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Article

Literature as a Meaningful Life Laboratory

Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science. 2010. Vol. 44. No. 3. P. 227-234.

Meaningful life is emotionally marked off. That’s the general point that Johansen (IPBS: Integrative Psychological & Behavioral Science 44, 2010) makes which is of great importance. Fictional abstractions use to make the point even more salient. As an example I’ve examined Borges’ famous fiction story. Along with the examples of Johansen it provides an informative case of exploring symbolic mechanisms which bind meaning with emotions. This particular mode of analysis draws forth poetry and literature in general to be treated as a “meaningful life laboratory”. Ways of explanation of emotional effect the art exercises on people, which had been disclosed within this laboratory, however, constitute a significant distinction in terms that I have designated as “referential” and “substantive”. The former appeals to something that has already been charged with emotional power, whereas the latter comes to effect by means of special symbolic mechanisms creating the emotional experience within the situation. Johansen, who tends to explain emotions exerted by the art without leaving the semiotic perspective, is drawn towards the “referential” type of explanation. Based upon discussions in theory of metaphor and Robert Witkin’s sociological theory of arts it is demonstrated an insufficient of “referential” explanation. To overcome a monopoly of “referential” explanation of emotional engagement, in particular, in literature, means to break away from the way of reasoning, stating endless references to “something else”, presupposing the existence of something already significant and therefore sharing its effects.