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further evidence of harmfulness. The emotions focus our attention. They make
certain features of situations salient, and they cast those features in a special phe-
nomenological light.The emotions “gestalt,” we might say, situations.They orga-
nize them. They make certain elements of the situation stand out. They are
sensitive to certain aspects of various recurring situations, like danger, and they
size up and organize certain situations rapidly. And then they hold our attention
on the relevant features of the situation, often compelling us to pick out further
aspects of the situation under the criteria that define the emotional state we are in.
As Jenefer Robinson puts it:“If I respond emotionally ¦ then my body alerts me
to my conception of the situation and registers it as personally significant to
me.”11 For example, we might first detect the large wave coming at us, and then
our fear further apprises us of its lethal velocity.
Clearly, the attention-guiding function of the emotions is connected to the
role the emotions play in determining action. The emotions focus attention on
those elements of situations that are relevant for action, given our desires. The
emotions are evolutionary devices for identifying the significance “ generally the
significance for effective action “ of the situations in which we find ourselves.And
they are very economical devices in this respect, especially when contrasted to
other, slower mental processes like deliberation.The emotions are good things to
have when the organism has to scope out a situation immediately.Thus, in terms
of both their action-guiding potential and their service to attention, the emotions
are optimal adaptive mechanisms. This is not to say that particular emotional
episodes are not frequently out of place or inappropriate, just as certain logical
deductions may be unsound. Nevertheless, the emotions as a general feature of
human nature are adaptive.
Thus, Plato is wrong in his suspicion that the emotions are maladaptive. Nor
do I think that he can make the case that certain emotions “ like pity and fear “
are always maladaptive. For example, fear of death may be maladaptive for a soldier
in battle, but it is not for someone, like a philosopher king, stepping out of the way
of an oncoming chariot.
As you will recall, Plato also has a theory of the way in which the emotions are
engaged by drama. His theory is probably the first theory of identification in
Western civilization. He thought that when people read plays aloud, a practice
that was quite common in Athenian culture, they would take on the emotions of
the characters whose parts they were reading. And this was problematic, he
thought, because in doing so, not only would they risk contamination by unsa-
vory emotions, but also, in giving vent to the emotions through playacting, reason
ART, NARRATIVE, EMOTION 225
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would be sent on a holiday. We have already seen why these worries about irra-
tionality were misplaced. But it also pays to note that Plato™s theory of how the
emotions are communicated by drama is mistaken.
In the standard case, we do not identify emotionally with characters by, so to
say, taking on their emotions.When we are happy at the end of the movie because
the lovers have finally gotten together, that is not a function of the fact that we are
in love with the characters. Which one of the characters would it be, anyway?
Both? But if we are in love with both the characters, then we are in an emotional
state that neither of the characters is in, since each of them is only in love with
one person. And actually, we are in love with neither of them.We are happy that
they have gotten together, but we are happy in the way of onlookers, not partici-
pants. Our emotions do not duplicate theirs, although our recognition of what
their emotions are and that the lovers™ desires have been satisfied are ingredients in
our rather different emotional states.
Similarly, when we are angered by the behavior of both Antigone and Creon,
our anger is based on our assessment that both of them are unyieldingly stubborn,
an emotional assessment that neither of them shares with us. And when Creon™s
son and wife commit suicide, we pity him, whereas his emotional state is one of
self-recrimination. In short, in the standard case, there is an asymmetrical relation
between the emotional state that characters undergo and those of the audience,
whereas identification requires identity (of emotions), which is a symmetrical
relation. Therefore, the notion of identification cannot provide us, contra Plato
and his contemporary avatars, with a general theory of our emotional involve-
ment with dramas in particular or with narrative fictions in general.
I have spent a great deal of time elaborating the problems with Plato™s concep-
tion of our emotional involvement with art for heuristic purposes. For in laying
out what is wrong in Plato, I have been able to introduce enough information
about the emotions to construct a positive account of the way in which our emo-
tions are engaged by narrative fictions. In my criticisms of Plato, I have rejected
the possibility that emotional identification characterizes the general mechanism
or structure that elicits the audience™s emotional response to narrative fiction. Let
me begin my positive account of our emotional involvement with fiction by
proposing an alternative structure.

I I I . A N A LT E R N AT I V E AC C O U N T O F T H E R E L AT I O N
O F E M O T I O N A N D N A R R AT I V E

Emotions are intimately related to attention. It is this feature of the emotions that
should be important to art theorists, rather than the action-mobilizing feature of
the emotions, since artworks, in the standard case, command attention, not action.
I have suggested, furthermore, that the emotions are related to our attention-
focalizing mechanisms. They direct our attention to certain details, rather than
others; they enable us to organize those details into significant wholes or gestalts,
so that, for example, our attention selects out or battens on the concatenation of
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details in the situation that are, for example, relevant to harm or to misfortune.
