Suspension of disbelief

The term suspension of disbelief or willing suspension of disbelief has been defined as a willingness to suspend one's critical faculties and believe something surreal; sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment.[1] The term was coined in 1817 by the poet and aesthetic philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who suggested that if a writer could infuse a "human interest and a semblance of truth" into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgement concerning the implausibility of the narrative. Suspension of disbelief often applies to fictional works of the action, comedy, fantasy, and horror genres. Cognitive estrangement in fiction involves using a person's ignorance to promote suspension of disbelief.[2]

The phrase "suspension of disbelief" came to be used more loosely in the later 20th century, often used to imply that the burden was on the reader, rather than the writer, to achieve it. This might be used to refer to the willingness of the audience to overlook the limitations of a medium, so that these do not interfere with the acceptance of those premises. These premises may also lend to the engagement of the mind and perhaps proposition of thoughts, ideas, art and theories.[3]

Suspension of disbelief is often an essential element for a magic act or a circus sideshow act. For example, an audience is not expected to actually believe that a woman is cut in half or transforms into a gorilla[4] in order to enjoy the performance.

According to the theory, suspension of disbelief is an essential ingredient for any kind of storytelling. With any film, the viewer has to ignore the reality that they are viewing a staged performance and temporarily accept it as their reality in order to be entertained. Black-and-white films provide an obvious early example that audiences are willing to suspend disbelief, no matter how implausible the images appear, for the sake of entertainment. With the exception of totally color blind people (achromats), no person viewing these films sees the real world without color, but some are still willing to suspend disbelief and accept the images in order to be entertained. Suspension of disbelief is also supposed to be essential for the enjoyment of many films and television shows involving complex stunts, special effects, and seemingly unrealistic plots and characterizations.

Coleridge's original formulation

Coleridge coined the phrase in his Biographia Literaria, published in 1817, in the context of the creation and reading of poetry.[5] Chapter XIV describes the preparations with Wordsworth for their revolutionary collaboration Lyrical Ballads (first edition 1798), for which Coleridge had contributed the more romantic, gothic pieces including The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Poetry and fiction involving the supernatural had gone out of fashion to a large extent in the 18th century, in part due to the declining belief in witches and other supernatural agents among the educated classes, who embraced the rational approach to the world offered by the new science. Alexander Pope, notably, felt the need to explain and justify his use of elemental spirits in The Rape of the Lock, one of the few English poems of the century that invoked the supernatural. Coleridge wished to revive the use of fantastic elements in poetry. The concept of "willing suspension of disbelief" explained how a modern, enlightened audience might continue to enjoy such types of story.

Coleridge recalled:

... It was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith. Mr. Wordsworth on the other hand was to propose to himself as his object, to give the charm of novelty to things of every day, and to excite a feeling analogous to the supernatural, by awakening the mind's attention from the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us ...[6]

The notion of such an action by an audience was however recognized in antiquity, as seen particularly in the Roman theoretical concerns of Horace, who also lived in an age of increasing skepticism about the supernatural, in his Ars Poetica (with the quotation Ut pictura poesis).

Examples in literature

Suspension of disbelief is sometimes said to be an essential component of live theater, where it was recognized by Shakespeare, who refers to it in the Prologue to Henry V:

[…] make imaginary puissance […] 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings […] turning the accomplishment of many years into an hourglass.

Psychology

Psychological critic Norman Holland points to a neuroscientific explanation. When we hear or watch any narrative, our brains go wholly into perceiving mode, turning off the systems for acting or planning to act, and with them go our systems for assessing reality. We have, in Coleridge's second, more accurate phrase, "poetic faith". That's why humans have such trouble recognizing lies: they first believe, then have to make a conscious effort to disbelieve.

Only when we stop perceiving to think about what we have seen or heard, only then do we assess its truth-value. If we are really "into" the fiction – "transported", in the psychologists' term – we are, as Immanuel Kant pointed out long ago, "disinterested". We respond aesthetically, without purpose. We don't judge the truth of what we're perceiving, even though if we stop being transported and think about it, we know quite well it's a fiction.[7][8]

Suspension of disbelief has also been used within a mental health context by Frank DeFulgentis in his book Flux. It is an attempt to describe the phenomenon of forgetting irrational thoughts associated with cases of OCD. In the book, the author suggests 'suspending disbelief' as opposed to forcing ourselves to forget; similar to how one would put a virus in quarantine. We can thereby allow ourselves to be absorbed in the activities around us until these irrationalities vanish on their own accord.

