Fiction and Other Minds: Enacting Fictional Space

This term’s Fiction and Other Minds seminar welcomed Dr Merja Polvinen, who presented on the topic of Enacting Fictional Space. This session’s respondent was Prof Terence Cave (Oxford).

‘Enactive Perception of Fictional Space: China Miéville’s The City & The City
Dr Merja Polvinen, University of Helsinki

This paper examined the experience of fictional spaces in literature through the theory of enactive perception. While the spatial metaphors of entering and exiting worlds may match many of our intuitions about the ontological levels encountered during reading, they are unhelpful for describing the experience of experimental fictional environments, such as those generated by self-reflective fiction. Merja suggested that the sensation of encountering a fictional world may be better explained as having sensory ‘access’ to it, with the perception forming in cooperation between the object and the actions of the embodied and skillful mind encountering it. Merja illustrated this through an analysis of Miéville’s The City & The City (2009), where readers’ sense of access to the fictional world is reflected in the characters’ strange way of rendering parts of their environment as perceptually inaccessible. By thinking of perception of fictional spaces as experience of access, Merja suggested, we can better understand how readers’ experiences of such spaces can include both a sense of immersion and a sense of fictionality.

The seminar was convened by Professor Ben Morgan (

As always, the talk was followed by drinks for all attendees.

About the Seminar: The Fiction and Other Minds seminar series, convened by Ben Morgan and Naomi Rokotnitz, has been running since 2013, hosting a range of speakers working at the interface between literary studies, cognitive science and phenomenology. The seminar explores the field that opens when features investigated by the cognitive sciences are tested and expanded across different cultural contexts. In particular, we are interested in the ways by which literary texts often challenge and differentiate theoretical insights especially through their attention to the culturally situated aspects of cognition, and how cognitively informed approaches to literature can deepen our understanding of the embodied and affective processes that underpin meaning-making, including literary reading.