Most of those flags—37 of them!—are quotable quotes.
Here’s a few that stick with me:
“Although the emotions of fiction seem to happen to characters in a story, really, all the important emotions happen to us as we read or watch.
By page 17 we already have a whole new way of looking at fiction.
The author is a Psychology prof, so it behooves him to back up his pronouncements with experiments. Oatley also hauls in some literary giants to support his ideas. Marcel Proust, for example:
“When he reads, each person is actually the reader of his own self. The work of the writer is nothing more than a kind of optical instrument that the writer offers. It allows the reader to discern that which, without the book, he might not have been able to see in himself.” (from “Remembrance of Things Past”, Vol. 6)
Oatley seems to appreciate literature all the more for the rewards that accrue to us unconsciously.
“Because we experience reality only through our five senses, there is much that is hidden… It is the human condition. We need assistance. Part of this assistance…is literature.”
Oatley calls these insights “literary knowing”.
And “literary emotions” are those we feel as we identify with fictional characters. Censors worry that these emotions rub off on us. Rage, hate, violence, eroticism, dishonesty, addiction—six good reasons to ban books.
Oatley cites research suggesting that fiction can also leave us feeling generous and altruistic. He calls the effect “elevation”.
“We cry in the closing scenes of Casablanca… because we feel ourselves in the presence of something larger than ourselves, something that takes us out of our egoistic concerns, something that prompts reflectiveness, something that makes room for insight.”
You remember the final scenes of Casablanca—at the airport—Rick has acquired two letters of transit to fly Ilsa and himself to America. But he surrenders them to her husband, so that he might continue his valuable work with the Resistance against the Nazis.
Rick loses Ilsa (again), but his altruism elevates us all.
“It’s a strange feeling of warmth and inspiration that occurs when one sees someone doing something altruistic, like helping a stranger, or behaving in a decent way when self-interest would urge them otherwise. Elevation is a moral emotion.”
Moral acts may not amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world—or do they? I beg to differ with Bogie. These literary emotions are “happening to us”. And when they work on us in a way that summons our higher nature, the world takes a step toward becoming a better place.
Fiction supports the evolution of the species—that’s me getting grandiose. That’s me pushing the author beyond the scope of his book.
But perhaps I can encourage Oatley to conduct some research into this special brand of literary knowing. By vicariously experiencing altruism—does it actually expand our awareness?
For more insights into Casablanca, check out Keith Oatley’s recent blog post.
And coming up on this very blog—my own take on Bogie’s transformation at the heart of the story.
Finally, what film or novel has moved you the most? I’m always looking for a good recommendation.