Article published in:Aesthetic Engagement During Moments of Suffering
Edited by Don Kuiken and Mary Beth Oliver
[Scientific Study of Literature 3:2] 2013
► pp. 209–239
“He made her feel the beauty”
Readers’ responses to Maurice Blanchot and Virginia Woolf’s treatments of finitude
In this paper, I discuss claims according to which literary reading may initiate a form of reflection that leads to “a shift in understanding” (e.g., Miall, 2006, p. 145). I focus particularly on reflection on one’s own finitude and draw on phenomenology to distinguish between two current models of “shifts in understanding” through reading literature: one involves shifts in abstract beliefs and the other involves shifts in embodied and experiential understandings. I argue that for some readers the engagement with literary texts not only moves them from the denial of death to the understanding of their own finitude, but that it also affords them an embodied experience of this finitude, as opposed to an abstract acknowledgement of it. I begin by describing the difference between knowing about one’s death and the experience of one’s finitude. I then present a phenomenological alternative to current suggestions for how literary texts may initiate “a shift in understanding.” Finally, I present a series of empirical studies that investigate readers’ engagements with texts dealing with human finitude.
Published online: 13 December 2013