I’ve recently completed an online course from FutureLearn ‘How to read… a mind’. A course which promised to open my understanding about language, fictional minds, and my own identity as a reader by drawing on the field of ‘cognitive poetics’. I used to draw fields when I was child, with daisies and trees and the occasional sheep. But I diverge. ‘Cognitive poetics’ is a relatively new area of understanding and strangely fascinating. I found it so fascinatingly new that it was beyond my understanding. After day 1, with the aid of a dictionary and Wikipedia, I still hadn’t a clue what any of it meant. After completing the two week course and reading my fellow students comments, I’m glad to know I am not steering a course through the foggy sea of cognitive poetics all alone. Thankfully some bright sparks, who are probably destined to be neuropsychologists, added simplified comments of some of the more technical stuff.
So, do I understand language? Can I read a fictional mind? Am I more aware of my identity as a reader? I can honestly say I do not know. I’m not saying the course was a complete waste of time, far from it. It was a very good course, but there was just too much psycho babble. It did make me ask the question ‘why are some characters more ‘real’ then others?’
Apparently the most ‘real’ person you know is yourself, followed by family/close friends/pets then work colleagues and continuing down the list to the guy who served you your coffee this morning (the one in Starbucks not your lover). As you get to know new people you measure their ‘realness’ against the people you already know to be ‘real’. The same is true of fictional characters. (At least, that’s how I understood it). Which makes sense, we constantly judge other people by our own standards. I thought about characters who seemed more real to me then others and when they really came to life in the pages. It was never the authors physical description of the character which made them more real to me, but their reactions, their speech, their small yet distinct mannerisms. The same can be said of me in real life, ask me to describe a friends physical appear and beyond the colour of their hair I’m stumped, ask about their personality, their quirks and mannerisms and I can go on for hours. I have just asked my sister the same questions, this led to an in depth discussion into a mutual friends personality and psychology, and ended on the merits of home done hair dyes versus professional salons.
So why is the title for this article ‘See Jane Run’. I’ve never read a Dick & Jane book but that simple line conjures up an image of a little girl in a red pinafore dress and a white shirt with pigtails running across a field, possibly chasing a ball. That’s a lot from three words. Jane is a simple character but one that has imbedded itself into the readers cognitive. An example of a more complex character would be Sherlock Holmes. How many people can honestly say they have read a Sherlock Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. If you haven’t you still know who he is, how he looks and all his little personality traits. Somewhere along the way Sherlock became real person, so much so that when Doyle killed him there was a public outcry. But what made Sherlock so real that readers reacted this way to his demise
I feel that whatever it is that makes a fictional character ‘real’ is still eluding me. Perhaps when I read the next novel sitting on my bedside table I will watch and study the main character, waiting for the moment when he jumps from the pages larger then life, and the fog will clear.
Or, more likely, I’ll chill out with a glass a wine and enjoy a really good book.