Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Emotional Detachment: The Affective Fallacy

As Wimsatt and Beardsley discuss in their article, the affective fallacy is the mistake of involving a reader's emotional response when evaluating or analyzing a text. While Wimsatt and Beardsley recognize that emotions may play a role in the creation of poetry and may trigger emotional responses in the reader, it is the critic's job to rise above such emotional responses when analyzing. This is because each person is going to have a different emotional response to the same piece of work, which makes analyzing it difficult since everyone will see (and feel) different things. In addition, the critic cannot say a specific emotional response is wrong. As Wimsatt and Beardsley note, emotional responses are "neither anything which can be refuted, nor anything which is possible for the objective critic to take into account" (p. 45). However, an objective critic can recognize emotion if the form of the poem shows evidence of that emotion being represented through the structure of the language used. This is because the New Critics are highly focused on objectively analyzing the form of a poem over trivial things, like emotion, as "vividness is not the thing in the work by which the work may be identified, but the result of the cognitive structure, which is the thing" (p. 45-46).

In order to represent the idea of the affective fallacy, I immediately thought of the stereotypical psychiatrist scene where a doctor asks, "how does that make you feel?" I drew (aka made stick figures) this scene, but I made the patient into a robot. Robots don't have feelings, and therefore would be the perfect objective critic when analyzing literature. I thought that this scene represented the idea that Wimsatt and Beardsley were trying to get across.


The affective fallacy is the mistake that we make as readers when we commit the terrible crime of feeling emotional attachment to the words someone has written. While I suppose it may not be considered an offense if you're just a reader, it is considered a felony by Wimsatt and Beardsley if you are a literary critic. Do you think that feeling an emotional connection to a piece clouds your judgement when analyzing it? Or does the connection enhance your understanding?

1 comment:

  1. I just love the humor and spunk of your work, Kendal. I love the allusions to the "terrible crime," the "felony" of emotive reading, which really puts a finger on the ways that W&B seem to cross into the realm of the hyperbolic when they articulate their concerns about how readers can corrupt a text's true meaning with their own clouded feelings. Very nice!

    ReplyDelete