Materiality and simulated situations of joint attention in contemporary multimodal novels

Open lecture with Natalia Igl Monday 29 April.

Research on how readers engage with literature has shown that readers can be ‘absorbed’ by and ‘transported’ into storyworlds and fictional spaces. The interplay of textual visualization strategies and mental imagery (see e.g. Kuzmičová 2014) can make readers feel highly engaged by a text and evoke an experience of ‘being there’.

Apart from the phenomenon of mental imagery, however, literature can also put readers in a position of actual observers and inter-actors by foregrounding the materiality of printed media, the performative potential of the written text, and the multi-sensory receptivity of the embodied reader. This is the case with the co-called multimodal novels which interestingly experienced a significant rise since the turn of the millennium (see e.g. Gibbons 2012).

Cognitive approaches such as Gibbons’ (2012, 2008) shed light on the interplay of multimodality in printed narratives and the reader’s embodied cognition. Coming from a different direction, the recent shift towards a ‘new materialism’ in literary theory equally put emphasis on the ‘embodied’ form of the book as a printed artifact (see e.g. Hayles 2013).

Bringing together the materialist and the cognitive perspective, Natalia Igl's presentation focuses on the notion of ‘joint attention’ as a highly fruitful but yet underrated addition to the existing analytical tool-kit. The term refers to “the ability to share attention to some object with another person and mutually recognize that the attention is shared” (Tobin 2010: 185).

As a basic phenomenon regarding the ways we process and socially interact within our material environment, joint attention also plays a crucial role in how we engage with literature. Vice versa, the phenomenon of joint attention can explain how literary texts utilize our socio-cognitive dispositions to engage us as readers in complex though processes, (self-)observations and emotions.

Against this backdrop, Igl's presentation argues for the relevance of looking into (simulated) situations of joint attention in contemporary multimodal novels to understand the ways in which the printed novel as a material and multimodal artifact is functionalized to engage the embodied reader.

About Natalia Igl

Natalia Igl is a postdoctoral fellow of Literature at the University of Oslo. 

Read more about Igl's research.

Cited articles:

Gibbons, Alison (2012): Multimodality, Cognition, and Experimental Literature. New York & London: Routledge.
Gibbons, Alison (2008): Multimodal Literature ‘Moves’ us: Dynamic Movement and Embodiment in VAS: An Opera In Flatland. HERMES – Journal of Language and Communication Studies 41, 107–124.
Hayles, N. Katherine (2013): Combining Close and Distant Reading: Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes and the Aesthetic of Bookishness. In: PMLA 128.1, 226–231.
Kuzmičová, Anežka (2014): Literary Narrative and Mental Imagery: A View from Embodied Cognition. Style 48.3, 275-293.
Tobin, Vera (2010): Joint attention, To the Lighthouse, and Modernist Representations of Intersubjectivity. English Text Construction 3.2, 185–202.

Materiality and simulated situations of joint attention in contemporary multimodal novels