Epiphanies of finitude: a phenomenological study of existential reading

  • Author / Creator
    Sopcak, Paul
  • A prominent hypothesis in literary studies is that readers, especially those that are fully immersed, engage empathically with fictional characters. This dissertation provides a critique of the Cartesian assumptions embedded in contemporary (cognitive scientific) models of empathy and then goes on to provide an alternative account of empathy based on especially Husserl’s and Heidegger’s phenomenology. According to this alternative, empathy does not establish but rather discloses in reflection an already present intersubjectivity from which it is derivative.
    It is also held that readers who are fully empathically engaged in a literary text lose self-awareness. I provide a critique of this view and present a Husserlian model according to which full engagement with the other and continuation of a certain kind of self-awareness occur simultaneously. This phenomenological alternative is based on the notion that an experiential self-givenness or “mineness” accompanies all my experiences and is prior to any objectifying forms of self-awareness.
    I then critique Cartesian models of (self-)reflection and self-modification in literary reading and with the help of Heidegger suggest a phenomenological model within which the distinction between modification of beliefs and the modification that is inherent in experiencing becomes understandable as contingent on the form of ontological interrogation that Merleau-Ponty terms “radical reflection”.
    Finally, I present a series of empirical studies investigating whether the preceding theoretical distinctions are borne out in the experiences of actual readers of literary texts concerned with human finitude. Phenomenological methods, (Kuiken, Schopflocher, and Wild; Kuiken and Miall, “Numerically Aided Phenomenology”) were employed to 1) identify several distinct types of reading experience, 2) spell out how one of those types instantiates ‘existential reading’ as conceived here, and 3) provide convergent and discriminant validation of this type of reading experience. Of particular interest was whether a form of existential reading can be understood as an event during which readers engage the text through a form of empathic engagement that is grounded in an a priori intersubjectivity, that retains an experiential self-awareness or “mineness” simultaneously with empathic engagement, and that supports a non-Cartesian form of “radical reflection” that opens onto an ontological consideration of finitude.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2011
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.