Peter J. Rabinowitz, the Carolyn C. and David M. Ellis ’38 Distinguished Teaching Professor of Comparative Literature, presented a paper at the International Conference on Narrative at the University of Amsterdam June 16-18. The annual conference was sponsored by the International Society for the Study of Narrative (ISSN).
Titled “‘My Heart is Torn with Anguish’: Theory of Mind and the Experience of Opera,” the talk explored the ways that cognitive narrative theory—particularly the branch that centers on theory of mind—can contribute to our understanding of the implicit psychological dynamics among operatic characters.
As his primary example, Rabinowitz looked at Triquet’s dippy couplets celebrating Tatyana during her name day party in the second act of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. He said that on the surface, this aria seems an interruption without emotional or psychological depth. In fact, at a narrative conference a few years ago, Rabinowitz approached it in more purely rhetorical terms, analyzing it as a light-hearted moment in which Tchaikovsky uses ironic distance to add comic relief to an intense scene that ends in violence.
In this new paper, Rabinowitz looked at the selection from a significantly different theoretical perspective. He showed how the passage simultaneously reveals the complex ingredients of Tatyana’s psychic anguish and gives listeners an intricate opportunity to exercise their theory-of-mind skills.