HCAS People Contact Information

    Fabianinkatu 24 (P.O. Box 4)
    00014 University of Helsinki

    Tel. +358 2 941 24466



Facebook banner link


Twitter link

youtube banner link


Merja Polvinen

Polivinen photoPhD (English philology)

Room 336

Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
P.O. Box 4
FIN-00014 University of Helsinki

Tel +358-(0)2941 23421
Email merja.polvinen(AT)helsinki.fi

Curriculum vitae (pdf)

List of Publications (pdf)


Research interests

  • British and American literature
  • Cognitive narratology
  • Theories of literary representation
  • Literature and dynamical systems theory

Current research

Metafiction, Cognition and the Experience of Literature

This study combines the perspectives of literary theory and the cognitive sciences to examine the experience of reading fictional narratives. Previous descriptions have emphasised the difference between immersive and self-reflective (metafictive) experiences. This study, in contrast, presents a view of fictionality that is able to accommodate experiences where the strongly immersive and the explicitly self-reflective coalesce. I argue that by focusing on immersion and verisimilitude, the earlier cognitive approaches have relied on a partial view of fictional representation. Consequently they have not been successful in addressing the way in which engaging with a work of fiction—however life-like—is still a coupling of mind with a crafted construct. In order to find a way of combining a cognitive approach with the assumption that awareness of fictionality is central to the experience of fiction, I examine the ways in which metafictional techniques manipulate our sense of fictionality.

I will focus on three major issues concerning metafiction: (I) the debate concerning immersion in a fictional world; (II) the role of emotional engagement in metafiction; and (III) the question whether metafiction constitutes a form of fictional or a non-fictional discourse. Throughout, literary theoretical issues are discussed in dialogue with current research into the cognitive processes involved, and the claims are put to the test in the analysis of contemporary British and American metafiction. Cognitive approaches to literature form a vibrant field of study, developing both new conceptualisations of fictionality and narrativity, and more empirically oriented research that analyses readers' experiences through questionnaires or eye and brain scans. However, the field still struggles to overcome the distance between literary theoretical concepts and the models of mental processing. Thus the interdisciplinary aims of this project are twofold: firstly, because it builds a more complex picture of fictional representation than the one commonly found in cognitive studies of fictionality, it can give more nuance to the empirical approaches. Secondly, because it bases its analysis on what is known about general cognitive processes, it makes literary scholarship more immediately relevant to our understanding of human mental life.