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date: 20 April 2024

Affect Studiesfree

Affect Studiesfree

  • Patrick Colm HoganPatrick Colm HoganUniversity of Connecticut


Most readers probably take it as self-evident that literature is inseparable from emotion. Poems memorialize love and grief; stories elaborate on the rage of battle, the shame of defeat, or the guilt of sin. Readers pass through versions of these feelings while perusing a book or watching a play. They also experience respect and awe, flip pages or inch forward in their seats due to suspense, or relax into a delighted experience of beauty at a phrase or scene.

After long neglect, in recent decades, emotion—or, more generally, affect—has become a major concern in literary study, as well as philosophy, psychology, and elsewhere. It is possible to organize such work into two broad orientations, commonly called “affect theory” (alternatively, “affective poststructuralism”) and “affective science.” Writers in affect theory draw on a range of psychological, social, linguistic, and other theories, most often in the service of political analysis. The psychological principles of affect theory have tended to derive from the tradition of psychoanalysis, often through its radical revision or critique by such theorists as Jacques Lacan and Gilles Deleuze. Affect theorists have also drawn extensively, sometimes more centrally, on a range of theorists outside of psychology, principally poststructuralists, such as Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida.

In contrast, affective science has its roots in cognitive science and to a lesser extent social psychology. It comprises a set of competing theories of emotion, including dimensional versus systemic and appraisal versus perceptual-associative accounts. Dimensional accounts see emotions as specified only by general variables (such as attraction versus aversion). Systemic accounts treat emotions as the result of distinct pre-dedicated, biological systems (e.g., for disgust or fear). Appraisal accounts treat emotion as the result of a person’s assessments of how events or circumstances impact his or her achievement of important goals. Perceptual-associative accounts construe emotion as a more mechanical process that is affected by assessments only indirectly. Whatever its explanatory architecture, an affective science account is likely to include a careful analysis of emotion episodes, breaking them down into eliciting conditions, action readiness, expressive or communicative outcomes, phenomenological tone, and other components.

Beyond treating different theories of emotion, an account of literary affect needs to consider the various possible locations of emotion in literature. These begin with the real people involved—authors and readers. But they extend to implied authors and implied readers as well as wholly fictional persons, such as narrators and characters. Emotion bears also on scenes and sequences—both the sequence of events as they actually occur in the story and the sequence of events as they are presented in the plot (which may, for example, reveal the outcome of events before revealing their causes). Sometimes, a given narrative level has its own characteristic emotions or affective concerns—such as suspense in the case of plot (suspense is in part a function of when story information is provided). At other times, a given level will merely affect the ways the emotions of other levels are modulated (as when some stylistic features, not funny in themselves, contribute to comic effect).

By the usual scientific criteria, affective science is more logically rigorous and empirically better supported. But affect theory has its own value—particularly in challenging the ideological assumptions that often underlie social scientific research, including some of that undertaken in affective science. In short, each group has something to learn from the other.


  • Literary Theory

The Ubiquity and Strangeness of Literary Feeling

Literature is animated by emotion, both at the level of what it concerns and at the level of how readers respond. In one way, the point is a trivial one. If an emotion is simply a certain sort of motivation system—and that is the working assumption of the following discussion—then any activity necessarily involves emotion. Brushing one’s teeth involves a feeling of aversion at the experience of a grimy mouth or at the thought of future tooth decay. However, emotion appears more central to literature and literary experience than to tooth brushing. Often, literature does not rely simply on basic motivational arousal; it seems to be marked by the intensification of such arousal. Romeo and Juliet are not simply ordinary lovers with the usual run of ambivalent feelings; they are so driven by love that they risk—indeed, embrace—death. Othello’s jealousy causes him to pass out, then murder. Achilles is a paragon of anger, the emotion signaled by the opening of the Iliad. Of course, not all literary works treat extreme emotional states. But even those that do not will often dwell on the minutiae of emotion, foregrounding them. For example, in James Joyce’s Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus is no more grief-stricken than anyone else might be. But Joyce spells out the details of his brooding, guilt-riddled mourning. Moreover, he does so in prose of often exquisite beauty.

As the references to negative emotions, such as grief, already suggest, sometimes the emotional appeal of a literary work is apparently anomalous. Tragedy rewards us, even as we weep compassionately—a result that many writers have found almost paradoxical. In fact, there are two problems here. First, we grieve over fictional events, thus events we know to be unreal. Second, we enjoy experiencing that grief.1 Before going on, it is worth considering these apparent paradoxes as they illustrate the centrality of emotion to literature and the importance of emotion study for understanding the nature of literature and our response to it.

In fact, there seems to be a fairly straightforward solution to the paradoxes of fictional emotion and tragic enjoyment. Simulation is a key operation of the human mind. It involves the imagination of particulars beyond direct perception and memory. It is the process that we engage in when imagining the way things might play out if we engage in various sorts of activity. For example, John might simulate what will happen if he asks Cindy to go out for dinner and maybe take in a movie. That imagination is closely related to actual experience. Thus Toates points out that “representations of emotionally loaded events trigger a similar set of brain regions as are triggered by the corresponding real events, though with less intensity.”2 Simulation has an adaptive function because it allows us to evaluate scenarios “off-line,” thus without actual risk. But it has that function only because we experience the usual emotions associated with the simulated events. If John simulates Cindy’s humiliating rejection, but feels nothing (because it is a fiction), then the simulation will have no consequences. We cannot, however, simply feel aversion at negative simulations, since we would presumably just stop imagining negative scenarios in that case; we would stick to happy fantasies. Thus, to function adaptively, it seems that the act of simulation itself must produce some feeling of pleasure or, more technically, activate the reward system (or SEEKING system3), the system that governs the pursuit of pleasure and includes both “liking” and “wanting” components.4 Though the idea does not seem to have been extensively researched, some studies suggest that something along these lines does occur. Specifically, empirical work by Kim and colleagues indicates that there is reward involvement in compassion,5 which is roughly what is at issue in simulation, even simulation of one’s future self.6

Thus the apparent paradoxes of fiction-inspired emotion and tragedy-based enjoyment may be resolved simply by recognizing that literature is a form of simulation—a fundamental, evolved operation of the human mind—and that the functionality of simulation is inseparable from emotion. The resolution of these paradoxes points again to the central role of emotion in literature and literary experience. In short, it gives us further reason to consider the nature and operation of emotion in literature. Indeed, by developing our comprehension of simulation, it suggests that the results of that consideration may be of more than literary interest, extending to larger psychological processes. The remainder of this article will examine that nature and operation, both as they illuminate literature and as they extend our understanding of psychology.

After some general observations on broad tendencies in the study of emotion, the following sections will treat theoretical issues developing principally from affective science, with some more limited attention to an illustrative case of affect theory. In order to clarify, expand, and illustrate the abstract points, these discussions will take up some literary examples as well. The first is Ben Jonson’s 1616 elegy, “On My First Son,”7 one of the most famous and most intensely emotional poems in English.8 Sticking to a single poem is, however, in some cases too restrictive. I will therefore also make reference to a poem by the 12th-century Chinese poet, Lǐ Qīngzhào (李清照‎)—“Shēngshēng Màn” (聲聲慢‎).9 Li’s poem is an account of loneliness—or, more than loneliness, a feeling of desperate isolation—one autumn evening. (This is presumably the speaker’s own feeling, though the absence of pronouns in the poem—a standard practice in Chinese classical verse10—makes this an inference). The poem repeatedly suggests some deep attachment loss. In keeping with this, Xinda Lian explains that it “is generally believed” to have been “written after the poet’s husband died.”11 It is, in short, a poem of grief, like Jonson’s—and one that is also greatly admired in its tradition. In these respects, it is very similar to Jonson’s poem, with which it may be aptly paired. However, its differences are also consequential for the following discussion.

Affective Science and Affect Theory

As already noted, one may distinguish two general orientations in the study of affect. These are sometimes referred to as “affective science” and “affect theory.” Affective science derives from cognitive science, along with some influence from social psychology. There is certainly diversity within affective science. However, that diversity is constrained by shared presuppositions of cognitive science as an encompassing field. Affect theory too shows considerable diversity in the theories and conclusions of its various practitioners. Indeed, even more than affective science, it is arguably not a unified field so much as an historically contingent set of approaches partially shared by authors with similarities in background and interest. For example, affect theory has developed out of or at least in dialogue with cultural studies. This means that it has typically been concerned with political issues much more centrally than has been the case with affective science. In terms of background from psychology—including the field’s understandings of the central concept of affect—it is significantly influenced by psychoanalytic traditions. The psychoanalytic ideas taken up by affect theorists, however, are often those of a poststructuralist revision, such as that of Jacques Lacan, or even a more thoroughgoing poststructuralist critique, such as that of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Moreover, the work of many affect theorists is marked more strongly by the historical poststructuralism of Michel Foucault or the linguistic poststructuralism of Jacques Derrida.

Of course, not everyone writing on affect and literature falls neatly into one or the other group. There are critics and theorists who draw on both traditions equally (as in Donald Wehrs’s use of sources ranging from Julia Kristeva’s poststructural psychoanalysis to Antonio Damasio’s neuroscience12). Moreover, a number of writers associated with affect theory make selective use of affective science, while critics associated with affective science have taken up political and cultural topics.13 There is nonetheless a broad tendency toward a bifurcation of this sort. For example, the Affect Theory Reader includes no index entries for such towering affective science researchers as Antonio Damasio, Nico Frijda, Joseph LeDoux, Keith Oatley, or Jaak Panksepp. In contrast, there are particularly numerous index entries for Gilles Deleuze, Lawrence Grossberg, Félix Guattari, and Brian Massumi, who do not appear at all in a work such as The Oxford Companion to Emotion and the Affective Sciences. Even a figure such as Michel Foucault, prominent in The Affect Theory Reader, has only a very limited presence in The Oxford Companion.

