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Emotional responses to artistic works
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Green Jay



Joined: 13 Jan 2009
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Location: West Sussex

PostPosted: Sun Jul 21, 2013 12:38 pm    Post subject:  Reply with quote

Apple wrote:
I used to prefer factual books and at one time they outnumbered the fiction I read by a considerable amount, I wouldn't say I lacked empathy for other people, It wasn't because it was just made up, I just preferred reading about factual subjects which interested me.



I didn't mean you, Apple, as you obviously have great deal of empathy. I was referring to people at the further end of the spectrum of readers who can be quite dismissive - contemptuous ? - of fiction, as if it "doesn't count" because it's made up, and wondering about what underlies this response.

I agree there is a place for all sorts of books, and I would rather people read books than didn't. You've also made that journey that I hope any sort of reading can take people on, from page-turners and quite superficial relaxing reads to more demanding and thought-provoking books. But not everyone takes that route, and that's ok too. I also think at different stages of our lives we need and want different types of books. My mum used to be quite a medium-brow reader but now just reads what I think of as lightweight fluff. But that's all she can cope with, so no problem. I just hope I will always want more challenging reading material, but there are plenty of times (This year for example!!) when I just fall back on a lot of easy-ish reading.

But I think that empathising with real life situations in factual books is different from empathising with fictional characters, because (part of) the role of an author in fiction is to give access to inner lives, emotions, motives, qualms, contradictions, chacracter development etc. In non-fiction this can only be constructed or inferred in retrospect and sometimes authors get critiscised for giving real people thoughts etc they are not entitled to ascribe to them. Not the same in autobiography, I know. But that can onlygive one person's viewpoint. Something diffrent  in fiction that I'm having trouble - in this heat! - in articulating...


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TheRejectAmidHair



Joined: 19 Nov 2008
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PostPosted: Sun Jul 21, 2013 1:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Green Jay wrote:
Apple wrote:
I used to prefer factual books and at one time they outnumbered the fiction I read by a considerable amount, I wouldn't say I lacked empathy for other people, It wasn't because it was just made up, I just preferred reading about factual subjects which interested me.



I didn't mean you, Apple, as you obviously have great deal of empathy. I was referring to people at the further end of the spectrum of readers who can be quite dismissive - contemptuous ? - of fiction, as if it "doesn't count" because it's made up, and wondering about what underlies this response.


Lack of understanding of what literature is.

Similarly with those who are tone deaf and can't see the point of music.



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Caro



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
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Location: Owaka, New Zealand

PostPosted: Sun Jul 21, 2013 9:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

It's more than a lack of understanding, though.  There are certain people - generally boys and men - who are not interested in fiction though they are good readers and like factual material.  One of my sons is like this - he is very knowledgable, good with scientific things, remembers everything, but he doesn't read fiction.  And like Green Joy, I think this does lead to a lack of empathy with people's feelings.  He has fairly set ideas and doesn't have any real desire to understand others' feelings, I think.  I remember he read John Marsden's teenage fiction when he was about 13 and loved it, so I suggested other similar books he might like and he said, "I don't want to like them."

He's quite a sentimentalist himself so it's not that he doesn't feel things - it's always him (even as an adult) crying when the plane leaves, and I love the way he reacts to and enjoys his baby son.  Perhaps that has something to do with it, in fact.  He may already feel enough emotional repsonse with reality not to want to add to it with fiction.  I don't really know.

I personally am aware I am reading or watching fiction, and though I can feel emotionally involved at the time of reading, I don't generally dwell on these fictional people much.  Recently I read about a real young American teenager who made a sarcastic comment online saying "Oh yeah, of course I'm going to go out and bomb someone."  It was obviously not meant to be taken seriously, but despite nothing being found in his house or computer, he has been imprisonned and may be there for a long time.  That real situation haunts me quite a bit. I wish I hadn't read about it, but if it were fictional I would feel sad for the character as I read it, but not later.  I keep thinking of this teenager locked up for a comment that anyone can tell was sarcasm - bewildered, confused and probably never able to trust authority again.


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Apple



Joined: 24 Nov 2008
Posts: 1751



PostPosted: Sun Jul 21, 2013 9:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Green Jay wrote:
Quote:
I didn't mean you, Apple,
No, I know you didn't, I never thought that  Very Happy

I was just thinking from my point of view why I personally used to prefer factual books to fiction, to try and offer a kind of side view.  Since broadening my reading material though, as I said before I have learnt to appreciate different novels even if I don't like them - because they have managed to provoke an emotional response of some description.

Also...

