Being there yet not there: why don't embodied responses to literary texts jar with one another?

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Language can stimulate simulations of perception. But it is not yet clear how sequences of such perceptions are experienced as integrated, for example in response to sustained discourse, such as literary texts. Why is it that a succession of embodied representations which would be impossible online is not experienced as incoherent? One possibility is that embodied responses to language are fleeting and detached from a fuller embodied context; these need not be integrated because they do not depend or relate to one another as they would in perception. Yet it is precisely the potential for embodied representations to linger and connect with one another which underlies at least some embodied theories of mental imagery, narrative and metaphor. So they must be integrated at some level.
One possibility is that readers anchor their embodied representations in a notional human body, one endowed with superhuman powers, such as omniscience. But this account, I suggest, relies on implausible post hoc explanations. A second possibility is that the integration of perceptual simulations offline need be no more problematic than the integration of gappy and incomplete perceptual cues online. But online cues can be integrated through grounding in specific points in time and space; this is not the case with representations stimulated by language. Drawing on sensorimotor theories of perception, I propose that perceptual simulations can be integrated through patterns generated by the sustained experience of language itself, as though language were an additional modality
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Literary Semantics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Apr 2016


  • embodied
  • literary
  • text
  • perception
  • cognition


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