In connection with this division, the term “affect” has two distinct semantic backgrounds. In affective science, “affect” is a fairly straightforward term that is simply more encompassing than “emotion.” As such, it is intended to delimit a natural kind. As Louis Charland explains, “When the term ‘affect’ is employed in the expression ‘affective science’ it is usually meant to demarcate a distinct scientific domain of inquiry.”14

Again, in contrast with affective science, affect theory draws more commonly, if often implicitly, on psychoanalysis. More precisely, it has developed within an intellectual lineage that derives in part from psychoanalysis, even when psychoanalysis is not an explicit source or when it is an object of criticism. In psychoanalytic tradition, affect is understood in relation to a prior conception of fundamental drives. Thus, in their important volume on psychoanalytic terminology, Laplanche and Pontalis explain that “affect is the qualitative expression of the quantity of instinctual energy and of its fluctuations,” prominently including its frustration.15 Psychoanalytic theory posits different sorts of drive—for example, sexual and ego drives (or instincts). These are conceptualized as flows of energy that may be strong or weak, may exert pressure, and may be blocked or diverted. In this model, affects are produced by a combination of the force and direction of instinctual energies—as they bear on particular objects—and the counterforces of blockage, redirection, etc., produced by the external world, other instinctual forces, conscience (classically, the “Superego”), and related factors. For example, the blocking of sexual desire by the external world might give rise to frustration-based anger.16

In their introduction to The Affect Theory Reader, Seigworth and Gregg define “affect” in the following terms: “an impingement or extrusion of a momentary or sometimes more sustained state of relation as well as the passage (and the duration of passage) of forces or intensities.”17 Initially, this definition is likely to strike readers as obscure, if perhaps interesting or suggestive. But once placed in the context of the psychoanalytic idea, it begins to make more sense (even if the obscurities are not entirely cleared up).

It is important to stress that the influence of psychoanalysis on affect theory is often by way of the critique of orthodox psychoanalysis offered by some post-Lacanian writers, prominently Gilles Deleuze, as well as his collaborator Félix Guattari.18 These authors challenged psychoanalytic thought, but in a discourse that was continuous with psychoanalysis in a way that affective science is not. In addition to criticizing standard psychoanalysis, Deleuze and Guattari engaged in critiques of social and political structures. This politicization of psychology contributes to the orientation of affect theory toward social critique, as integrated with cultural studies as well as the critical approaches to institutions and language found in the work of Foucault and Derrida, among others.

In sum, affect theory commonly draws on (sometimes implicit) psychoanalytic models of motivation and affect, with their hydraulic metaphors. It combines these with a politically oriented critique of institutions, discourses, and other social structures and practices. In contrast, affective science tries to articulate a more clearly naturalistic (ultimately brain-based) account of affect, derived from empirical study and detailed analysis of cognitive and affective processes. It does not as often involve political criticism.

The advantage of affective science is that it presents algorithmically specified, empirically supported, logically rigorous accounts of emotion. It is difficult to make such a claim for affect theory, given its often metaphorical quality, the problems with empirical support for psychoanalysis,19 the apparent oversimplicity of the hydraulic model (often borrowed by affect theorists),20 the questionable linguistic presuppositions of deconstruction,21 and other issues.22 The following two sections will focus on affective science, due principally to its greater rigor and support. Affective science presents a more clearly cohesive field of study, with more simply and systematically distinguishable alternatives, which is advantageous for a necessarily limited conceptual overview, such as the present article.

The advantages of affect theory, however, come with its arguably greater diversity and even more with its vigorous political engagement. Among other things, it more readily fosters a critical attitude toward some unquestioned presuppositions of empirical science and its associated institutional structures that can lead to systematic biases. We may distinguish three areas in which affect theorists are likely to engage in critique: social ideology, language, and general mental operations or contents (e.g., unacknowledged desires). All three have potentially valuable consequences for the study of literature and emotion.

This is not to say that critiques in affect theory are always well founded. Nor is it to say that political critique is absent from cognitive science. For example, Cordelia Fine’s critique of neurosexism occurs entirely within the tradition of neuroscience.23 Indeed, political criticism is not confined to isolated individuals within the affective science and cognitive science tradition. The social psychology of groups, conceptual metaphor theory, and the psychology of heuristics and biases (treating social ideology, language, and general mental operations, respectively) are but three instances of research programs engaging in such criticism.24 Nonetheless, it seems fair to say that affective science could benefit from the more systematic political critique present in affect theory, perhaps especially Foucauldian skepticism regarding institutions and their claims of knowledge. This is an important qualification that readers should keep in mind while considering the following discussions of affective science.

Of course, the political engagement of affect theory is not merely general or institutional. It bears on individual literary works as well. It changes the sorts of questions we might ask about literary works, the sorts of evidence we might invoke, and the sorts of conclusions we might draw.

What Is Affect (in Affective Science)?

Nico Frijda and Klaus Scherer explain that, in affective science, the term “affect” “is often used in a general sense to refer to a class or category of mental states that includes emotions, moods, attitudes, interpersonal stances, and affect dispositions.”25 Moods are, basically, medium-term inclinations to respond to situations or events with a congruent sort of emotion.26 When one is in an irritable mood, one is likely to respond to one’s environment with irritation. Attitudes are more or less enduring emotional responses to particular objects or conditions (an interpersonal stance is in effect a form of attitude).27 Thus one might have an attitude of distrust toward politicians. Affect dispositions—sometimes called “trait affectivity” or “trait emotionality”—are enduring personality characteristics (or traits) that dispose one toward a particular sort of emotion.28 For example, someone who is dispositionally anxious is likely to respond with anxiety to mildly threatening possibilities. As these points suggest, the definition of “affect” relies on a definition of “emotion.”

As already indicated, an emotion is the activation of some motivation system, prototypically an activation of relatively brief duration—an “episode”—with a complex set of specifiable components. Frijda in effect indicates the general point when he writes that an emotion is an “inner state that predicts forthcoming behavior”; more precisely, emotions may be thought of first of all as “tendencies to establish, maintain, or disrupt a relationship with the environment,” such that the “inner experience” of an emotion “is to a large extent awareness of action tendency.”29 Fundamentally, an emotion is involved whenever there is motivation; that motivation may be one of altering or preserving a current situation.

Trait affectivity has long been a significant part of character analysis, perhaps most obviously in the form of humoral psychology—for example, in its relation to Renaissance drama, as in the identification of Hamlet as melancholic. But such discussions may have been overly restricted by critics’ attempts to identify trait affectivity in terms of theories available to the author in question. It is certainly valuable to take into account the psychological theories circulating at the time a given author was writing. But the enduring psychological plausibility of a character such as Hamlet suggests that we should not confine our account of his affective disposition to psychological categories that today’s audiences do not accept. For example, one might argue that Hamlet’s emotional tendencies are more usefully linked with a “disorganized” attachment style. An attachment style is a disposition to form bonds of affection in a certain way, fundamentally secure or insecure. A disorganized attachment style is one in which disorientation and contradictory emotional behaviors mark one’s attachment bonds30—an apt characterization of Hamlet’s relation to his mother and to Ophelia particularly.

Mood bears not only on characters, but also on literary works more broadly. What the Sanskrit theorists called the “rasa” of a piece, its pervading emotional tone, is in effect a sort of mood conveyed to a reader or audience member.31 The rasa or mood of a piece—for example, if it is predominantly romantic, mirthful, or sorrowful—serves to contextualize the events and situations that foster more punctual emotion episodes. Perhaps the most important thing to recognize here is that moods are often complex, the result of a number of distinct emotional sensitivities, such that the resulting inclinations are a matter of networks of emotion. In Jonson’s poem, for example, a matrix of small suggestions—what the Sanskrit theorists called “dhvani”—conveys an integration of grief with despair (his “hope” was in the past) and guilt (he sees the death as punishment for his own “sin”). The statement that he “should envy” the child’s state suggests that he in fact pities the child for missing out on life but at the same time feels such ongoing pain that he should imagine his own death as desirable. This pervasive guilt and despair may even suggest that the religious points in the poem, however sincerely believed, are little more than a sad attempt at emotion amelioration—what is called “mood repair.”32

Finally, attitudes bear significantly on our response to literature. Perhaps the most important form of attitude in this context is interpersonal stance, one’s attitude toward another person. Filling in the concept somewhat, we might say that one aspect of interpersonal stance is empathic disposition, specifically whether one’s inclination is to respond to another person’s emotions in parallel (e.g., sharing his or her grief) or in a complementary fashion (e.g., experiencing Schadenfreude at that grief). This is frequently related to identity group divisions. Broadly speaking, our initial response to in-group members (e.g., people of the same race or religion) is more often parallel, whereas our initial or unreflective response to out-group members is more often complementary.33 This is one reason why our aesthetic judgments are often untrustworthy. Our literary response may require empathy that is inhibited by identity group divisions. I take it that this is at least part of what was going on when I taught Lǐ Qīngzhào’s poem a few years ago. When I read the poem in English, then part of the Chinese original, one student continually giggled and rolled her eyes. I suspect that this was in part the result of an empathic inhibition due to out-grouping the poet. (The student in question was European-American, not Chinese or Chinese-American.)

