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29 NOVEMBER 2012

Psychical Distance: characters and situations in drama are unreal

"One of the best known examples is to be found in our attitude towards the events and characters of the drama; they appeal to us like persons and incidents of normal experience, except that that side of their appeal, which would usually affect us in a directly personal manner, is held in abeyance. This difference, so well known as to be almost trivial, is generally explained by reference to the knowledge that the characters and situations are 'unreal,' imaginary. In this sense Witasek, oeprating with Meinong's theory of Annahem, has described the emotions involved in witnessing a drama as Scheingefuhle, a term which has so frequently been misunderstood in discussions of his theories. But, as a matter of fact, the 'assumption' upon which the imaginative emotional reaction is based is not necessarily the condition, but often the consequence, of distance; that is to say, the converse of the reason usually stated would then be true: viz. That distance, by changing our relation to the characters, renders them seemingly fictitious, not that the fictitiousness of the characters alters our feelings toward them. It is, of course, to be granted that the actual and admitted unreality of the dramatic action reinforces the effect of Distance. But surely the proverbial unsophisticated yokel whose chivalrous interference in the play on behalf of the hapless heroine can only be prevented by impressing upon him that 'they are only pretending,' is not the ideal type of theatrical audience. The proof of the seeming paradox that it is Distance which primarily gives to dramatic action the appearance of unreliability and not vice versa, is the observation that the same filtration of our sentiments and the same seeming 'unreality' of actual men and things occur, when at times, by a sudden change of inward perspective, we are overcome by the feeling that 'all the world's a stage.'"

(Edward Bullough, 1912)

Edward Bullough (1912). "Psychical Distance" British Journal of Psychology, Vol. 5, pp. 87–117 (excerpt cited by Julie Van Camp, 22 November 2006).

Fig.1 Patricia Piccinini/Drome Pty Ltd. (2010) [http://leecasey.carbonmade.com/projects/2594595#9]

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TAGS

1912aesthetics • Alexius Meinong • all the worlds a stage • Annahem • appeal • appearance of unreliability • audiencebelievabilitybreaking the fourth wallchanging our relationcharactersdirect experience • distance • distanced viewpointdrama • dramatic action • dramatic space • Edward Bullough • emotionemotional immersionemotional involvementempathyfeelings • fictitious • fictitiousnessheld in abeyanceimaginary • imaginative emotional reaction • normal experience • only pretending • our sentiments • pathospersonalpropinquitypsychical distancepsychological closeness • psychological proximity • Scheingefuhle • Stephan Witasek • suspension of disbelief • theatrical audience • unreal • unreal characters • unreal situations • unreality • verisimilitude • witnessing • yoke

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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