Volume 4, Issue 1, 2012
Communicative View of Literature
It is often said that literature is cognitively valuable, and that there are many things that we learn from literary fiction. But it is hard to say how exactly this process of acquiring new beliefs and expanding our knowledge takes place through engagement with literature. In this paper, I develop an account of this process, claiming that literary works are a special kind of testimony. I then go on and claim that testimony can not only transfer knowledge from one person to another (this is the role testimony is traditionally given), but can also help an audience in reaching some other cognitive states considered valuable, such as understanding. Grounding literature in its social (institutional) setting and insisting on its humanistic aspect, in the last part of the paper I develop the roles of author-as-testifier and reader-as-audience and try to show how a reader can in fact learn from literary fiction.