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Body Language in Literature

Body Language in Literature

Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Body Language in Literature
    Book Description:

    An important interdisciplinary study, that establishes a general theory that accounts for the varieties of body language encountered in literary narrative, based on a general history of the phenomenon in the English language.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7149-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preliminary Note
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. PART I: Introduction

    • 1 Rationale and Purpose
      (pp. 3-17)

      These quotations taken from novels of the late 1970s and 1980s reflect a contemporary trend: a heightened sensitivity to body language or, to use a less popular term, non-verbal communication (NVC).¹ Provisionally, we can define body language as non-verbal behaviour (movements and postures, facial expression, glances and eye contact, automatic reactions, spatial touching behaviour) which is ‘meaningful’ in both natural and fictional communication.²

      The terminology used in the above quotations characterizes them as products of recent decades in which numerous scholarly and scientific publications have devoted themselves to body language. Journalism and popular handbooks have made the results of this...

    • 2 Body Language in Literature and the Arts: Past and Present Research
      (pp. 18-22)

      In the fields of literature and the arts, a scholarly interest in body language can be traced back to the last century. Most studies are interconnected with the contemporary precursors of NVC research.¹

      As far as narrative literature is concerned, the earliest philological studies of gesture (most of which originated in Germany) show a strong interest in cultural history. They complemented contemporary writings in folklore, folk psychology, and comparative linguistics that attempted to take inventory of the gestures of various cultures, in particular those of the Greeks and Romans (Sittl 1890) and of the European Middle Ages. Body language in...

  5. PART II: A Critical Framework for the Analysis of Body Language in (Narrative) Literature

    • 3 Categories of Body Language
      (pp. 25-82)

      This chapter establishes categories which allow the analysis of literary body language on the basis of ordinary non-verbal competence. NVC research has proposed various classification systems for non-verbal behaviour, none of which is entirely satisfactory (see K.R. Scherer, 1984, 161–2). Several of these systems have proved to be useful in the analysis of natural body language, though, and may serve as a basis for an analysis of body language in literature. They have to be modified, however, for the purposes of literary interpretation and criticism. Literary texts never present their characters’ NVC in the great variety and complexity to...

    • 4 Body Language in the Narrative Text: A Literary-Critical Perspective
      (pp. 83-174)

      Semiotic systems of everyday reality acquire new or additional functions when they are used in the context of art. Not every single element in real life is felt to be ‘meaningful’. In literature, however, every component plays a part, at least potentially, in the reader’s construction of meaning and the text’s effect. The following observations on theatre made by Keir Elam (1980) generally apply to all forms of art: Theatrical messages are non-redundant to the extent that, even where the direct semantic information is low, each signal has (or supposedly has) an “aesthetic” justification, and the reduction of signals will...

  6. PART III: Body Language in the English Novel:: Trends in Historical Development

    • 5 Body Language and the Aesthetic of the Novel
      (pp. 177-210)

      As stated in the introduction, part III of this study attempts to complement the systematic framework established in part II with a sketch of important historical developments in literary body language, focusing on the novel of the British Isles from the sixteenth century to the present. Based on a small sample of only eighty – albeit fairly representative – texts (see pages 16–17 and the appendix), the observations made in this and the next chapter merely indicate some basic trends. A more reliable study of the history of body language in the English novel would not only have required...

    • 6 Literary Body Language in Context
      (pp. 211-240)

      It is difficult to judge how ‘accurately’ literature reflects the non-verbal behaviour of a specific time or culture. However, the non-verbal competence of a writer’s time and culture will, to a certain degree, always find its way into his or her work, and the body language of fictional characters is thus affected by the changes that occur in body language in real life. There are many examples to be found in which the body language of a literary character is quite obviously ‘dated.’ In William Congreve’s playThe Way of the World(1700), a historical shift in male touching behaviour...

  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 241-243)

    This study has shown that body language is an important signifying system in literature which can contribute in many ways to the meaning and effects of the literary text. Efforts to describe this area of literary semiotics made to date have tended to focus on individual writers, periods, or (sub)genres; they are frequently limited in their concept of body language, and they sometimes disregard the specificallyliterarypresentation of this body language. The critical framework established in part II of the present study is based on NVC researchandliterary theory; it recognizes the broad expressive potential of literary body...

  8. APPENDIX Notes on the Text Sample
    (pp. 244-246)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 247-268)
  10. References
    (pp. 269-324)
  11. Index
    (pp. 325-329)