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Aesthetic engagement during moments of suffering

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We provide a review of the literature concerning aesthetic engagement (especially with literature and film) during times of distress. The objective is to offer a conceptual framework for this fledging research area and to provide a context for several manuscripts on this topic included in a Special Issue of Scientific Study of Literature (Volume 3, Issue 2). Particular attention is given to processes that arguably are distinctively aesthetic, including (1) the role of prosodic/semantic structures in the generation of local aesthetic objects within a longer narrative; (2) the identification of an affective theme through reflective consideration of a series of separate — but resonant — local aesthetic objects; and (3)┬áthe consequent emergence of poignantly bivalent feelings tinged with loss. This framework invites reconsideration of the Aristotelian conception of catharsis (understood as clarification rather than purgation), as well as examination of how poignant aesthetic engagement invites revaluation of personal priorities during moments of vulnerability.

Keywords: aesthetic interest; aesthetic object; catharsis; empathy; poignant feeling; stylistics

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2013

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