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Empathy and the Novel$

Suzanne Keen

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780195175769

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195175769.001.0001

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(p.169) Appendix A Collection of Hypotheses about Narrative Empathy

(p.169) Appendix A Collection of Hypotheses about Narrative Empathy

Source:
Empathy and the Novel
Publisher:
Oxford University Press

While several of the hypotheses confute one another (as for instance in the directionality of empathy and character identification), I include both formulations to indicate possible directions for research. In its specificity, this collection of possibilities marks a significant advance over earlier broad assertions about narrative empathy that take the form of un-testable generalizations.

Proposals about Narrative Empathy

  • Empathy for fictional characters may require only minimal elements of identity, situation, and feeling, not necessarily complex orrealistic characterization;

  • Character identification often invites empathy, even when the character and reader differ from each other in all sorts of practical and obvious ways;

  • Spontaneous empathy for a fictional character’s feelings opens the way for character identification;

  • Empathetic responses to fictional characters and situations occur more readily for negative feeling states, whether or not a match in details of experience exists;

  • Empathy with characters doesn’t always occur as a result of reading an emotionally evocative fiction;

  • The capacity of novels to invoke readers’ empathy may change over time (and some novels may only activate the empathy of their first, immediate audience);

  • Empathy for a fictional character need not correspond with what the author appears to set up or invite;

  • (p.170) Situational empathy, which responds primarily to aspects of plot and circumstance, involves less self-extension in imaginative role taking and more recognition of prior (or current) experience;

  • Readers’ empathy for situations depicted in fiction may be enhanced by chance relevance to particular historical, economic, cultural, or social circumstances;

  • Generic differences are likely to play a role in inviting (or retarding) readers’ empathic responses;

  • (Miall and Kuiken) Unusual or striking representations in the literary text promote foregrounding and open the way to empathetic reading;

  • (Bourg) Empathizers are better readers, because their role-taking abilities allow them to comprehend causal relations in stories;

  • Readers’ perception of a text’s fictionality plays a role in subsequent empathetic response, by releasing readers from the obligations of self-protection through skepticism and suspicion;

  • (Miall) Readers’ empathy could producer verifiable results in the beliefs and actions of populations of actual readers;

  • (Hoffman) Novel reading may participate in the socialization and moral internalization required for the transmutation of empathic guilt into prosocial action;

  • Though a key ingredient of successful fictional world-making, authors’ empathy does not always transmit to readers without interference;

  • (Taylor) Novelists as a group may be more empathetic than the general population;

  • Fiction writing may cultivate novelists’ role-taking skills and make them more habitually empathetic;

  • Authors’ empathy can be devoted to socially undesirable ends;

  • Empathic distress at feeling with a character whose actions are at odds with a reader’s moral code may be a result of successfully exercised authorial empathy;

  • Empathic inaccuracy may contribute to a reader’s strong sense that the author’s perspective is simply wrong;

  • Both authors’ empathy and readers’ empathy have rhetorical uses, which become more readily to notice when they conflict in instances of empathic inaccuracy;

  • Concord in authors’ empathy and readers’ empathy could be a motivating force to move beyond literary response to prosocial action;

  • Bounded strategic empathy operates with an in-group, stemming from experiences of mutuality, and leading to feeling with familiar others;

  • Ambassadorial strategic empathy addresses chosen others with the aim of cultivating their empathy for the in-group, often to a specific end;

  • (p.171) Broadcast strategic empathy calls upon every reader to feel with members of a group, by emphasizing common vulnerabilities and hopes (universalizing);

  • (Hogan) Empathy for group members emerging from categorical identity with a group does not, on its own, lead to an ethics of compassion.