Friday, September 2, 2011
In Praise of Absurdist Literature
To use Vico's terminology, the metaphor is delightful because "it is more known by the hearer than presented by the speaker."
Absurdist literature, which also contains high levels of cognitive dissonance, produces the same effect. Psychologists asked a panel of undergraduates to read a modified version of Franz Kafka's short story "The Country Doctor," a mightmarish tale of a physician who makes a bizarre house call on a sick boy and his family. One group read a version in which the narrative gradually broke down, ended abruptly with a series of non sequiturs, and was accompanied by bizarre and totally unrelated illustrations. Another group read a parallel tale that made conventional sense, contained no non sequiturs, and was accompanied by illustrations related to the story.
Researchers then gave both groups sixty different letter strings, each of which was made up of six to nine letters, and told them that half the strings contained a pattern. Their task: identify the pattern and all the letter strings containing it. Those who had read the more absurd version of "The Country Doctor" were almost twice as accurate in their answers as those who had read the conventional story.
The researchers concluded that the incongruities in illogical stories, like the incongruities in jokes, spur the brain to look for patters it might not otherwise detect. - James Geary