The concept of "literariness"

Starting date
January 1, 2013
Duration (months)
Foreign Languages and Literatures
Managers or local contacts
Salgaro Massimo
"literariness", "foregrounding", "literary theory"

The aim of our project is to study central concepts of literary theory such as literariness and defamiliarization. In our point of view only a perspective which interfaces the linguistic features of literature with their effects on the reader is able to capture the literary experience as an aesthetic experience. A literary experience is created through the interaction of a reader and a text; consequently each element of the literary communication should be considered in equal measure. In fact the ground breaking nature of the project is both theoretical and methodological: On the theoretical level we would like to see if there are specific characteristics for literariness, for example specific features of literary language but we want to consider also the reactions to it. In our synergetic collaboration theoretical assumptions of traditional rhetoric, poetics and aesthetics will be reconceptualized using cognitive models drawn from modern psychology, and experimentally tested using empirical methods (behavioral and neuro-cognitive). The theoretical work will be linked with a study of the “aesthetic emotions” elicited by literary reading. Empirical studies will be devoted to specific devices of emotion elicitation, including narrative scenarios, metric patterns, rhetorical figures and aesthetic features of literature. One of our main question is: Do “aesthetic emotions” driven by literary reading have a special ontological status and psychological signature? How do linguistic structures of the literary text modulate discrete emotions? How can rhetorical, poetical and aesthetic properties of literature be identified and empirically investigated via experimental modifications? For the first time in literary theory we intend to use the technical support of neurosciences, including EEG, eye-tracking and fMRI, in order to study central concepts of literary theory such as literariness or defamiliarization linking them with the effects of literary reading. In our opinion, only a fully interdisciplinary team is prompted to approach the complexity of the interaction between a literary text and a reader. We think that one of the main lessons of cognitive science is that understanding of the “higher” activities of the human mind requires the integration of work from a broad range of disciplines. That’s why our team is composed of a literary scholar, a neurolinguist and a psychologist. As this reference to interdisciplinarity suggests, an understanding of literariness cannot be derived from the literary works only. Importo previsto relativo alle missioni: €. 13.000

Project participants

Massimo Salgaro
Associate Professor
Research areas involved in the project
Letterature tedesca e austriaca
Germanic Critical Theory & Poetics


Research facilities