Criticisms

Aesthetic philosophers generally reject claims that suspension of disbelief accurately characterizes the relationship between people and "fictions." Kendall Walton notes that, if viewers were to truly suspend disbelief at a horror movie and accept its images as absolute fact, they would have a true-to-life set of reactions. For instance, audience members would cry out, "Look behind you!" to an endangered on-screen character or call the police when they witnessed an on-screen murder.[9]

However, many of these criticisms simply fail to notice that Coleridge's original statement came in a restrictive clause. The formulation "...that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment which constitutes poetic faith," of necessity implies that there are different sorts of suspension of disbelief and specifies that poetic faith is one instance of a larger class. One need not choose to believe that a character in a horror film is a real person in order, for example, to choose to believe that the character is looking at the building seen in the following reverse-shot.

Not all authors believe that suspension of the disbelief adequately characterizes the audience's relationship to imaginative works of art. J. R. R. Tolkien challenges this concept in his essay "On Fairy-Stories", choosing instead the paradigm of secondary belief based on inner consistency of reality. Tolkien says that, in order for the narrative to work, the reader must believe that what he reads is true within the secondary reality of the fictional world. By focusing on creating an internally consistent fictional world, the author makes secondary belief possible. Tolkien argues that suspension of disbelief is only necessary when the work has failed to create secondary belief. From that point the spell is broken, and the reader ceases to be immersed in the story and must make a conscious effort to suspend disbelief or else give up on it entirely.[10]

See also

References

  1. ^ "suspend disbelief (phrase)". Oxford Dictionaries (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2018. OCLC 656668849. Archived from the original on 29 July 2018. Retrieved 29 July 2018.
  2. ^ Buchanan, Ian (2010). A Dictionary of Critical Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199532919.
  3. ^ Welkos, Robert W. (15 April 1993). "From 'King Kong' to 'Indecent Proposal,' audiences have been asked to buy a premise that can make – or break – a film". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-10-24.
  4. ^ Botos, Tim (21 August 2008). "'Gorilla Girl' sideshow act hangs on despite changing times". GateHouse News Service; Patriot Ledger. Retrieved 15 October 2012.
  5. ^ Safire, William. On Language; Suspension of Disbelief. New York Times. 7 October 2007.
  6. ^ Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, 1817, Chapter XIV
  7. ^ Holland, Norman (2008). "Spiderman? Sure! The Neuroscience of Disbelief". Interdisciplinary Science Reviews. 33 (4): 312–320. Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  8. ^ Holland, Norman. "Literature and the Brain". Literatureandthebrain.com. PsyArt. Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  9. ^ "Fearing Fictions", Kendall L. Walton, JSTOR (The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 75, No. 1 (01-1978), pp. 5–27). Retrieved 3 January 2007.
  10. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. “On Fairy-Stories.” The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays, George Allen & Unwin, 1983, pp. 109–61.

External links

Canon (fiction)

In fiction, canon is the material accepted as officially part of the story in the fictional universe of that story. It is often contrasted with, or used as the basis for, works of fan fiction. The alternative terms mythology, timeline, universe and continuity are often used, with the first of these being used especially to refer to a richly detailed fictional canon requiring a large degree of suspension of disbelief (e.g. an entire imaginary world and history), while the latter two typically refer to a single arc where all events are directly connected chronologically. Other times, the word can mean "to be acknowledged by the creator(s)".

Central conceit

In drama and other art forms, the central conceit of a work of fiction is the underlying fictitious assumption which must be accepted by the audience with suspension of disbelief so the plot may be seen as plausible.

An example from popular culture is the way many cartoons feature animals that can speak to each other, and in many cases can understand human speech, but humans cannot understand the speech of animals. This conceit is seen, and sometimes exploited for plot purposes, in such films as Over the Hedge, the Balto series, and Brother Bear.

