Abstract and keywords

Ritið 3/13 - 2013

Bergljót Kristjánsdóttir:  “relating […] adventures”. On the detective story, reading, the Theory of Mind, and the novella “Miss Harrington and I”

While there is no consensus on who wrote the first Icelandic detective story, one name is often mentioned, that of the Icelandic-Canadian writer Jóhann Magnús Bjarnason. In this paper, it is argued that he used the detective story form primarily to tell different kinds of stories. This is followed by a critical discussion of the Theory of Mind as it is believed by many to explain peoples’ interest in the detective story. Then Bjarnason’s novella, “Miss Harrington and I”, is analyzed. Although it has never been linked to detective stories before, elements that Bjarnason takes from that genre are outlined, and methods he uses to guide and distract the readers are considered, as well as how readers might react or have reacted, e.g. by mind reading. Finally, some speculations are offered about the novella in the context of Icelandic literary history. With the methods described, an attempt is made to kill several birds with one stone: Two kinds of emphases in cognitive theories are sketched: on the one hand on evolutionary history and man as a creature of thought; on the other on phenomenology and man as an animal possessing embodied cognition, where perception and what is perceived by the senses in communication with others and the environment is preeminent (cf. embodied interaction and Narrative Practice Hypothesis). By the analysis of Bjarnason’s novella, some insight is sought into the reader’s context and attention is drawn to various common physical characteristics involved in reading, which are considered no less important than mind reading. Finally, some issues in Icelandic literary history requiring further investigation are mentioned, including the effect of the detective story on Icelandic authors in the first decades of the 20th century.

Keywords: Jóhann Magnús Bjarnason, the detective story, reading, Theory of Mind, Narrative Practice Hypothesis

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