So it is a lover who speaks: Affective reading experiences of Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts

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This thesis investigates the affective relationship of readers with texts, through the case study of Maggie Nelson’s autotheoretical novel The Argonauts (2015). This genre-bending literary work elicited strong affective responses from readers, who mostly described their reaction to the text with words related to positive affects and deeply emotional expressions, such as ‘love’ or ‘intimacy’. My argument is based on the hypothesis that several factors come into play that render the reader susceptible to a reading mode that Louise Rosenblatt has described as an ‘aesthetic reading mode’, which activates a personal and emotional stance towards the text. The introduction of this text engages with the theoretical framework of postcritical literary studies. Chapter 1 focuses on how paratextual elements direct the reader’s affective engagement with the text. Chapter 2 is concerned with how readers describe their affective engagement with the text, by examining affective expressions used by reviewers through the method of reader response analysis. In Chapter 3 the narrative devices will be examined that contribute to the experience of closeness of intimacy that are described by readers. By combining the method of affective stylistics by Stanley Fish with a narratological analysis, mechanisms such as apostrophe, aesthetic distance and narrative authority will be put forward as possible explanations for the text’s ability to establish these affects. Finally, Chapter 4 will focus on the function of intertextuality in The Argonauts, as the use of intertextual references in this novel points to a different function of intertextuality. I will define this phenomenon as narrative vulnerability and suggest a model of relationality that opposes Harold Bloom’s infamous notion of the ‘anxiety of influence’. In doing so, this thesis will centralize the reader by investigating four levels of affective readerly engagement. The conclusion will reflect on current debates in literary studies and discuss the theoretical value of literary works.
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