In and Out: The Dynamics of Imagination in the Engagement with Narratives

Alessandro Giovannelli
Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism (Winter 2008) 66(1), 11-24

Analyses of narrative engagement divide between “participant” theories (e. g., Gregory Currie’s), which emphasize the role of such notions as identification, empathy, and Richard Wollheim’s “central imagining,” and “onlooker” theories (e. g., Noel Carroll’s and Matthew Kieran’s), which are critical of the idea of identification and refer rather to sympathy and Wollheim’s “acentral imagining.” This debate is vitiated by (1) simplistic accounts of identification and empathy, (2) insufficient attention for the relationships between empathy and sympathy, and (3) a misconstrual of Wollheim’s proposals. I correct these shortcomings and make a case for pluralism in analyzing our engagement with narratives and their characters.