in emotional involvement that are not directly related to the contents of representations and their (authorized) games of make-believe.

Although I still question the whole ‘recentering belief and emotions in imagination’-theory (and therefore the notion of ‘quasi-emotion’), in the next posts I will test Walton’s view on our emotional involvement with representations and thus immersion on a presumption underlying his framework: the ever-present ability to distinguish representation from reality.

References:
Grau, Oliver. Virtual Art: from Illusion to Immersion. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2003.
Murray, Janet Horowitz. Hamlet on the Holodeck: the Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1999.
Ryan, Marie-Laure. Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2001.
Walton, Kendall L. Mimesis as Make-believe: on the Foundations of the Representational Arts. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1990.

On Immersion 24: From belief to imagination, part 9 – Epistemic stance

According to the previous post, Walton’s account of style is rather ‘innocent’: the style of depiction or of writing could influence the vividness of our game of make-believe. But, it can be argued that style (or any extra-propositional feature) can do more than that. It can influence our whole perception of the propositions offered to us. Why do we laugh at a killing when watching Pulp Fiction (Tarantino 1994) and not when watching Von Trier’s Antichrist (2009)? It is clearly not because we adopt the view of the fictional characters. This could be the case with Antichrist, as the protagonist is clearly shocked and disgusted by murdering his wife. We as observers also feel shock and disgust when watching the murdering scene. But when Vincent Vega accidentally shoots Marvin in the face while driving in a car in Pulp Fiction, he does not find this funny.


The ‘I shot Marvin in the face’-scene from Pulp Fiction (1994)

We as observers however laugh at this scene. (At least, I did…) Elaborating Walton’s theory on style, couldn’t it be the case that the style or tone of the movie influences or shapes our epistemic stance towards the world imagined created with the fictional propositions offered by the movie? In Pulp Fiction, this would mean that the music, the over-the-top dialogues and general exaggerated style of the movie influences our attitude or stance towards the world in our game of make-believe. This makes it possible for us to laugh at the scene, while Vincent does not laugh at all. Moreover, Vincent’s reaction, ‘Oh man, I shot Marvin in the face […] You probably went over a bump or something’ is such a mild reaction that it seems to strengthen our detached and ironic attitude towards the movie. The deadpan reaction of Vincent goes against our expectations, as we would expect Vincent to react disgusted or shocked and hence we could identify with his reaction perfectly. But since he does not do so, we acknowledge a gap – and this gap is the ground for humour in a movie like Pulp Fiction.

Where Walton’s account of style is fairly limited in his framework, it can be understood from the previous example that extra-propositional properties of representations such as style can strongly influence our stance towards the fictional truths they generate. In this light, Ryan’s example of Madame Bovary as a realistic novel that almost perfectly stimulates immersion (Ryan 349) is particularly interesting, as it is actually an example of how style can not only contribute to, but also counteract immersion reached when reading. As Flaubert himself argued, he wanted to write a novel not particularly about something, but a novel that consisted of a painterly, picturesque style. He chose a subject, a provincial woman who stood far from him, to account for his detachment from the contents of the novel. We value Madame Bovary particularly for its gracious and painterly style, a style that forms a buffer between our reading and our identification with Emma. Madame Bovary consciously uses its style to prevent us from becoming immersed, while Emma herself becomes the victim of exactly this kind of identification with the sentimental literature she reads.

References:
Ryan, Marie-Laure. Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2001.
Walton, Kendall L. Mimesis as Make-believe: On the Foundations of the Representational Arts. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1990.
Antichrist. Dir. Lars Von Trier. Perf. Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg. Zentropa Entertainments.
Pulp Fiction. Dir. Quentin Tarantino. By Quentin Tarantino. Prod. Lawrence Bender. Perf. Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman. Miramax, 1994.

On Immersion 23: From belief to imagination, part 8 – Properties of representations

As can be understood from previous posts, Walton emphasizes the propositions representations offer us to stimulate our games of make-believe. In his theory, there seems to be little room left for properties of the representation itself (apart from the propositions it offers). However, it seems clear that style, tone, narration etc. influences our involvement with a particular representation. Some novels or movies seem to have a particular style that makes it easier to ‘get into’ the story than other representations. It therefore seems insufficient to qualify the representation as merely an objective source of fictional propositions.