The Nature of Emotion

Again, the preceding account of affect presupposes an account of emotion. There are in fact several competing accounts of emotion in affective science. Simplifying the diversity in the field, we may organize the options into two large alternatives along two axes. Both axes concern the mental organization or “architecture” of emotion. The first is a matter of the large structures of the human mind; the second is a matter of the key processes that engage those structures. As to the former, affective scientists may be roughly divided into those who treat emotion in terms of “dimensions” and those who treat it in terms of “systems.” Dimension theorists seek to account for the diversity of emotional responses by reference to a limited set of variables.34 Two variables are particularly common in such accounts—valence and arousal. Most often, these variables are presented as bipolar gradients of subjective (or “phenomenological”) experience; however, they may also be articulated in behavioral terms. Phenomenologically, valence is a matter of pleasant versus unpleasant experience; arousal is a more simply a matter of high energy versus low energy. Behaviorally, valence is a matter of an inclination to maintain a state or situation versus an inclination to change it; arousal is an inclination toward motor activity versus a disinclination. Different ordinary language categories of emotion may be mapped onto a conceptual grid using these dimensions.35 For example, depression involves high unpleasantness and low arousal, whereas anxiety involves high unpleasantness and high arousal.

Dimensional accounts may lose something in elegance but gain in explanatory capacity as they add further dimensions.36 For example, intuitively, it seems that anxiety is not simply a matter of unpleasantness and high arousal, which would appear to characterize a number of emotions, including, for instance, certain sorts or phases of grief. Rather, anxiety would seem to involve at least two other factors (both cognitive, rather than narrowly affective, though with clear affective consequences). First, there is a temporal dimension. One is anxious about the future, not about the past. Second, anxiety appears to be related to one’s sense that the unpleasant future (e.g., a simulated event) can possibly be avoided.

What is most significant in the present context is that the preceding points suggest a connection with literary experience. Specifically, in a dimensional account, anxiety—either egoistic (i.e., for oneself) or empathic—would appear to follow the same general principles as literary suspense. To think about this, we might begin from Ed Tan’s insightful account of interest.37 Given a preferred outcome, our interest is sustained through assessments of the likelihood that this outcome will be attained. Given the right intensity of preference, and an adequately aversive quality to the alternatives (e.g., when the hero must either subdue the villain or die trying), this covers not only interest, but also suspense. If anxiety is indeed related to suspense, this already begins to give us a potentially fuller understanding of anxiety in its relation to the (subjective) likelihood of preferred outcomes and the emotions inspired by salient alternatives. But that is not all there is to the issue. The study of literary and cinematic suspense alerts us to the great importance not only of overarching goal pursuit, but of detailed, moment-to-moment interactions, the particulars of the narrative trajectory. These are presumably no less important in anxiety than in suspense. Finally, literature and film may give us not only targeted suspense (e.g., regarding whether the hero will defeat the villain or be killed). They may also give us more generalized and undirected feelings of foreboding (due for example to the use of music in a film). Such background elicitors of emotion are presumably no less important in anxiety than in suspense, since anxiety too may be undirected or “generalized.” As these points suggest, a literary analysis of suspense may potentially contribute to a psychological analysis of anxiety as much as the reverse. In other words, this may be an example of how the study of literature may contribute materially to our understanding of general psychological processes.

A dimensional approach may have consequences for concrete interpretation as well. For example, both Jonson’s and Lǐ’s poems treat grief. But there are striking differences between them, differences made salient by an awareness of emotion dimensions. Both poems express a high degree of unpleasantness. But Jonson’s poem is more evidently backward-looking temporally and more consistently low in arousal or activity. Lǐ’s poem, in contrast, begins with a frantic search that appears pointless—indeed, a search that continues even though there is no longer any suspense, thus hope. Yet, there are moments of ponderous lethargy in Lǐ’s poem, moments more depleted in arousal than anything in Jonson’s poem. For example, the speaker wonders who will stand and pick a flower at her home, suggesting that she herself lacks the energy for even this minimal exertion. Conversely, awareness of the dimensionality of emotion is likely to draw our attention to the limited suggestions of activity that do occur in Jonson’s poem, as when he assimilates the burial of the child to his own act of paying a debt. This points toward a suggestive ambiguity. Is the father’s debt owed to God, who has exacted the child’s demise as payment perhaps for the father’s sin? Or is the debt owed to the child (“I thee pay” meaning “I pay to thee [as creditor],” rather than “I pay with thee [as, say, collateral]”)—a debt that might have been incurred due to some flaw in fathering? In any case, the lines (beginning with “My sin”) indicate the centrality of the emotion of guilt with its deep sense of responsibility for action (or inaction when action was required). In contrast, Lǐ’s poem seems to point more toward utter irrelevance of any action and the speaker’s helplessness concerning a loss that was entirely beyond her influence. The difference is presumably not merely a matter of these two poems, but of kinds of grief as well. Along with the preceding example (regarding anxiety and suspense), these observations suggest that the incorporation of dimensional analysis into literary study promises to be beneficial for both the understanding of emotion and the understanding of literature.

This is not to say, however, that such mutual benefits are confined to dimensional accounts. Indeed, despite the apparent attitudes of their advocates, dimensional and systemic accounts are not irreconcilable. To the contrary, the dimensions could simply apply across systems—disgust, fear, anger, and so on—as part of what makes all of those systems emotional. Systemic accounts commonly presuppose the variables invoked by dimensional theories, but link them to innate (or sometimes acquired) complexes of distinctive feelings, action tendencies, and so on. For the most part, our usual, pre-theoretical approaches to emotion and literature are systemic, presupposing the existence of fear, anger, disgust, and so forth, as fundamental categories.

The situation is similar with the second axis of difference in theories of emotion—that is, the nature of causal processes invoked to explain emotion episodes. The most common account of emotion in affective science is one or another version of appraisal theory. An appraisal theory is an account that understands emotions as interpretations of circumstances or events relative to goals or, more broadly, as judgments about the relevance of circumstances or events to one’s “flourishing,” as Martha Nussbaum would put it.38 As Keith Oatley explains, “Emotions are evaluations of events as they affect our concerns.”39 The main alternative to appraisal theory may be called “perceptual-associative.” It posits a more mechanical series of perceptions and associations as triggering emotional responses due to specific sensitivities in particular emotion systems. Appraisal theories suggest the importance of general trends or statistical likelihood. In contrast, perceptual-associative theories emphasize concrete particulars. For example, in one perceptual-associative account,40 there are three sources of emotion system activation: innate sensitivities, critical period experiences, and emotional memories. Innate sensitivities include not only responsiveness to physical pleasure and pain, but also (among others) our receptivity to the emotion expressions of other people and our susceptibility to emotion contagion from witnessing those expressions. Critical period experiences are early events that have enduring organizational and dispositional consequences for our emotional systems, such as an inclination toward secure or insecure attachment bonding. Emotional memories are memories that, upon activation, revive the initial emotion itself (as when the recollection of an automobile accident revives the sense of panic that accompanied the past experience).

Appraisal theories appear to have the advantage in many complex social cases. For example, Jones reads a letter denying his application for tenure and is devastated. It seems plausible to see this as a function of his judgment that his flourishing has suffered a keen blow. Perceptual-associative theories, however, appear to have the advantage in cases where we respond to stimuli in ways that go against our assessments—as when someone fears flying more than driving, despite knowing that the former is much safer. Moreover, the perceptual-associative theories would seem to have the advantage in cases of emotional experiences that apparently do not involve the advancement or inhibition of one’s flourishing. For example, Juslin notes that “music would not appear to have any capacity to further or block life goals,”41 but it may be highly emotional. The two accounts may be partially reconciled, however, by noting that appraisal can be incorporated into a perceptual-associative account. Appraisal processes involve concrete simulations (e.g., Jones’s simulation of telling his spouse about the tenure denial and seeing her distress), the activation of emotional memories (e.g., of past failures or social exclusions), and other factors that would trigger emotion according to a perceptual-associative account. The difference is that, in the perceptual-associative theory, it is not the logic of the appraisal that produces the emotion; it is, rather, the concrete imaginations and recollections accompanying the appraisal that do so.

The opening of Jonson’s poem suggests an appraisal account.42 The speaker grieves because he had “hope” for his son. Technically, he simulated a future for the boy and he now realizes that the imagined future cannot be realized, with painful consequences for his own flourishing. But later lines of the poem suggest limitations of the appraisal account. As we have seen, part of the speaker’s emotional state is a matter of pity for the boy. That pity is inconsistent with his assessment of the child’s Heavenly state. This is presumably because he witnessed the boy’s sickness and death, a direct perception forming emotional memories, but he has had no such experience of the child’s postmortem bliss. In my personal experience, a key line in the poem is, “O, could I lose all father now!” This line bears directly on the issue we are considering. To me, this sentence is a devastating cry of despair, rendered all the more pathetic by its grammatical peculiarity. The phrase is ambiguous. But what I take it to mean—and what guides my emotional reaction—is that he could foreswear ever having been a father in the sense of ever having heard himself addressed as “father.” Behind this sentiment, then, is the now-searing, emotional memory of the boy calling to him with the title (“father”) that would ordinarily be sweet with the tenderness of attachment bonds—perhaps even addressing him from his deathbed. If this is accurate, the power of this line is partially clarified through a search for concreteness fostered by the perceptual-associative account of emotion.

