"The Body in the Text: Kinesthetic Modalities of Narrative Response"

Ellen Esrock


Expressions like "being immersed in a story," "filled with music," or "captivated by the image" speak to a shift in our ordinary sense of the bodily perimeter. The arts are notable for evoking these boundary changes. I shall argue that we can use the physical experience of our own bodies--our kinesthetic modalities of response--to produce boundary changes that enhance our experience of narrative literature. My hypothesis is that during the reading process we can experience certain physical sensations--our somatosensory responses--as something other than what they are. This involves our labeling of these responses, like breathing, as properties of the textual object. Such labeling is a powerful phenomenon because it has the effect of changing bodily boundaries and corresponding senses of the self and other. Related changes in boundaries occur in pathological states, in spiritual practices, and in situations of interpersonal intimacy. Converging research in the humanities and sciences supports this hypothesis.

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