Immersion and defamiliarization: Experiencing literature and world

Miranda Anderson, Stefan Iversen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Traditionally, immersion and defamiliarization have been seen as describing opposing phenomena. Immersion has been conceived of as transparently directing attention towards what has been referred to as the “language-independent reality” (Ryan 2001) that is presented by a fictional text. While defamiliarization has been conceived of as directing the reader’s attention to the artificial nature of the construction of the fictional world (Margolin 2004). In this article we set out to show that it is productive to distinguish between different types of readerly engagement, typified under the continuums of suspension of disbelief and direction of attention, and thereby also demonstrate that oppositional understandings of the processes of immersion and defamiliarization oversimplify matters. Combining insights from cognitive and unnatural narratology and discussing texts from Chaucer, Kafka and Borges, we argue for cases that exhibit a more complex dynamic, with the reader’s direction of attention varying from the real to fictional world and from low to high suspension of disbelief. We claim that immersion may also take place in works where the reader is more focussed on the surface level of the text and that immersion and defamiliarization can both serve to imitate and direct the attention of the reader and by means of providing new perceptions can also lead the reader to question the nature of what lies beyond the work: their experience of the real world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)569-595
Number of pages27
JournalPoetics Today: International Journal for Theory and Analysis of Literature and Communication
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018
Event'Immersion and Defamiliarisation' (with Stefan Iversen), Cognitive and Unnatural Narratology Workshop - Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden
Duration: 4 Nov 20164 Nov 2016

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • cognitive narratology
  • distributed cognition
  • unnatural narratology
  • immersion
  • defamiliarization
  • Chaucer
  • Borges
  • Kafka
  • dreams
  • grief


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