Introduction: Reading Effects
The Wayward Life of Objects
Cheng, A. A.
What is reading; what can it do; and can we imagine a hermeneutics beyond suspicion? This brief essay meditates on the possibilities of what might be called a hermeneutics of susceptibility that can accommodate our ideological and aesthetic complicity in any act of reading while still understanding the political risks and gains of such acknowledgment. This is also an argument about how we read surfaces: the surfaces of texts, bodies, and objects.
Narrative and Noncausal Bargaining
Most philosophical accounts of the puzzle of emotional engagement with characters we know to be fictional treat our emotion as static. This essay argues that it's part of the way humans interact with each other as a social species that a highly dynamic form of noncausal willing and noncausal bargaining enters into all our cooperative relationships with each other. Such bargaining can be illuminated by game theory and, in particular, by the version of prisoner's dilemma known as "Newcomb's problem." Newcomb's problem models some of our most important relationships with each other and also some of the most central aspects of our relationship with narratives whose outcomes we care intensely about even though our caring cannot affect those outcomes. Fictional characters are especially immune to the exercise of a reader's or audience's will, so Newcomb's problem is particularly relevant to the noncausal nature of the bargaining that readers engage in.
Galloway, A. R.
In her book Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing, philosopher Catherine Malabou tells a story about the historical end of reading and writing and their reinvention in a new form. The new mode is seen most vividly, suggests Malabou, in the cerebral plasticity of the brain, but also holds sway in philosophy and literature. The concept of the plastic—which she defines, using the image of plastic explosive, as the capacity to give form and the capacity to take form—refers to mutability, change, exchange, morphing, metamorphosis, and transformation. Plastic reading is a structural approach that aims to document the "structure of philosophy" that remains after a text has been subjected to certain analyses. This essay describes Malabou's vision of plastic reading as a living relation to texts in which metamorphosis regulates the metabolism between stasis and aleatory change.
My essay emphasizes the social aspect of our engagement with fictional narratives by drawing on cognitive scientists' research into "theory of mind," also known as "mind reading": our evolved adaptation for explaining people's behavior in terms of their mental states, such as thoughts, desires, feelings, and intentions. I introduce the term "sociocognitive complexity" to describe patterns of embedment of mental states within mental states in fiction and discuss the role of social situations featuring third-level embedment—a mind within a mind within a mind—in prose fiction, drama, and narrative poetry. I further explain that writers make some characters more "cognitively complex" than others (that is, capable of embedding more mental states) and suggest that approaching fiction in terms of its sociocognitive complexity is ultimately a historicist inquiry. That is, if we want to understand what factors influence a writer's decision about which characters will carry on complex mind-reading reflections and which will have to settle for simpler ones, we have to look into historically contingent genre conventions and contemporary ideological preoccupations of the societ