Cybersex

Cybersex, also called computer sex, Internet sex, netsex and, colloquially, cyber or cybering, is a virtual sex encounter in which two or more people connected remotely via computer network send each other sexually explicit messages describing a sexual experience. In one form, this fantasy sex is accomplished by the participants describing their actions and responding to their chat partners in a mostly written form designed to stimulate their own sexual feelings and fantasies. Cybersex often includes real life masturbation.

Environments in which cybersex takes place are not necessarily exclusively devoted to that subject, and participants in any Internet chat may suddenly receive a message of invitation). The quality of a cybersex encounter typically depends upon the participants' abilities to evoke a vivid, visceral mental picture in the minds of their partners. Imagination and suspension of disbelief are also critically important. Cybersex can occur either within the context of existing or intimate relationships, e.g. among lovers who are geographically separated, or among individuals who have no prior knowledge of one another and meet in virtual spaces or cyberspaces and may even remain anonymous to one another. In some contexts cybersex is enhanced by the use of a webcam to transmit real-time video of the partners.

Dramatic convention

Dramatic conventions are the specific actions and techniques the actor, writer or director has employed to create a desired dramatic effect/style.

A dramatic convention is a set of rules which both the audience and actors are familiar with and which act as a useful way of quickly signifying the nature of the action or of a character.

All forms of theatre have dramatic conventions, some of which may be unique to that particular form, such as the poses used by actors in Japanese kabuki theatre to establish a character, or the stock character of the black-cloaked, moustache twirling villain in early cinema melodrama serials.

It can also include an implausible facet of a performance required by the technical limitations or artistic nature of a production and which is accepted by the audience as part of suspension of disbelief. For example, a dramatic convention in Shakespeare is that a character can move downstage to deliver a soliloquy which cannot be heard by the other characters on stage nor are characters in a musical surprised by another character bursting into song. One more example would be how the audience accepts the passage of time during a play or how music will play during a romantic scene.

Dramatic conventions may be categorized into groups, such as rehearsal, technical or theatrical.

Rehearsal conventions can include hot seating, role on the wall and still images. Technical conventions can include lighting, dialogue, monologue, set, costuming and entrances/exits. Theatrical conventions may include split focus, flashback/flashforward, narration, soliloquy and spoken thought.

Everywhere and His Nasty Parlour Tricks

Everywhere and His Nasty Parlour Tricks is a 2001 EP by the alternative rock band Modest Mouse. It collects the earlier Night on the Sun EP along with unreleased tracks from the recording sessions for The Moon & Antarctica.

It was released on Epic Records on September 25, 2001, on both CD and vinyl LP.

False document

A false document is often promoted in conjunction with a criminal enterprise, such as fraud or a confidence game.

However, a false document is also a technique employed to create verisimilitude in a work of fiction. By inventing and inserting documents that appear to be factual, an author tries to create a sense of authenticity beyond the normal and expected suspension of disbelief for a work of art. The goal of a false document is to convince an audience that what is being presented is factual.

Fiction writing

Fiction writing is the composition of non-factual prose texts. Fictional writing often is produced as a story meant to entertain or convey an author's point of view. The result of this may be a short story, novel, novella, screenplay, or drama, which are all types (though not the only types) of fictional writing styles. Different types of authors practice fictional writing, including novelists, playwrights, short story writers, radio dramatists and screenwriters.

Immersion (virtual reality)

Immersion into virtual reality is a perception of being physically present in a non-physical world. The perception is created by surrounding the user of the VR system in images, sound or other stimuli that provide an engrossing total environment.

The name is a metaphoric use of the experience of submersion applied to representation, fiction or simulation. Immersion can also be defined as the state of consciousness where a "visitor" (Maurice Benayoun) or "immersant" (Char Davies)'s awareness of physical self is transformed by being surrounded in an artificial environment; used for describing partial or complete suspension of disbelief, enabling action or reaction to stimulations encountered in a virtual or artistic environment. The degree to which the virtual or artistic environment faithfully reproduces reality determines the degree of suspension of disbelief. The greater the suspension of disbelief, the greater the degree of presence achieved.

