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Self-Modifying Experiences in Literary Reading: A Model for Reader Response Open Access


Other title
Cognitive science
Reader response
Empirical study of literature
Self-modifying experiences
Literary reading
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Fialho, Olivia da Costa
Supervisor and department
Miall, David (English & Film Studies and Comparative Literature)
Kuiken, Don (Psychology and Comparative Literature)
Examining committee member and department
Bortolussi, Marisa (Modern Language and Cultural Studies)
Reimer, Stephen R. (English & Film Studies)
Mackey, Margaret (School of Library and Information Studies)
Toolan, Michael (English)
Comparative Literature

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
This thesis introduces an approach to literary reading that takes into account experiential reading. To this purpose, it describes the different modalities of consciousness involved in the process. More specifically, it investigates how literature becomes a means for the dehabituation of readers’ understandings of themselves in the world. Its main objectives are to (a) gain access to readers’ mode of engagement during the type of reading experience that is self-modifying; (b) focus on the moments in which changes in sense of self occur; and (c) investigate the relation between textual properties and the experience of self-modification. To reach these goals, the study proposes a new method based on lexical repetition and theme modification that allows the examination of readers’ first-person accounts of their experience of a short story by Katherine Mansfield. An adaptation of previously described procedures (Kuiken, Schopflocher and Wild, Kuiken and Miall, “Numerically Aided Phenomenology”), this method is here called “Lexical Basis for Numerically Aided Phenomenology” (LEX-NAP). It is demonstrably effective in the present study as it allows for dynamic descriptions of the phenomenon, including a description of readers’ embodied repositionings as the reading unfolds. Interdisciplinary in nature, this thesis resorts to insights from literary studies, phenomenology, psychology, neuroscience, and stylistics. The results obtained are various: first, a typology of self-modifying reading experiences is offered, which helps establish a model for readers’ responses. Second, the study redefines the notion of literariness from empirical data, indicating how specific verbal, emotional and cognitive elements may account for the distinctiveness of the literary experience. Third, it clarifies the relation between textual properties and the experience of self-modification. The findings have implications for literary studies, linguistics, stylistics, and, ultimately, for literary education, where they may inform the design of alternative teaching methods with focus on experiential reading of a transformative nature.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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