According to Walton, “the significance of many features of pictorial styles lies in their effects on viewer’s games”. (315) In his (somewhat strange) example of what he calls a ‘sloppy style’ (316), Walton discusses an advertisement by Apple Computer, Inc. The advertisement displays what is unmistakably an Apple Macintosh Computer. But, because of its sketchiness, it appears that the keyboard is only half of what we know to be a keyboard, and the case of the computer is curved instead of sharp and straight.


Apple Macintosh Manual (1984)

According to Walton, “their sloppiness is not to be read into the fictional world but is to be accepted as inevitable in the style regardless of what is portrayed. We can reasonably allow that fictionally the computer is a perfectly whole and healthy one, notwithstanding the sloppiness of the portrayal”. (317) Does this mean that the style of a depiction (or description for that matter) does not in any way influence the game of make-believe? According to Walton, a precise and a sloppy depiction of the same subject render the same game of make-believe. However, the game based on the sloppy depiction is less rich than the one based on the precise depiction. The game of make-believe based on the precise depiction has much more detail to base further imaginations on.

In the next post, we will look at how representational properties might influence our epistemic stance towards what they present.

References:
Walton, Kendall L. Mimesis as Make-believe: On the Foundations of the Representational Arts. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1990.

On Immersion 22: From belief to imagination, part 7 – Trading identity

Taking up after the previous post, we’ll have tot look at the core of the working definition given in one of the earlier posts in this series. The question is whether and how we trade our identity for one that is represented. To answer this question, we look at Walton’s repositioning of the observer, which is quite similar to what Ryan argued for:

We don’t just observe fictional worlds from without. We live in them (in the worlds of our games, not work worlds), together with Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary and Robinson Crusoe and the others, sharing their joys and their sorrows, rejoicing and commiserating with them, admiring and detesting them. True, these worlds are merely fictional, and we are well aware that they are. But from inside they seem actual – what fictionally is the case is, fictionally, really the case – and our presence in them, effected in the enormously realistic manner I described […], gives us a sense of intimacy with characters and their contents. […] They are carried away by the pretense, caught up in the story. (Walton 273, 274)

Observers perceive representations by means of imagination in first person perspective. We not so much identify with fictional characters, but we place ourselves in the situation of fictional characters. (Walton 255)

In Arts and Minds (2004) Gregory Currie elaborates on this thought through the concept of empathy. This concept lies in our ability to put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes – to imagine being in another person’s position. This seems to be opposed to the idea of necessarily trading identity with a fictional character for the purpose of being immersed. We do not identify completely with a character in a (fictional) representation. We must therefore see empathy as a part of identification. (Currie 166) Through empathy – partial identification – we try to understand our fellow human beings. According to Currie, we use the same mechanism of empathy to understand and feel for fictional characters when dealing with representations. (10) So, we do not ‘become’ Emma Bovary when reading Madame Bovary. We feel emotions towards Emma through empathy: we imagine how it would feel to be Emma Bovary, just as we can imagine how it would feel to be someone who just told us something terrible happened to him or her. We empathize, we do not identify.


Gustave Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary’ (1857)

This notion of empathy fits well into Walton’s framework of make-believe: we feel emotions for fictional characters we know not to be real because we imagine them to be real, and in this imagination, our emotions are not dependent on any truth-value outside of our game of make-believe. As we have already seen, we do not believe the fictional truths to coincide with reality, because our epistemic stance towards fiction is formed by our knowledge of it being fiction. We thus experience quasi-empathy and therefore feel as if we identify with Emma Bovary. Again, this argument is somehow a bit ‘slippery’, because it leaves a lot of questions unanswered. For instance: how do properties of an artwork (narrative, focalisation or perspective etc.) influence our reading attitude? Those questions will be taken up further on.

References:
Currie, Gregory. Arts and Minds. Oxford: Clarendon, 2004.
Walton, Kendall L. Mimesis as Make-believe: On the Foundations of the Representational Arts. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1990.