Emotion Episodes

Of course, emotions are not simply mental structures or types of causal process. They are events, the activation of systems by causes. A key aspect of affective science—related to its connections with Anglo-American or “analytic” philosophy—is the analysis of emotion episodes into components. We tend to think of emotion as primarily a feeling. This is called the “phenomenological tone” of the emotion. But it is only one element of an emotion episode. Indeed, it is a rather strange element. Most components of an emotion episode may be articulated from an observer’s perspective. This is not to say that an actual observer would be able to acquire knowledge of all such components. It is simply to say that they can be phrased in a third-person idiom. Only phenomenological tone is essentially subjective.

Before turning to phenomenological tone, however, we need to consider some of the other components of an emotion episode. The first component is eliciting conditions. These are the circumstances that give rise to the emotion episode. Such circumstances most obviously include the events and properties of the external world. But they also include affective dispositions and moods on the part of the person feeling the emotion. Consider Jonson’s line, “O, could I lose all father now!” The suggestion is that he cannot bear even to hear the word “father.” Clearly, the cause of the emotion is not the word alone. It is only in the context of his mood of mourning that hearing the word becomes an eliciting condition for intensified grief. This is, of course, because it calls to mind his dead son—perhaps an emotional memory of the boy’s voice saying “father” (or, what is worse, a simulation based on a report of the son calling in his absence). In keeping with this account of the eliciting conditions, the speaker makes reference to the child’s voice, admonishing the dead son to answer an unspoken question about the inhabitant of the grave. In doing so, he implicitly makes the boy avoid saying “father.” Specifically, the speaker tells the boy to refer to “Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry,” not “My father his best piece of poetry.” Once noticed, the omission becomes striking.

A second component of an emotion episode is expressive or communicative outcomes. These are results of the emotion that do not serve directly to alter or maintain the situation as such. Rather, they serve to convey the emotion to those present (which may of course lead in its turn to changes in the situation).43 For example, a cry of fear at the sight of a predator would serve to warn others of the danger. Note that this does not mean the communication is planned. Rather, such communication results from the spontaneous emotion expression and at least contributes to its evolutionary function. Communicative outcomes not only provide information to others. They tend to inspire emotion contagion or empathy and they are crucial for the acquisition of appropriate emotional responses in childhood (e.g., when a child learns to fear and thus avoid dangers due to the caregiver’s expressions of fear). (Emotion contagion is the egocentric experience of someone else’s emotion, as when Jones’s fear of a predator makes me fear for my own safety; empathy is the allocentric experience of someone else’s emotion, as when Jones’s fear of being denied tenure makes me fear for Jones.44)

Communicative outcomes figure most obviously in film and theater. Carl Plantinga’s important essay on “The Scene of Empathy and the Human Face on Film”45 presents a compelling analysis of viewer emotion as to a great extent mirroring that of the faces presented on screen, particularly in close-ups. In emotional mirroring, the observer experiences some version of the emotion expressed by the behaviors that he or she witnesses in the target (e.g., an observer may feel happy on seeing someone else smile). This is due to overlap between the neurologically based systems that respond to one’s observation of other people’s behaviors and the systems involved in one’s own enactment of related behaviors (e.g., other people’s smiling and one’s own smiling).46 Plantinga’s point could be extended to other expressive or communicative outcomes, such as posture and gait.47 Moreover, it could be complicated by noting the difference between a parallel and a complementary interpersonal stance (as discussed above).

Expressivity enters into literary works as well, however. This occurs in part through simulation and through subvocalization, the silent “voicing” of a speaker’s utterance. Tone of voice—including, variation in volume and pitch contour—is a very important expressive or communicative outcome. Consider again the line, “O, could I lose all father now!” Part of the impact of the line relies on subvocalization. Imagine it with the contour of, say, “O, could I use a frothy brew now!”

A third component is action readiness, which may combine with actional outcomes. Action readiness is the entire bodily and mental orientation toward behavior that will either alter the situation or maintain it, depending on whether the emotion is aversive or pleasurable. It involves the “priming” of motor routines (i.e., the partial activation of such routines, below the threshold of enactment), the preparatory tensing or relaxation of the musculature, and other, relevant physiological orientations. Actional outcomes are, of course, the actions themselves, such as running from a danger.

As already noted, Lǐ’s poem begins with an actional outcome, “search search” (xún xún; 尋尋‎). The suggestion may be that the speaker is looking for her husband. She is seated at the window, looking out through the clear, cold air, scanning the distance. But the reader infers that her husband is dead. Even if he is not dead, there is nothing she can do. She desperately wishes to change the situation, but she is helpless. Thus the only option is not to change the external situation, but to change herself. This actually leads to another component of an emotion episode, one parallel to the actional outcome—emotion modulation. One may seek to shift, diminish, sustain, or intensify one’s emotional response to a situation by changing oneself. For example, when struck by a funny idea in the middle of a funeral, one may try to turn one’s thoughts in another direction, shifting one’s emotion. Unable to engage in action that would change her situation, the speaker of “Shēngshēng Màn” seeks to change herself. First, she tries to rest; sleep would, of course, make her impervious to her circumstances, but she cannot sleep. Then she downs cup after cup of wine, but rather than enjoying the drink and raising her spirits, she finds it insipid (dàn; ‎). Like everything else that evening, the suggestion is that drinking only serves to remind her that she is alone (dúzì; 獨自‎). The actional and self-modulatory outcomes are thus inconsequential. That impossibility of amelioration is central to the despair of the work.

This leads to yet another component in an emotion episode—emotions tend to alter cognitive processing. In some cases, this processing is more or less purely informational. Positive emotional states tend to foster top-down processing, stressing generalities over particulars. Negative emotional states tend to do the opposite, stressing particulars over generalities.48 We arguably see the latter in Jonson’s poem, with its emotional emphasis on the particularity of the son’s death, at the expense of generalities about divine beneficence and the bliss of Heaven. This, in turn, suggests a cognitive reason that grief is so resistant to consolation.

Other processing changes are more obviously emotional themselves, such as the tendency toward emotion-congruent processing, the interpretation of and response to ambiguous situations in a way that is consistent with one’s predominant emotion at the time.49 We find a prominent case of this in what Chinese critics sometimes refer to as “emotion-scene fusion.”50 This is not a misguided application of human properties to nature. It is an apt reflection of the way in which emotions guide our response to our environment. There is a touching case of this in Lǐ’s poem. Instead of seeing beauty in the fall blossoms, she finds them haggard, languishing, and harmed (qiáo cuì [or qiáocuì] sǔn; 憔悴損‎); implicitly, they are like the speaker herself. In other words, due to emotion-congruent processing, she understands and responds to the condition of the flowers in terms of her own physical condition, posture, and recent experience. It is a sort of reverse mirroring.

The mention of mirroring returns us to phenomenological tone, since mirroring gives us a hint of another person’s emotional experience, but not the experience itself (as shown by the flowers, which of course are not having any emotional experience). Again, phenomenological tone is the one component of an emotion episode that is essentially private; it is a subjective experience that cannot be observed by anyone else or even phrased in a third-person idiom. But that does not mean it is inconsequential. The pleasure or pain of emotion is part of its phenomenological tone. As such, that tone is precisely the part of an emotion that one would wish to share with others, appealing for their commiseration or celebration. But it is also the one part of emotion that is ultimately unshareable. The point is particularly clear in ordinary life, where our individual experiences often diverge sharply for the most personally consequential events. For example, even a friend or relative is unlikely to share one’s joy in success without jealousy or some other taint of egoism, and the grief that touches one’s own life is rarely common to friends, or even spouses. However, in some respects, the detailed elaboration of emotional particularity in a literary work may give us intimations of more fully sharing emotions with characters or authors or may enable a sense of elaborate emotion sharing with other readers.

One common view of phenomenological tone, associated with William James, identifies it as the subjective experience of bodily changes (“physiological outcomes”) that occur during emotion episodes. In other words, the “feeling” of an emotion (as Antonio Damasio calls it)—what many people are likely to think of as the core of emotion itself—is not ethereal or spiritual, but thoroughly embodied. In recent work, Joseph LeDoux explains James’s view in the following terms: “Different emotions are experienced differently because they involve different body signatures that produce different patterns of feedback and thus different feelings.”51 As LeDoux goes on to explain, this account was developed, extended, and rendered neurologically rigorous by Antonio Damasio in his theory of “somatic markers.” In Damasio’s account, bodily (“somatic”) feedback not only produces feelings; it also marks cognition, with important consequences for decision making, which is therefore not merely abstract and rational but deeply bound up with emotion and embodiment.52 Among other factors, this is presumably due to the fact that decisions bearing on action are a matter not merely of information processing (thus logic and evidence) but of motivation (thus emotion, including phenomenological tone) as well. Indeed, the general idea is closely related to the account of emotional response in fictional simulation given above. Decisions are in part a matter of simulating outcomes and experiencing particular positive or negative emotions in response to those simulations. The emotional responses have significant motivational consequences, thus significant consequences for decision-making.

Where Is Emotion in Literature?

We clearly have emotional responses to different aspects of literature and attribute emotion to different parts of literature and its larger context of production and reception. In the analytic spirit of affective science, the following subsections sketch some of the different loci of emotion in or around a literary work. The organizational structure of the analysis is drawn from narratology. It begins with authors and readers (both real and implied), turns to narrators and plots, then stories, considering distinctive aspects of emotional response or attribution in each case.