Himadri wrote:
Quote:
Another emotion response that is very difficult to put one's finger on is the aesthetic response. Most people acknowledge, for instance, that the Taj Mahal is beautiful. But what emotions do we access when we respond to the beauty of the Taj Mahal? It' not grief, it's not sadness, it's not mirth or joy, it's not terror ... What exactly is it?

I feel the same way about many works of literature: there is some emotion that I cannot specify that is touched by the perfect, flawless shape of a structure; or by the way the most perfectly chosen words fall in place in so perfect a manner in some pieces of poetry. It is an aesthetic response, and, as such, an emotional response, but one that I have always struggled to express. I was helping our daughter with some of the passages of Middlemarch she was finding difficult, and I was struck by teh sheer beauty of construction of some of these sentences. Even before I go on to what these sentences express, there is an emotional response.


I find what you have said very interesting. I think I read somewhere that Ancient Greek philosophers thought that aesthetically appealing objects were beautiful in and of themselves.

Plato believed that for us to have a perception of beauty there must be almost  superior  supreme  beauty in which beautiful objects have which causes them to be beautiful.

Also I read somewhere, I forget where an example of ancient aesthetics in Greece through poetry is Plato's quote: "For the authors of those great poems which we admire, do not attain to excellence through the rules of any art but they utter their beautiful melodies of verse in a state of inspiration, and as it were, possessed by a spirit not their own”.

I think with the example of the Taj Mahal which you gave the emotion I get when I see it is awe that someone loved his wife so much that they built that for them. When you look at it and see it ticks all the boxes to be aesthetically pleasing to the eye (according to the Greeks) Aristotle thought that the universal elements of beauty were order, symmetry, and definiteness, and Plato thought that beautiful objects incorporated proportion, harmony, and unity among their parts, which I suppose on some subconscious level  triggers the emotional responses in your brain, (I think it also links in in a way - kind of, with your point about mathematics) but going back to its function, its a mausoleum so initially your thoughts are going to be solemn and respectful, but as I said earlier, awe is the main one and a sort of warm feeling that someone was loved so much that magnificent building was built and still survives to this day in honour of them.

I remember the first time I went to the ruins of Coventry cathedral, and saw the charred cross which stands at the far end made from the ruins of the church I was overwhelmed with emotion and tears started to pour down my cheeks, I have read numerous books and watched documentaries about the Coventry blitz but coming face to face with it in the shape of that charred wood seemed to trigger something inside and produce a really tremendous response.

I would say going back to literature a book which provokes an emotional response of some description is one speaks to us on an unconscious level which triggers a reaction deep within our subconscious and as we continue to read these emotions are built on as the characters develop and the story continues to its conclusion. That is I think what separates great fiction from a good book and the ability of the reader to distinguish between the two, and book which has spoken to us on another level compared to one which we have read and superficially enjoyed.



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Green Jay



Joined: 13 Jan 2009
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Location: West Sussex

PostPosted: Mon Jul 22, 2013 4:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Caro wrote:
It's more than a lack of understanding, though.  There are certain people - generally boys and men - who are not interested in fiction though they are good readers and like factual material.  One of my sons is like this - he is very knowledgable, good with scientific things, remembers everything, but he doesn't read fiction.  And like Green Joy, I think this does lead to a lack of empathy with people's feelings.  He has fairly set ideas and doesn't have any real desire to understand others' feelings, I think.  



I don't think it 'leads to' lack of empathy, rather the other way round. I was trying to articulate (and empathise with!) the situation where if you don't find empathy a ready, easy emotion to tap into, especially with people who are not closely linked to you  - and how far away can "made-up" people get  from the real you!??  Smile - then you are not as a reader going to be drawn to books that rely on their readership doing a lot of this in order to get pleasure and interest from the work. Sorry, long convoluted sentence not helped by me changing it halfway through.

Evaluating the content, rather than empathising with it, might weigh more in reading non-fiction - evaluating whether you think it's a good clear account, interesting, reliable, balanced, enough information etc.  This is quite a detached intellectual response, and lots of people - though I have to say more in my experience, males, - like this approach to books. (Not that you can't evaluate those things while also empathising with the people/characters involved.)


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TheRejectAmidHair



Joined: 19 Nov 2008
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 22, 2013 10:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm afraid I'm going through a busy time right now, and I won't have time - not for the next few days at least - to respond to all the points that have been raised. But if I can make a couple of quick points before I go to bed and fall asleep as soon as I hit the pillow...(I really am knackered!) ...

Caro, I don't think it's particularly contentious to say that people who don't see the point of fiction don't see the point of literature. Indeed, since so much of the very greatest of literature is fiction (whether in form of prose, verse or drama), it's almost a tautology.