The emotions operate like a searchlight, foregrounding those details in a special
phenomenological glow. And, as well, once we are in the midst of an emotional
state, we not only hold to those details, often obsessively, but are prompted to
search out more details with similar relevance to our emotional assessment of the
situation.The emotions manage our attention when we are in their grip.And that
management undergoes changes in the sense that it first alerts our attention to
certain gestalts and holds our attention on them, and then encourages further
elaboration of our attention, inclining us to search for further elements of the rel-
evant gestalt in the stimulus and leading us to form expectations about the kinds
of things we should be on the lookout for as the situation evolves.
Now if this picture of the way in which our emotions and attention mesh is
accurate, it should provide us with a useful way in which to think about our emo-
tional involvement with narrative fictions. In life, as opposed to fiction, our emo-
tions have to pick up on the relevant details of a situation out of a welter of
unstructured details.We are sitting in a room talking distractedly to some friends;
we notice a faint smell of something burning. Our emotions alert us to danger;
our attention is riveted on the odor.We begin to look and to sniff about for fur-
ther evidence of fire, readying ourselves to confront it or to flee.
But in fiction, of course, the situation has already been structured for our
attention.The author has already done much of the work of focusing our atten-
tion through the way in which she has foregrounded what features of the event
are salient.After all, the author has not only chosen, indeed invented, the situations
we encounter, but she has also decided what features of those events are worthy of
direct comment or implication.Thus, again and again in Uncle Tom™s Cabin, Har-
riet Beecher Stowe confronts us with scenes of families being separated, and, in
case after case, she emphasizes the innocence and decency of the slaves whose
family ties are being sundered, and the cruelty and callousness with which it is
being done. These perhaps non-too-subtle promptings lead us to perceive the
scenes under the category of injustice, which, in turn, elicits the affect of indigna-
tion from us. And this indignation, in consequence, bonds us to the details of the
text as well as preparing us to anticipate and to be on the lookout for further evi-
dence of injustice, which, of course, Stowe™s text delivers in abundance.
Or consider the character Fledgeby in Dickens™s novel Our Mutual Friend. As
Fledgeby taunts his factotum Riah, Dickens keeps in the foreground of our
attention Fledgeby™s viciousness, underscoring his abusiveness and his unflinch-
ing anti-Semitism, which he, Fledgeby, attempts to pass off as humor. Through
Dickens™s descriptions, Riah is shown to the Fledgeby™s moral and human supe-
rior in every way. All Fledgeby has is money, which he uses to subordinate
everyone else, including Riah. Dickens does not have to come right out and say
that Fledgeby is contemptible. Rather, the way in which he has described the
situation engenders hatred of and contempt for Fledgeby in us, which primes
the way in which we attend to his appearance in other scenes, and encourages
us to hope for his downfall.
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Or think about how suspense is engendered in fictions and how it keeps us riv-
eted to the action. Suspense is an emotion, one that in fictions generally involves an
event where some outcome that we regard to be morally righteous is improbable.
For example: in the motion picture Speed, it is likely that the bus will explode; in
True Lies, that the nuclear device will detonate; and in Outbreak, that the antidote
will be blown away with the rest of the town when the army drops its firebomb. In
each of these cases, the outcome that I™ve mentioned has been depicted as immoral
in the relevant fictions, but at the same time, it is the one that is most likely, given the
world of the fiction as it has been presented to us. Or, to put it alternatively, the
moral outcome is presented as if it were improbable. When confronted with such
prospects, we attend to the events onscreen with suspense; the emotion rivets us to
the screen and shapes our attention in such a way that our mind is preoccupied with
tracking the features of the event that are relevant to the emotional state in which
we find ourselves.And with suspense, that means keeping track of the shifting prob-
abilities for the forces of good versus the forces of evil.12
I have chosen examples in which the emotions involved are somewhat intense
and in which their elicitation has a forceful, one might say, an “in-your-face” charac-
ter. I have opted for such examples because I think that they show the dynamics of
our emotional responses to fiction in bold relief. However, there is no reason to think
that the elicitation of emotions by narrative fictions is always as aggressive as it is in
these examples.The emotional cues in the text may be more recessive or subtle, they
may be initially obscured by irony or ambiguity, and it may take them longer to hit
the reader than the examples I have mentioned.This may especially be the case as we
ascend from examples of popular culture to so-called high art.And yet, even in these
cases, I think that we will discern the same regularities in operation.
Whether verbal or visual, the text will be prefocused. Certain features of situ-
ations and characters will be made salient through description or depiction.These
features will be such that they will be subsumable under the categories or con-
cepts that, as I argued earlier, govern or determine the identity of the emotional
states we are in. Let us refer to this attribute of texts by saying that the texts are
criterially prefocused.13
For example, horror is an emotion that involves fear and revulsion.14 The cri-
terion of fear is the harmful; the criterion of revulsion is the impure. Events are
horrific when they are subsumable under the categories of the harmful and the
impure, that is, when they satisfy the criteria for horror by being harmful and
impure.Thus, when authors of horror describe or depict events that they intend
to elicit horror from us, they will describe or depict events, situations, and charac-
ters that are harmful and impure “ for instance, slavering, fetid mounds of canker-
ous flesh with razor sharp claws and cosmic antipathy toward all things human.
