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Prompt #2 The Self and Fictional Characters

My planned research topic looks at how the Self blurs with the identities of fictional characters when reading a novel. A good story compels readers to suspend their Self as they become another person. A group of boys and girls listening to a campfire story can be transformed into a single person (the protagonist) and return to their former selves after the story ends. Who are we then when we are immersed in a character of a book and for a brief moment become a young boy, an old woman, a whale hunter or a dying soldier? Where is our Self in those moments when we become them? This research will look at the ancient yet effective method of story telling, in particular how character identification is achieved and how it affects our sense of Self. Story telling can also be used as a form of teaching that imparts knowledge through experience (indirectly via a fictional character) which, having Lieberman’s argument in mind, shows how a malleable Self helps group living. This research builds on the works of neuroscientists such as Antonio Damasio, Alva Noe, and Matthew Lieberman, of fiction writers, of philosophers such as Avie Noe, Daniel Dennett. I will also look at how mystics use story telling to enter students’ minds.

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4 Responses to Prompt #2 The Self and Fictional Characters

  1. Thanks Jen, Prof. Tougaw, I’ve just ordered Campbell’s Power of Myth and Vermeule’s Why we Care About Fictional Characters from Amazon. There’s tons of material out there about characters in fiction and the self, so I may have to carve out a particular area in that study. Yael, I’m looking forward to reading your paper too!

  2. A few anthropology/psychology things, too, might be useful, regarding storytelling, myths, and symbols: Carl Jung; Joseph Campbell (The Power of Myth, The Hero With a Thousand Faces); and poetry (Yeats, comes to mind) is a good source for writing about myths and symbols because they quickly create a link between reader and text, many times. (They’re also shorter in terms of source materials… may be a fast way to prove a point here and there).

  3. I have nothing to add except that I would love to read your paper when you’re done. This topic sounds so fascinating!

  4. Jason Tougaw says:

    There’s a great passage in The Shaking Woman about reading as a form of access to another’s mind. That might be helpful. I can also recommend a few works of literary criticism: Keen’s book on empathy and the novel, Vermeule’s on why we care about fictional characters, and Zunshine’s Why We Read Fiction.

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