Authors and Readers

Needless to say, real emotions are to be found only in real people. There are two sorts of real persons involved in literature—authors and readers. The preceding section referred briefly to emotion sharing. The idea applies to both authors and readers. Readers who particularly enjoy a work or find it especially moving are likely to want to share that emotional experience with other people, prominently attachment figures, such as friends or family members. As to authors, some accounts of literary production make emotion expression the primary purpose of literature. Some readers today are likely to associate this view with the Euro-American Romantic movement. But versions of this view may be found in different times and places. For example, in Japanese tradition, Lady Murasaki’s 11th-century Tale of Genji includes the following account of authorship: “the storyteller’s own experience …—not only what he has passed through himself, but even events which he has only witnessed or been told of—has moved him to an emotion so passionate that he can no longer keep it shut up in his heart.”53

Writers such as Bernard Rimé have brought emotion sharing into affective science, stressing its centrality to human social life.54 The most obvious function for emotion sharing is modulatory. Someone else may calm one’s anxiety or enhance one’s joy. This is related to a broader, longer-term function—the possibility of, so to speak, calibrating one’s own emotional responses by reference to the quality and intensity of other people’s responses. Another possible function for emotion sharing is in ascertaining who might be compatible as a friend: someone whose emotional responses might be congruent with one’s own. In the case of literature, these functions apply most obviously across readers, though, as Lady Murasaki suggests, sharing from author to reader is important as well. In keeping with this, the impulse toward emotion sharing seems clear in both poems. That impulse is unusually poignant in the case of Lǐ’s poem because it is evident that the speaker wishes to share her anxiety with her husband and to be reassured by him. The reader may be keenly aware that he or she cannot reassure the author, that her poetic act of emotion sharing in fact provided no benefit of emotion modulation for her. She remained alone (dúzì; 獨自‎) with the clutter of languishing blossoms and the heart-piercing (zhèng shāng xīn; 正傷心‎) cries of the passing geese, the only “acquaintances”55 (shí; ‎) mentioned in the scene.

The situation with Jonson is somewhat different. In a lovely line, Jonson has his dead son characterize himself as “Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry.” Unlike Lǐ’s poem, Jonson’s poem presents us with explicit self-consciousness about the poetic act of emotion sharing. Jonson knows that this is a poem that will be sent out to the public to be read and appreciated, and its author will be pitied. In connection with this, he presents a clear image of the “implied author,” Ben Jonson the poet and playwright. Indeed, the poem illustrates an ambiguity in the idea of an implied author. On the one hand, the phrase (“implied author”) refers to a set of textual norms; on the other hand, it refers to an image of the real author.56 The two are related, and both may be linked to the real author,57 but they are not the same. Even so, in both cases, special emotional concerns arise with respect to the implied author in an emotional context, prominently the issue of emotional sincerity. Readers may differ in the degree to which they are willing to allow Jonson’s grief to be sincerely compatible with the hint of vanity in praising the boy as his “best … poetry.” (This analysis assumes that expressions of grief, remorse, and loss of hope are fully sincere.)

The reference to differences in the reception of the poem returns to real readers. It also brings up the relation between real readers and implied readers. Like authors, real readers have real emotions (not just simulated emotions, like characters). Those emotions differ individually, while also manifesting some recurring patterns. The empirical study of reader response, including emotional response, gives us one way of uncovering such patterns. Such study has developed importantly in recent years through work by Marisa Bortolussi, Peter Dixon, Don Kuiken, David Miall, and others.58

Perhaps the most important patterns across readers are not specific to literature, but extend across people’s general routines of thought and feeling. Perhaps the key aspect of readers’ affective response is empathy, which is strongly affected by out-grouping.59 Empathy has been a topic of considerable affective science research in recent years; the bearing of this research on literary study has been discussed influentially and insightfully by Suzanne Keen.60

Implied readers are textually guided simulations that provide norms for response to a literary work. Sometimes, critics object to the idea of an implied reader as it may seem to define the appropriate responses of a reader too narrowly. However, there are many cases in which we might wish to say that a given reader’s emotional response is misguided—as in the case of my student giggling at Lǐ’s poem. Conversely, we may wish to say that a poem fails aesthetically if its effect on real readers is very likely to diverge from its implied readerly norm. If almost everyone giggled on reading Lǐ’s poem, it would be important to know whether it was a poem of grief or a parody of a lament. That difference is at least in part a matter of the implied reader’s (normative) emotional response.

Narrators and Plots

Ben Jonson’s foregrounding of himself as a poet is not only a matter of forging an image of the implied author and establishing norms for reading this particular poem. It is also a matter of bringing out the narrator or speaker of the poem as a (simulated) voice distinct from the author or implied author. This is suggested by the references to Ben Jonson as “he.” Of course, one can simply take the “his” in “Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry” to be in the voice of the dead child. But the concluding couplet (“For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such, / As what he loves may never like too much”) is more general. It is spoken in the voice of the governing consciousness of the poem. That is the voice of the narrator.

Narrators raise special emotional concerns in literature. Most obviously, they invite degrees and kinds of trust or distrust. Often trust and distrust are interpreted in terms of proximity to or distance from the implied or real author. However, things are more complex than this. Indeed, Jonson’s poem suggests that, in some cases, trust may be enhanced by at least some degree of differentiation between the narrator and the author or implied author. There is, for example, something a bit strange about Jonson’s narrator’s claim that the dead child was Jonson’s “best piece of poetry.” It is important that it is given in a narrator’s voice. If the poem had said, “my best piece of poetry,” the egoism of the claim would have likely inspired distrust in many readers. After all, the metaphor works to eulogize the child only if Ben Jonson is a truly stellar poet. Our trust in the narrator’s judgment here is in part a function of the narrator diverging from the author and implied author, who are presumably too grief-stricken to consider such matters as professional success. Beyond such issues of trust, and consequent emotions, narrators may be more or less personified61 and as such may inspire a range of ordinary emotions in greater or lesser degree.

In addition to narration, narratologists distinguish plot or emplotment as part of how a story is told, thus an element of the “discourse” (as opposed to what is told—the story proper). Emplotment involves such matters as narrational manipulation of what information is given when (e.g., whether the outcome of the events is given at the start or deferred until the end of the telling) and how that information is articulated or construed. Plot too involves its own distinctive set of emotions. We have already noted that interest, in Ed Tan’s account, as well as suspense are a function, not only of the story per se, but of the timing and construal of information from the story, which is to say the plot. Since Meir Sternberg’s work on the topic, it has been customary to distinguish curiosity and surprise in addition to suspense.62 Suspense is a matter of outcomes; curiosity is a matter of causal precedents, once we know the outcome. Surprise is a function of expectation. Though certainly valuable, it is not clear that this is the most systematic way of dividing plot emotions. Combining Sternberg with Tan, we might suggest a dimensional account in which there are variables bearing on the degree of preference for any given event (whether an outcome or a precedent), degree of likelihood for that event, and prospective versus retrospective orientation. For example, a strongly preferred event with low likelihood that has occurred and been narrated is likely to result in a sense of relief, making this another plot-based emotion alongside suspense and curiosity. Surprise might be understood as bearing on a different dimension—consistency with anticipatory simulations. It may occur independently of such emotions as relief or as an inflection of them.

Lǐ’s poem presents us with a remarkably complex case of emplotment, mixing temporal orientations, perhaps by mixing a memory with a current situation. Specifically, the poem suggests a current evening when the speaker is alone following the death of her husband. But it seems to intermingle a memory of waiting in vain for his return in the past. We see this in the searching at the outset, which would seem pointless if the husband is known to be dead. This gives the poem a dual temporal orientation, with all the emotional complexity that this suggests. The ambiguity is enabled by the relative absence of tense markers in Chinese.63 It is further developed by the images of approaching winter and approaching night that both suggest death is coming rather than that it has already come. This temporal and emotional duality is made more or less explicit in the closing line of the poem. The speaker asks how a single “zì” (‎) could convey her feelings of “chóu” (‎).64 “Zì” is often translated as “word” and “chóu” as “sorrow.” But it is also possible to translate the former as “character,” referring to the written form particularly, and the latter as “worry.”65 In the context of the poem’s complex emplotment, the line is emotionally brilliant. “Chóu” does really summarize her feelings, because it conveys both the retrospective sorrow and the prospective worry. Indeed, the worry continues in the present through the haunting memories of searching and seeking and through the speaker’s distress over (simulations of) her own lonely future. In addition, the character for “chóu” (‎) contributes to this complex feeling, for it combines the characters for “autumn” (“qiū”; ‎) and “heart” (“xīn”; ‎), the former placed above the latter as if the autumnal change, with its implications of winter and death, weigh down on the speaker’s heart. Indeed, the character for “xīn” is flattened in “chóu.”


Story is, again, what happens, what the plot partially represents and partially reorganizes. The story is what is done by or happens to whom and where it all occurs. In other words, story comprises the events, characters, and scenes. Sometimes the second and third (characters and scenes) are referred to as the “storyworld” and distinguished from the sequence of events that delimits the story, in a narrower sense. There are many ways in which both character and scene may bear on affect and literature. For example, there has been much work on character and “Theory of Mind,” the means by which we come to understand (or misunderstand) other people’s intentions, aspirations, and other mental states, including emotions.66 In general, characters may have—or provoke in readers or in other characters—all the usual human emotions. After all, it is again part of our simulative capacities that we respond to simulations as we respond to comparable realities. The same general point holds for scenes or places. In each case, there may be particular sorts of relation that are especially consequential emotionally, such as the organization of characters into in-group and out-group members or of places into home and away from home.

