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Digital Humanities Lab

Games Play and Identity

Varieties of Absorption in Narrative and Aesthetic Experiences


Project Leader: Frank Hakemulder
Financier: NWO
Partners: UVA
Project website

As a phenomenon absorption knows both proponents and opponents in the practical field of narrative creation and reception. Writers of political messages and advertisements have made good use of its persuasive effects. Societal concerns are raised about harmful impact of narratives created to confuse its audience as to what is real, lure them into adopting certain attitudes, or take particular ideological positions for granted. In addition, concerns are expressed regarding a lack of the kinds of narratives that can make readers more critical and self-aware.

This project will present a taxonomy of absorption-like experiential states. It will identify narrative features responsible for these states in two different media, film and literature. It will explore personality traits of viewers and readers that are relevant in bringing about absorption. And it will clarify relationships between narrative absorption and aesthetic experiences and their after effects. Accordingly our leading research question is: What is the role of absorption in aesthetic and other responses to literary and cinematic narratives? To answer this question, the current project innovatively unites empirical research with methodologies that are typical in the Humanities (i.e., text-analytic approaches to narrative; theoretical concerns about aesthetic responses; comparative media studies).