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Fiction and Other Minds
"Shifting the Blame: Some Surprising Cognitive Elements of Narrative Surprise"
This talk considered the role that blame—placing blame, evading it, deflecting it—plays both in the reception of narrative twists and in the structure of those twists themselves. When stories of a certain sort seem to tell us one thing, then turn around and tell us something else, they introduce a spectre of misdoing. Someone around here has been unreliable, something has been inconsistent, somebody has somehow gotten things importantly wrong. Someone, perhaps, has cheated. Vera discussed this spectre as a source of cognitive trouble and a locus of narrative energy in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations and Ian McEwan’s Atonement, as well as a few examples from current film and television, and explored how twist endings’ reliance on cognitive biases and shortcuts can induce a sense of readerly culpability (or its defensive opposite).