The relation of emotion to stories (in the narrow sense) is perhaps more interesting. A number of writers have argued that there are cross-culturally recurring story sequences. Outside cognitive and affective science, these are sometimes posited as the result of “archetypes.” In Jungian psychology, archetypes are instances of “a tendency to form representations of a motif—representations that can vary a great deal in detail without losing their basic pattern,”67 a tendency “inherited” through a “collective unconscious.”68 In contrast to this approach, working from within affective science, I have argued that a specific set of cross-cultural story patterns may be understood as deriving from emotion systems in a rule-governed way.

First, I have argued that categories of story structures have the same general properties as other social categories. Specifically, such categories are not usually defined by strict necessary and sufficient conditions, but by roughly average instances that serve as “good cases” of a category. The point applies, then, not only to such ordinary, physical objects as tables and birds, but also to stories. The “good cases” are called “prototypes” (following Eleanor Rosch69). It is important to distinguish (experientially defined) prototypes from archetypes, despite the similar sound of the two words.

Beyond this semantic point, I have drawn on stories from a range of traditions to argue that there are recurring genre patterns across traditions of literature and orature.70 These genre patterns define genre prototypes and the prototypes may be explained by reference to ordinary features of emotion systems. First, the genre prototypes include romantic, heroic, sacrificial, familial, seduction, revenge, and other recurring story sequences. For example, the romantic prototype involves two people falling in love, encountering social resistance (often from parents), experiencing separation (often exile or threat of death), but then—in the full, comic version—overcoming obstacles to be reunited in an enduring and idealized union. The heroic story often develops in two sequences. One treats the usurpation (often by a close relative), exile, threatened death, and ultimate return of the rightful social leader; the other treats the temporary defeat of the home society by some social enemy.

In each case, the story pattern was not produced by some sort of collective sensibility. Rather, it resulted from algorithmically specifiable psychological processes relying only on standard mental architecture as set out in cognitive and affective science. Specifically, stories involve the usual appeal of simulation, combined with the usual folk psychology of characters following goals. (Folk psychology is the set of psychological principles that we rely on tacitly in understanding people’s minds.) Characters’ goals are defined by biologically given emotion systems, specified in relation to socially defined practices. The working out of the story prototypes results from the operation of ordinary principles that apply across emotion systems. For example, sexual desire and attachment systems produce goals—sexual union in the first case, enduring proximity with reciprocal attention and care in the second. These generate goals for characters and thereby produce genres. The sexual desire system gives rise to the seduction genre; the attachment system fosters the family separation and reunion plot. These emotion systems combine in romantic love. As it derives from a combination of motivation systems, we might expect the goal of romantic union to be particularly intense. This, and the frequency of the combination in real life, may lead us to expect in turn that the resulting genre would be particularly common. This is just what we seem to find in the proliferation of romantic narratives in different traditions. Similarly, pride and anger contribute to the generation of heroic narratives. Moreover, the dual story structure of this prototype derives from the combination of two types of emotions as well—those defined by individual aspiration or accomplishment (for the hero) and those defined by group identity (for the home society).

The definition of goals only gives us the largest trajectories of the genres, however. More specific structures are produced by some ordinary principles of emotional response. For example, an outcome emotion is generally enhanced by the gradient of change from a prior, contradictory emotion. If things turn out to be simply normal, that will give rise to joy (or at least relief) if the outlook had been grim, but it will foster sadness (or at least disappointment) if there had been a prospect of advancement. If I anticipate losing my job, then simply not losing my job is cause for celebration. But if I anticipate a promotion, then merely not losing my job may leave me melancholic. This is the reason stories commonly involve the opposite of their desired outcome in the middle. Tragedies end with the opposite of the desired outcome. But in full comedies the happy ending is intensified by the near-tragic middle. Thus, in romantic stories, lovers are separated, and sometimes thought to have died, before being reunited. In the heroic genre, the home society is devastated before defeating the enemy.

Other forms of emotion intensification include the manipulation of place attachment and what may be called “familialization.” Often the manipulation of place attachment appears as exile in the tragic middle, where lovers and deposed leaders are sent to alien places. The comic ending then involves not only romantic union or the restoration of rightful leadership, but also the protagonist’s return home. As to familialization, attachment bonds make conflict more painful. In consequence, the clash between the lovers and society is often a clash within the family and the heroic usurpation is often familial (e.g., fraternal) as well. Of course, these patterns to some extent reflect patterns in real life in addition to serving emotional intensification. But not all factors that recur in real life also recur in stories; the selection is guided by emotional functions.

Familialization provides a good example of the contrast between cross-cultural prototypes and Jungian archetypes. Jung identifies “the motif of the hostile brethern” as resulting from an archetype,71 which is to say, from one of the “pre-existent forms” that are “inherited” through a “collective unconscious” that is “universal” and “impersonal.”72 In contrast, the cognitive account just given views fraternal conflict as the result of emotional intensification repeated across individual stories, thereby yielding a standard or usual case (the prototype). As this should make clear, the concepts of prototype and archetype are no more closely related than the concepts of catalog and catastrophe. (Of course, the concepts of archetype and universal are related in that archetypes, should they exist, would be a form of universal.)

In short, emotion is a crucial factor in the generation and organization of stories. This is unsurprising. Stories involving human action are necessarily driven by motives. It would be incomprehensible if motivation systems did not play an important role in the development of tales recounting such action.

A Brief Example from Affect Theory

Sara Ahmed is one of the most influential affect theorists. Her essay, “Happy Objects,” 73 provides an apt and accessible example of her work. It is exemplary in part because of its relation to cultural studies and psychoanalytic tradition, from which Ahmed borrows explanatory categories, such as melancholia. At the same time, the essay illustrates the diversity of affect theory. Ahmed is in many ways a mainstream Western philosopher. She draws fluently on both Anglo-American and Continental philosophical traditions. She is particularly noteworthy for her careful Phenomenological reflections.

Specifically, in “Happy Objects,” Ahmed considers various aspects of happiness. She refers to the happiness inspired by objects and the unexplained feeling of happiness that disposes us to find objects happy; she refers to the ways in which happiness and anxiety are “sticky”; she comments on the social judgments that bear on our expectations of happiness. Affective scientists would be likely to agree with almost all of what Ahmed discusses here. However, they would probably maintain that each of these points could be rendered more precise and rigorous by reference to affective science. The first point (concerning the inspiration of happiness) would be a matter of the objective and subjective eliciting conditions for happiness, with various subdivisions for the subjective propensity. The second point (about “stickiness”) might benefit from the distinction between contagion and empathy, as well as a treatment of such mechanisms as mirroring. The third point (about expectations) might be advanced by relating it to processes of simulation. More fundamentally, an affective scientist might ask for a prior analysis of happiness, an account of it in dimensional terms or a determination of its nature in relation to specific emotion systems, an outline of relevant appraisal processes or their functional equivalents in perceptions and associations, and so on.

The likely response of an affective scientist to Ahmed’s Phenomenological account of happiness does not invalidate her observations. Indeed, it incorporates those observations into a systematic and empirically well-supported account of the nature of affect. However, it does to some extent limit the theoretical value of the Phenomenology. Rather than advances in our understanding of happiness, Ahmed’s reflections may appear more like vivid illustrations of theoretical points that are already well formulated in affective science.

But Ahmed’s Phenomenological observations are not the goal of her essay. They are, rather, a means of leading her to political critique. This political critique is focused first of all on just what is socially considered to be an eliciting condition for happiness (to use the affective science terminology); this includes what is widely considered a fundamental condition for happiness—the (heteronormative) family. The social definition of the family as the enabling condition for many sorts of happiness has a broad range of political consequences that are often deleterious (e.g., for sexual minorities). Thus Ahmed reminds us that emotions are not simply natural experiences; they are also invoked and imagined in ideologically functional ways. She particularly sensitizes us to the way that this is done with the social ideal of personal happiness.

Perhaps more significantly, Ahmed considers the stereotype of “the feminist kill-joy.” Specifically, she considers how, within a family or a broader (family-like) society, people often make sexist comments that are accepted, apparently happily, by those around. The feminist kill-joy is the person who, unhappy with the sexism, remarks on it, and challenges the comments. This kill-joy is then blamed for disturbing the happiness of the group. The point is valuable for what it says about feminist (or other political) kill-joys. (Though one should not overstate the case. There are people of all political persuasions who are too quick to take offense and who unfairly berate others for supposed political inadequacies.) But perhaps the more important implication of Ahmed’s argument is that our emotion episodes have complex sequences of causes and our understanding of those causes often involves ideological misattribution (to put the issue somewhat differently than Ahmed). In the case of the feminist kill-joy, it is true that the unhappiness of the people directly involved is an immediate result of the objections of the feminist. That is salient. But that causal attribution leaves out two things that are not salient. First, it leaves out the unhappiness of the feminist, caused by the sexist comment. Second, and more important, it leaves out the much more extensive unhappiness caused in society by sexism. Thus Ahmed’s analysis shows us that causal attribution in emotional response can be highly politically consequential. Moreover, it can be very shortsighted, very limited in what it recognizes as causally significant. Crucially, that limitation is inseparable from just what is rendered salient by the norms of dominant ideologies, such as patriarchy. Put differently, Ahmed’s analysis draws our attention to what is passed over in apparently objective, but ultimately ideologically guided observations about an emotion episode.

