Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Suzanne Keen recently gave an invited lecture, “Relatable: Empathy, Novels, and Picky Readers,” at the Centre for English Studies, SOAS University of London.
The lecture considered the capacity of narrative fiction to invite readers into unfamiliar worlds, where they can be asked to share the imagined experiences, perspectives, and emotions of characters and other storyworld elements, and where they may even be coaxed into identifying with persons radically different from themselves, overcoming the ordinary barriers of distance, dissimilarity, and unfamiliarity.
Keen argued that readers’ preferences for “relatable” characters and resistance to the “unrelatable” throw up obstacles to fiction reading as an improving activity.
Keen also presented a brief talk on cultural differences and strategic narrative empathizing at “Empathy, Trust, and Difference,” a daylong SOAS colloquium. The gathering convened practitioners and academic experts from diverse disciplines from around the U.K. and the world.