That is, the author will describe or depict the putative objects of our emotional
state so that the salient features of that object are apt, for the normal audience
member, to be slotted under the categories of the harmful and the impure. This
categorization need not be a conscious operation, no more than my recognition
that an oncoming car is potentially harmful need be accompanied by my saying it.
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So the first step in the elicitation of an emotional response from the audience
is a criterially prefocused text “ a text structured in such a way that the descrip-
tion or depiction of the object of our attention is such that it will activate our
subsumption of the event under the categories that are criterially relevant to cer-
tain emotional states. Once we recognize the object under those categories, the
relevant emotion is apt, in certain conditions to be discussed below, to be raised in
us. We will undergo some physical changes “ with horror fictions our flesh may
begin, as they say, to crawl; with suspense, we may feel our muscles tense; with
melodrama, we may shed a tear; with comedy, we may laugh “ and, in addition,
our attention becomes emotively charged: the object of the emotion rivets our
attention, while our emotionally governed perception casts its object in a special
phenomenological light.The emotion glues our attention to those features of the
object of the emotion that are apposite to the emotional state we are in; it encour-
ages us to survey the event for further features that may support or sustain the pre-
siding emotional state in which we find ourselves; and, protentively, our emotively
charged state shapes our anticipation of what is to come by priming us to be on
the lookout for the emergence or appearance of details subsumable under the cat-
egories of the reigning emotion. Or, in short, the criterially prefocused text gives
rise, in the right circumstances, to emotive focus in the audience, where by “emo-
tive focus” I am referring to the way in which the emotional state of the reader,
viewer, or listener both fixes and shapes her attention.
Plato™s story of our emotional involvement with the text posits characters,
venting certain emotions, with whom we identify in such a way that their emo-
tions are transferred to the audience. In contrast, I maintain that the structure
involves a criterially prefocused text that elicits an emotively focused response.
That is, a criterially prefocused text brings our attention to certain details, stimu-
lating an emotional response, which quickens our attentiveness and which binds
us to the text so that we are ready to assimilate it in the relevant way. Relevant to
what? Relevant to the presiding emotion state, which, in the standard case, is the
one that the author designed the text to engender in us.
The emotional states of characters may be pertinent to the emotional state
we are in: that we perceive a character to be in anguish may be material to our
pity for that character. But it is the way in which the text is criterially prefo-
cused that is crucially determinant to the audience™s emotive response, and not
some putative process of character identification. Rather than character identi-
fication, it is our own preexisting emotional constitution “ with its standing dis-
positions that the text activates “ that accounts for our emotional involvement
with narrative fictions.
Of course, simply presenting a reader, viewer, or listener with a criterially pre-
focused text does not guarantee that the reader, viewer, or listener will respond
emotionally. For a criterially prefocused text can be read dispassionately. Some-
thing more is required to elicit a passionate response. And what that “something
more” is amounts to a concern or a pro attitude on the part of the reader, viewer,
or listener of the fiction regarding the way in which the situation depicted in the
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fiction is or is not going. That is, in addition to being criterially prefocused, the
narrative must instill certain concerns about the fictional characters and events in
the reader, viewer, or listener. These concerns function like the desires in many
everyday emotions, and when added to the mental content or conception derived
from the criterially prefocused text, the combination, all things being equal,
should elicit an emotional response in accordance with the criterial features of the
situation that the text has made pertinent for attention.
The structure of our emotional involvement with a narrative comprises at
least a criterially prefocused text plus certain concerns or pro attitudes, and
together these are apt to elicit broadly predictable responses in standard audiences.
The criterially prefocused text embodies a conception of a situation. But a con-
ception of a situation alone is not sufficient to motivate an emotional response, as
is evident from the reactions of certain sociopaths. To prompt such a response
requires that audiences be invested with concerns “ certain pro and con attitudes
“ about what is going on in a story.15
This suggestion makes the assumption that narrative structures can enlist
audiences in preferences about the ways in which a story might go.This is not
to say that all stories do this “ narrative instructions about how to fix a broken
water pipe may not. Nevertheless, I think that it is equally noncontroversial to
suppose that many narratives do induce readers, listeners, and viewers to form
preferences about how the story should evolve. For example, in Grant Allen™s
The Woman Who Did “ called “the bestseller that scandalized Victorian Great
Britain” “ the implied reader is concerned for Herminia Barton (the woman
who believed in sexual relations outside of matrimony). Said readers respect
her sincerity and prefer that Herminia be spared from harm.Thus, at the end of
the story, when Herminia feels compelled to commit suicide, the reader is
moved to sadness, not simply because the story has portrayed her plight melo-
dramatically, but because the story has elicited a pro attitude toward Herminia
from the reader as well.
Typically, stories develop in such a way that readers, viewers, and listeners have
a structured horizon of expectations about what might and what might not hap-
pen. And, in addition to having a sense of the possible outcomes of the ongoing
courses of events, one also, generally under the guidance of the author, has con-
victions about what outcomes one would, in a certain sense, prefer to obtain ver-
sus those one would prefer not to obtain. In some cases, the preferred course of
events correlates with the express goals and plans of the protagonists of the story;
what they want to happen “ say, averting nuclear disaster “ is what the audience

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