Also, I remain very dubious about the degree of empathy with fictional characters either as a measure of a work's literary worth, or, more relevantly to ths thread, as a prerequisite to emotional involvement.

I'll try to return to these when I'mmore awake.



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Caro



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 22, 2013 10:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Not contentious, just not the whole story.


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MikeAlx



Joined: 17 Nov 2008
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 22, 2013 11:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

TheRejectAmidHair wrote:


This is an interesting one. The dodecaphonic music of the Second Viennese School, for instance, still raises accusations of being "too intellectual". And the charge is frequently made that music that needs to be filtered through the intellect to such an extent cannot have the spontaneous emotional impact that music ideally should. And what is more, people who claim to find emotional content in this music are just liars. And so on. It usually doesn't take too long for the insults to start flying.

I think there are really two different arguments here - one is that the music is born of intellectual processes, rather than 'natural' or 'instinctive' ones. The other is that it can only be appreciated for its cleverness rather than its beauty.

The first argument has some merit, as presumably Schoenberg invented serial music in a very top-down, intellectual kind of way. On the other hand, the actual music produced is merely constrained rather than algorithmically-generated, so there is still an element of instinct at work.

The second argument I reject completely - if anything, it is intellectual conditioning that prevents people from connecting to serial music. The fact it doesn't follow expected patterns inhibits some people from enjoying its aesthetic qualities. This very much depends on context. People will reject music in the concert hall or on the radio that they will completely accept in a film score.
Quote:
In the first place, intellectual grasp can aid rather than hinder emotional response: this is certainly true in other art forms, and there is no reason why it shouldn't be true for music also.

Other art forms are generally symbolic and mimetic - this is not true of most music (or abstract painting). So, other than form and texture/timbre, I don't know what there really is to understand about music that would enhance one's experience of it. I suppose biographical and historical background might sometimes be relevant, but I think this is often overstated.

Quote:
...the seemingly spontaneous response to a lot of music is only possible because we have trained our brains to recognise certain musical patterns.

That is quite true, but I think on the whole we learn patterns unconsciously and I would not consider it an intellectual process ("intellectual" to me suggests conscious, logical, rational). It is serialism's break with established patterns that gives it its sense of strangeness and novelty. Whether one finds that pleasant or unpleasant very much depends on individual psychology and approach to aesthetic experience.



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Caro



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 22, 2013 11:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well, I assume that if someone had taught me how to appreciate operatic music I might enjoy it more.  (And I did learn classical piano for ten years.) I like music I recognise.  I don't mind modern rap stuff, but I can't differentiate one song from another, because I don't know them.  

I always remember hearing what to me was a soprana squarking and thinking how awful the noise was, then the announcer came on and said, "Wasn't that sublime?"  Why? It was just a cacaphony to my ears; I don't understand what he could find sublime in it.  The male parts of opera I can probably enjoy a bit more, but not the high screeching sound of the sopranas reaching for top notes.  

I rather enjoyed the mathematical aspects of the theory of music, the chords etc. when I learnt them.  Most of it I have forgotten, though, at least beyond pretty basic stuff.  But it didn't seem to translate into knowing how it translated into specific musical pieces (even sometimes, just for fun, I would go through them and pinpoint where the key changed and to what, etc.)


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MikeAlx



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PostPosted: Mon Jul 22, 2013 11:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Green Jay wrote:

I don't think it 'leads to' lack of empathy, rather the other way round. I was trying to articulate (and empathise with!) the situation where if you don't find empathy a ready, easy emotion to tap into, especially with people who are not closely linked to you...

Evaluating the content, rather than empathising with it... This is quite a detached intellectual response, and lots of people - though I have to say more in my experience, males, - like this approach to books.

I tend to agree that it's more the person's nature that causes the rejection of fiction, rather than that the rejection of fiction causes the nature. On the other hand, I think fiction can help the more systematising person develop their empathising side. It is, after all, a much safer laboratory than the realm of actual social interaction!

The difference between fiction and factual writing - even biography - is broadly the difference in emphasis between showing and telling. The excessive systematiser, in addition to being less adept at learning by inference, may also dislike the perceived dishonesty of fiction - and I don't mean simply that they think it's "all lies", but rather that it's propaganda, a story designed to manipulate emotions in order to persuade. Such a person will prefer a set of facts and arguments, enabling them to corroborate the facts and check the logic of the arguments.

I think it's fair to say that men are on average more systematising than women; however it's worth remembering that there is a huge overlap, to the extent that one cannot reliably predict this on an individual basis based on gender.




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