Here, we might return briefly to Jonson’s poem. We have explored what is present in the poem. But are there important absences here as well? Once the general topic is broached, an obvious issue is the sex of the child. Just what difference does it make to Jonson’s grief that the deceased child was male, rather than female? This draws our attention to another poem by Jonson, a parallel one, “On My First Daughter.”74 The daughter poem is widely considered less emotionally powerful than the son poem. For example, Peter Stockwell has discussed both poems with different readers and observes that these readers “generally describe” the son poem “as more intensely moving” and “tend to hold the ‘Son’ poem in higher esteem.”75 This effect on readers is presumably at least to some extent a function of the more deeply felt and more intensely expressed grief of Jonson himself. In part, this is simply a function of time. Jonson’s daughter died at six months of age, whereas his son was a living presence for seven years. Nonetheless, Ahmed’s analysis points us toward possible political sources of this difference as well. Once oriented in that direction, it is hard to miss the emotional richness of Jonson’s relation to his son. That relation included profound hopes (presumably for the son’s achievements), as well as concerns about his physical well-being (e.g., the misery of age). In contrast, he seems to have had one interest only in the daughter—that she not lose her virginity (or “innocence”) prematurely. The focus on the chastity of an infant seems almost perverse, once pointed out, and fits distressingly with the emotional thinness and mechanical phrasing of the daughter poem, both of which contrast so strikingly with “On My First Son.”

The Future of Affect Studies

Emotion has been recognized as a crucial part of literature and literary experience from at least the time of Plato and Aristotle. Moreover, this recognition has not been confined to the West, as the preceding references to Indian rasa theory and Lady Murasaki’s work attest. Despite this, the emotional aspects of literature were largely ignored for much of the 20th century. It was only late in the last century and in the first years of the 21st century that emotion began to receive the careful, systematic attention it clearly merits, both within and outside of literary study.76 There is no sign that interest in either affect theory or affective science will wane in the near future. Rather, one can reasonably expect each to grow, expanding their scope both theoretically and interpretively—and furthering the mutually beneficial study of affect and literature. One might even hope for a greater integration of the genuine insights of the two major tendencies in affect study, particularly the ideological skepticism of affect theory and the empirical and analytic rigor of affective science.77

Further Reading

  • Gregg, Melissa, and Gregory Seigworth, eds. The Affect Theory Reader. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010.
  • Hogan, Patrick Colm. The Mind and Its Stories: Narrative Universals and Human Emotion. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  • Hogan, Patrick Colm. What Literature Teaches Us About Emotion. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
  • Kaplan, E. Ann. Trauma Culture: The Politics of Terror and Loss in Media and Literature. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005.
  • Keen, Suzanne. Empathy and the Novel. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • Nussbaum, Martha. Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  • Oatley, Keith. The Passionate Muse: Exploring Emotion in Stories. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
  • Plantinga, Carl. Moving Viewers: American Film and the Spectator’s Experience. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.
  • Schellekens, Elisabeth, and Peter Goldie, eds. The Aesthetic Mind: Philosophy and Psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
  • Smith, Greg. Film Structure and the Emotion System. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2003.


  • 1. The general idea that there is a paradox of fiction (as we respond emotionally to events that we know are not real) and a paradox of tragedy (as we enjoy empathic sorrow) has been noted by a number of writers. For an accessible overview, see Jenefer Robinson, “Aesthetic Emotions (Philosophical Perspectives),” in The Oxford Companion to Emotion and the Affective Sciences, ed. David Sander and Klaus Scherer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 6–9.

  • 2. Frederick Toates, How Sexual Desire Works: The Enigmatic Urge (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 294.

  • 3. The SEEKING system is Jaak Panksepp’s phrase; see, for example, chapter 3 (95–144) of Jaak Panksepp and Lucy Biven, The Archaeology of Mind: Neuroevolutionary Origins of Human Emotions (New York: Norton, 2012).

  • 4. On liking and wanting in the reward system, see Anjan Chatterjee, “Neuroaesthetics: Growing Pains of a New Discipline,” in Aesthetic Science: Connecting Minds, Brains, and Experience, ed. Arthur Shimamura and Stephen Palmer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 309.

  • 5. See Ji-Woong Kim, S.-E. Kim, J.-J. Kim, B. Jeong, C.‑H. Park, A. Son, J. Song, and S. Ki, “Compassionate Attitude Toward Others’ Suffering Activates the Mesolimbic Neural System,” Neuropsychologia 47 (2009): 2073–2081.

  • 6. I have set out this argument for resolving the apparent paradoxes of fiction and tragedy in chapter 1 (1–26) of How Authors’ Minds Make Stories (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

  • 7. On My First Son

    Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy; My sin was too much hope of thee, lov’d boy. Seven years tho’ wert lent to me, and I thee pay, Exacted by thy fate, on the just day. O, could I lose all father now! For why Will man lament the state he should envy? To have so soon ‘scap’d world’s and flesh’s rage, And if no other misery, yet age? Rest in soft peace, and, ask’d, say, “Here doth lie Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry.” For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such, As what he loves may never like too much.
  • 8. The poem has been treated in the context of affect studies. For a very different account that shows the diversity of approaches within the tradition of cognitive science, see Peter Stockwell, Texture: A Cognitive Aesthetics of Reading (Edinburgh, U.K.: Edinburgh University Press, 2009), 86–89.

  • 9. The title refers to the tune for which the poem was written, a genre convention at the time. The poem begins with the speaker searching again and again for an object or person that is unnamed. She explains that it is cold and she is miserable, that this is the time of year when temperatures change. She cannot rest, and this problem is not resolved by cups of wine. The passing of some geese pierces her heart with recollection. She then considers some haggard flowers, wondering who if anyone will pluck them now. She lingers at the window, alone, waiting for darkness. Raindrops drip onto the trees. How, she asks, can the single word “sorrow” express what she is feeling?

    The Chinese original, a literal translation, and a more readable, interpretive translation (in keeping with English idiom), as well as a helpful preliminary interpretation, may be found in E. C. Chang’s “Analyzing Li Qingzhao’s Poem ‘Sheng Sheng Man’” from Edward C. Chang, The Best Chinese Ci Poems: A Bilingual Approach to Interpretation and Appreciation (Fredricksburg: Emnes Publishing, 2012), 30–35. I have relied on the translations given by Xinda Lian in “Ci Poetry: Long Song Lyrics (Manci),” in How to Read Chinese Poetry: A Guided Anthology, ed. Zong-Qi Cai (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), 273–275.

  • 10. See Sabina Knight, Chinese Literature: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 37.

  • 11. Xinda Lian, “Ci Poetry,” 275.

  • 12. See, for example, Donald Wehrs, Pre-Colonial Africa in Colonial African Narratives: From Ethiopia Unbound to Things Fall Apart, 1911–1958 (Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2008). Other works drawing on both cognitive and psychoanalytic traditions would include Patrick Colm Hogan, The Culture of Conformism: Understanding Social Consent (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001).

  • 13. Ruth Leys has discussed the use of affective science research in affect theory, particularly by Brian Massumi; see her “The Turn to Affect: A Critique,” Critical Inquiry 37 (2011): 434–472. Leys also stresses the political concerns animating affect theory. Affective science-based criticism treating political topics includes such works as Suzanne Keen’s Empathy and the Novel (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); Sue Kim’s On Anger: Race, Cognition, Narrative (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013); and Alexa Weik von Mossner’s Cosmopolitan Minds: Literature, Emotion, and the Transnational Imagination (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2014).

  • 14. Louis Charland, “Affect (Philosophical Perspectives),” in The Oxford Companion to Emotion and the Affective Sciences, ed. David Sander and Klaus Scherer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 9.

  • 15. J. Laplanche and J.-B. Pontalis, The Language of Psychoanalysis, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York: W. W. Norton, 1973), 13.

  • 16. See, for example, Charles Rycroft, A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (Totowa, NJ: Littlefield, Adams, 1973), on “non-satisfaction of a drive” provoking frustration, which, in turn, “leads to aggression” (55).

  • 17. Gregory Seigworth and Melissa Gregg, “An Inventory of Shimmers,” in The Affect Theory Reader, ed. Melissa Gregg and Gregory Seigworth (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010) (unpaginated Kindle edition), italics in the original.

  • 18. See, for example, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (New York: Viking, 1977).

  • 19. For the classic treatment of this topic, see Adolf Grünbaum, The Foundations of Psychoanalysis: A Philosophical Critique (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1984).

  • 20. For some problems with the hydraulic model and its implications, see, for example, Frederick Toates on sexual desire as an accumulating force (How Sexual Desire Works) and B. J. Bushman on anger (“Does venting anger feed or extinguish the flame? Catharsis, rumination, distraction, anger, and aggressive responding,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 28 [2002]: 724–731).

  • 21. On problems with the semantics assumed by Derrida, see chapter 2 (28–95) of Patrick Colm Hogan, The Politics of Interpretation: Ideology, Professionalism, and the Study of Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990).

  • 22. Such as those outlined in Ruth Leys’s “The Turn to Affect: A Critique.”

  • 23. Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender (New York: Norton, 2010).

  • 24. On the social psychology of groups, see, for example, John Cacioppo, Penny Visser, and Cynthia Pickett, eds., Social Neuroscience: People Thinking about Thinking People (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006). On conceptual metaphor, see George Lakoff’s widely read book, Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2004). On heuristics and biases, see Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment, ed. Thomas Gilovich, Dale Griffin, and Daniel Kahneman (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

  • 25. Nico Frijda and Klaus Scherer, “Affect (Psychological Perspectives),” in The Oxford Companion to Emotion and the Affective Sciences, ed. David Sander and Klaus Scherer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 10.

  • 26. On the nature of moods, see Keith Oatley, Dacher Keltner, and Jennifer Jenkins, Understanding Emotions, 2d ed. (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006), 30. On “mood-congruent processing,” as it is called, see Keith Oatley, Best Laid Schemes: The Psychology of Emotions (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 201.

