- How Literature Enters Life:An Introduction
In 1994, a collection of articles was published under the title Critical Reconstructions: The Relationship of Fiction and Life (edited by Robert M. Polhemus and Roger B. Henkle) dealing with the relationship between works of fiction and historical "reality," general "truth," or an author's personal life. In many of the chapters, questions of representation and interpretation of the (historical) world constitute the point of departure: how, for example, the composition of a work may reflect social reality or the author's struggle for life. "Life" in this book is the historical or personal world from which a work derives or to which it refers. If we assume that there exist manifold relationships between "literature" and "life," ranging from cases of "life" entering "literature" at the one end to cases of "literature" entering "life" at the other, then the subtitle of that book might have been "How Life Enters Literature." The "relationship of fiction and life" is approached there from a sociohistorical or biographical perspective, and reception data are mentioned only [End Page 161] as indications of a text's degree of realism, truth, or authenticity. The other extreme of "how literature enters life"—how works of fiction affect social or personal worlds—is thus marginalized.
To this more or less traditional approach, the current collection of articles forms a complement and counterpoint in several respects. It is complementary to the extent that it variously focuses on the real-life influence and effects of works of fiction. "How literature enters life" also forms a contrast because most of the contributions do not originate in traditional literary studies. Instead, they are interdisciplinary, lying at the crossroads of psychology, sociology, literary and media studies, with two of the contributions bringing in a historical dimension as well. Owing to this interdisciplinary orientation of the special issue, a number of different methodological approaches are brought to bear upon the question of "literature entering life." For the most part these approaches are empirical and adapted from the social sciences. They range from case studies, qualitative content analysis of written documents, statistical analysis of survey data, and experimental studies to the interpretation of social data and the interpretive reconstruction of historical material.
In line with this wide range of contributions, the key terms "life" and "literature" as they are employed in the various articles likewise cover a broad range of meanings. In regard to life, the focus of the issue is mostly on the individual, personal lives of readers and recipients of other media, on their emotions in engaging with the texts, on their thoughts, sometimes on the ways in which their lives are changed by encountering a particular work. Some of the contributions, however, go beyond the individual, discussing the ways in which literature has entered the lives of groups to affect society or even tracing the impact of a particular work on the "collective memory" of an entire culture over more than a century.
The term "literature" is likewise used in a broad sense. Especially in literary studies, "literature" has often been more or less equated with works of literature in the print media. Historically speaking, however, the close association of the literary with print is merely a temporary phenomenon. "Literature" has originated in the oral tradition, and with the rise of the audiovisual and, more recently still, the digital media during the twentieth century, "literature" has again loosened its ties to print and may equally be found in films and audioplays or on the Internet. The contributions to this special issue thus range over different genres in various media. Moreover (and this is again in line with research in disciplines such as media and communication studies), the use of the term is not restricted to "literature" in the normative, "highbrow" sense: the volume includes articles with a decidedly "lowbrow" orientation, dealing with "literature" as it manifests itself in, for [End Page 162] instance, fantasy fiction, pseudo-documentary products, and horror films. While the problem of literariness in terms of genre and canonicity will not be problematized in this volume, the question of how literary works relate to "real worlds" will...