  • 27. See Richard Petty, Duane Wegener, and Leandre Fabrigar, “Attitudes (Structure and Change),” in The Oxford Companion to Emotion and the Affective Sciences, ed. David Sander and Klaus Scherer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 59.

  • 28. See William Revelle and Klaus Scherer, “Personality (and Emotion),” in The Oxford Companion to Emotion and the Affective Sciences, ed. David Sander and Klaus Scherer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 305, 310.

  • 29. Nico Frijda, The Emotions (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 71.

  • 30. See Oatley, Keltner, and Jenkins, 295, on attachment styles.

  • 31. On rasa, see Bharatamuni, The Nāṭya Śāstra (Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications, n.d.). For a recent explication that points toward connections with affective science, see Lalita Pandit Hogan, “Dhvani and Rasa,” in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the Language Sciences, ed. Patrick Colm Hogan (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 251–254, and citations therein. For a more extended elaboration of possible continuities with affective science, see the treatment of “Literary Emotions” in chapter 5 (107–132) of Keith Oatley, Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011).

  • 32. See Joseph Forgas, “Affect and Information Processing Strategies: An Interactive Relationship,” in Feeling and Thinking: The Role of Affect in Social Cognition, ed. Joseph Forgas (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 258.

  • 33. For relevant research, see G. Hain, G. Silani, K. Preuschoff, C. D. Batson, and T. Singer. “Neural Responses to Ingroup and Outgroup Members’ Suffering Predict Individual Differences in Costly Helping,” Neuron 68 (2010): 149–160; see also Michael Gazzaniga, Who’s In Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain (New York: Ecco, 2011), 164 and citations therein.

  • 34. For a treatment of emotion dimensions in relation to aesthetics, see Roddy Cowie, “Beauty Is Felt, Not Calculated; and It Does Not Fit in Boxes,” in The Aesthetic Mind: Philosophy and Psychology, ed. Elisabeth Schellekens and Peter Goldie (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 89–105.

  • 35. For illustrative examples, see figure C1 of Lisa Feldman Barrett and James Russell, “Dimensional Models of Affect,” in The Oxford Companion to Emotion and the Affective Sciences, ed. David Sander and Klaus Scherer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 85.

  • 36. For a theory with an extensive range of dimensions or variables, see Edmund Rolls, Emotion Explained (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

  • 37. See Ed Tan, Emotion and the Structure of Narrative Film: Film as an Emotion Machine, trans. Barbara Fasting (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1996).

  • 38. See Martha Nussbaum, Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 4.

  • 39. Keith Oatley, The Passionate Muse: Exploring Emotion in Stories (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 36.

  • 40. See chapter 2 (40–75) of Patrick Colm Hogan, What Literature Teaches Us About Emotion (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2011).

  • 41. Patrik Juslin, “Music (Emotional Effects),” in The Oxford Companion to Emotion and the Affective Sciences, ed. David Sander and Klaus Scherer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 270.

  • 42. For a more detailed, appraisal-based literary analysis, see Lalita Pandit, “Emotion, Perception, and Anagnorisis in The Comedy of Errors: A Cognitive Perspective,” College Literature 33.1 (2006): 94–126.

  • 43. Communication may or may not be the primary function of all emotion expressions (for the case against a communicative account, see Frijda, The Emotions, 60–63). However, it is at least one important function of many such expressions. See Jo-Anne Bachorowski and Michael Owren, “Vocal Expressions of Emotion,” in Handbook of Emotions, 3d ed., ed. Michael Lewis, Jeannette Haviland-Jones, and Lisa Feldman Barrett (New York: Guilford Press, 2008),196–210.

  • 44. For an extended treatment of emotion contagion, see Elaine Hatfield, John Cacioppo, and Richard Rapson, Emotional Contagion (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

  • 45. In Passionate Views: Film, Cognition, and Emotion, ed. Carl Plantinga and Greg Smith (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), 239–255.

  • 46. For a detailed discussion of mirroring, see Marco Iacoboni, Mirroring People: The New Science of How We Connect with Others (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008).

  • 47. See Marcello Mortillaro and Klaus Scherer, “Bodily Expression of Emotion,” in The Oxford Companion to Emotion and the Affective Sciences, ed. David Sander and Klaus Scherer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 77–79.

  • 48. See Joseph Forgas, “Introduction: The Role of Affect in Social Cognition,” in Feeling and Thinking: The Role of Affect in Social Cognition, ed. Jospeh Forgas (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 16 and citations therein.

  • 49. See Frijda, The Emotions, 122–123.

  • 50. For a discussion of this idea, see Da’an Pan, “Tracing the Traceless Antelope: Toward an Interartistic Semiotics of the Chinese Sister Arts,” College Literature 23.1 (1996): 36–66; see also Maija Bell Samei, “Ci Poetry: Short Song Lyrics (Xiaoling),” in How to Read Chinese Poetry: A Guided Anthology, ed. Zong-qi Cai (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), 252.

  • 51. Joseph LeDoux, Anxious: Using the Brain to Understand and Treat Fear and Anxiety (New York: Penguin, 2015), 132.

  • 52. See Antonio Damasio, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain (New York: Avon Books, 1994), especially chapter 7 (127-164) on “Emotions and Feelings” and chapter 8 (165–201) on “The Somatic-Marker Hypothesis.”

  • 53. Lady Murasaki, The Tale of Genji, trans. Arthur Waley (New York: The Modern Library, 1960), 501.

  • 54. See Bernard Rimé, Le partage social des émotions (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2005).

  • 55. As translated by Xinda Lian, “Ci Poetry,” 273.

  • 56. See Wayne Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), on the implied author as the work’s “core of norms” (74) and on the implied author as “an ideal, literary, created version of the real man” (75).

  • 57. See, for example, James Phelan on the implied author and the real author, Living to Tell About It: A Rhetoric and Ethics of Character Narration (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004), 45.

  • 58. See, for example, David Miall, Literary Reading: Empirical and Theoretical Studies (New York: Peter Lang, 2006); and Marisa Bortolussi and Peter Dixon, Psychonarratology: Foundations for the Empirical Study of Literary Response (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

  • 59. See J. Gutsell and M. Inzlicht, “Empathy Constrained: Prejudice Predicts Reduced Mental Simulation of Actions During Observation of Outgroups,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 46.5 (2010): 841–845.

  • 60. Keen, Empathy and the Novel.

  • 61. On personified and nonpersonified narrators, see David Bordwell, Narration in the Fiction Film (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985), 61.

  • 62. See Meir Sternberg, Expositional Modes and Temporal Ordering in Fiction (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978).

  • 63. The analysis here is consistent with Dan Shen’s contention that features of Chinese language may have direct consequences for discourse features of Chinese narrative. See her “Language Peculiarities and Challenges to Universal Narrative Poetics,” in Analyzing World Fiction: New Horizons in Narrative Theory, ed. Frederick Luis Aldama (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011), 17–32.

  • 64. Lian, “Ci Poetry,” 275.

  • 65. In thinking about the poem, I began from the meaning of “chóu” in modern Chinese. I am deeply grateful to Xinda Lian for his careful scholarship in tracking down the history of the word’s meaning, which shows that the word could be used for “worry” or “anxiety” from well before the time of the poem.

  • 66. The most influential work on character and Theory of Mind is Lisa Zunshine’s Why We Read Fiction: Theory of Mind and the Novel (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2006).

  • 67. Carl Jung, “Approaching the Unconscious,” in Man and His Symbols, ed. Carl Jung (New York: Dell, 1968), 58.

  • 68. Carl Jung, “The Concept of the Collective Unconscious,” in The Portable Jung, ed. Joseph Campbell (New York: Viking, 1971), 60.

  • 69. See, for example, Eleanor Rosch, “Prototypes,” in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the Language Sciences (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 680–682.

  • 70. See Patrick Hogan, The Mind and Its Stories: Narrative Universals and Human Emotion (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2003) and Affective Narratology: The Emotional Structure of Stories (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011).

  • 71. Carl Jung, “Approaching the Unconscious,” 58.

  • 72. Carl Jung, “The Concept of the Collective Unconscious,” 60.

  • 73. Sara Ahmed, “Happy Objects,” in The Affect Theory Reader, ed. Melissa Gregg and Gregory Seigworth (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010) (unpaginated Kindle edition).

  • 74. On My First Daughter,

    Here lies, to each her parents’ ruth, Mary, the daughter of their youth; Yet all heaven’s gifts being heaven’s due, It makes the father less to rue. At six months’ end she parted hence With safety of her innocence; Whose soul heaven’s queen, whose name she bears, In comfort of her mother’s tears, Hath placed amongst her virgin-train: Where, while that severed doth remain, This grave partakes the fleshly birth; Which cover lightly, gentle earth!
  • 75. Peter Stockwell, Texture, 86, 87.

  • 76. This attention has included topics not treated here due to limitations of space, topics such as aesthetic pleasure or delight in beauty, an important part of our emotional response to literature. See, for example, Patrick Hogan, Beauty and Sublimity: A Cognitive Aesthetics of Literature and the Arts (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2016). For a very different, affect theory–based approach to aesthetics, see Nigel Thrift, “Understanding the Material Practices of Glamour,” in The Affect Theory Reader, ed. Melissa Gregg and Gregory Seigworth (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010) (unpaginated Kindle edition).

  • 77. I am grateful to Lalita Pandit Hogan, Emily Mileham, and the anonymous reviewers of an earlier version of this article for their helpful comments and suggestions.