Intermission

An intermission, also known as an interval in British and Indian English, is a recess between parts of a performance or production, such as for a theatrical play, opera, concert, or film screening. It should not be confused with an entr'acte (French: "between acts"), which, in the 18th century, was a sung, danced, spoken, or musical performance that occurs between any two acts, that is unrelated to the main performance, and that thus in the world of opera and musical theatre became an orchestral performance that spans an intermission and leads, without a break, into the next act.Jean-François Marmontel and Denis Diderot both viewed the intermission as a period in which the action did not in fact stop, but continued off-stage. "The interval is a rest for the spectators; not for the action," wrote Marmontel in 1763. "The characters are deemed to continue acting during the interval from one act to another." However, intermissions are more than just dramatic pauses that are parts of the shape of a dramatic structure. They also exist for more mundane reasons, such as that it is hard for audience members to concentrate for more than two hours at a stretch, and actors and performers (for live action performances at any rate) need to rest. They afford opportunity for scene and costume changes. Performance venues take advantage of them to sell food and drink.Psychologically, intermissions allow audiences to pause their suspension of disbelief and return to reality, and are a period during which they can engage critical faculties that they have suspended during the performance itself.

Metacinema

Metacinema, also meta-cinema, analogous to metafiction in literature, is a mode of filmmaking in which the film informs the audience that they are watching a work of fiction. Metacinema often references its own production, working against narrative conventions that aim to maintain the audience's suspension of disbelief. Elements of metacinema includes scenes where characters discuss the making of the film or where production equipment and facilities are shown.

Narrative thread

A narrative thread, or plot thread (or, more ambiguously, a storyline), refers to particular elements and techniques of writing to center the story in the action or experience of characters rather than to relate a matter in a dry "all-knowing" sort of narration. Thus the narrative threads experienced by different but specific characters or sets of characters are those seen in the eyes of those characters that together form a plot element or subplot in the work of fiction. In this sense, each narrative thread is the narrative portion of a work that pertains to the world view of the participating characters cognizant of their piece of the whole, and they may be the villains, the protagonists, a supporting character, or a relatively disinterested official utilized by the author, each thread of which is woven together by the writer to create a work.

By utilizing different threads, the writer enables the reader to get pieces of the overall plot while positioning them to identify with the characters or experience the situation as if the reader were part of or eavesdropping upon the action the writer is divulging. This aids in the suspension of disbelief and engages the reader into the story as it develops.

A classic structure of narrative thread often used in both fiction and non-fiction writing is the monomyth, or hero's journey, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. First, typically the harmony of daily life is broken by a particularly dramatic event that leads into the main story. Then, second, the plot builds to a point of no return, from where the protagonist – who need not be a person but may be an organization or a community – has no choice but to deal with matters, and thus is tested. At this point, characteristically, there is conflict and the conflict intensifies. Third, and finally, harmony is reestablished by the conflict being solved, or at least explained in the case of non-fiction.

Plot device

A plot device, or plot mechanism, is any technique in a narrative used to move the plot forward. A contrived or arbitrary plot device may annoy or confuse the reader, causing a loss of the suspension of disbelief. However a well-crafted plot device, or one that emerges naturally from the setting or characters of the story, may be entirely accepted, or may even be unnoticed by the audience.

Postmodernist film

Postmodernist film is a classification for works that articulate the themes and ideas of postmodernism through the medium of cinema. Postmodernist film attempts to subvert the mainstream conventions of narrative structure and characterization, and tests the audience's suspension of disbelief. Typically, such films also break down the cultural divide between high and low art and often upend typical portrayals of gender, race, class, genre, and time with the goal of creating something that does not abide by traditional narrative expression.

Rubber science

Rubber science is a science fiction term describing a quasi-scientific explanation for an aspect of a science fiction setting. Rubber science explanations are fictional but convincing enough to avoid upsetting the suspension of disbelief. Rubber science is a feature of most genres of science fiction, with the exception of hard science fiction. It is also frequently invoked in comic books.The term was coined by Norman Spinrad in an essay entitled "Rubber Sciences", in Reginald Bretnor's anthology The Craft of Science Fiction.

Suspension of Disbelief (album)

Suspension of Disbelief was the lone AP2 release, put out by Tooth & Nail Records in 2000. AP2 was a sequel of sorts to the band Argyle Park, who released their only album Misguided in 1995. Argyle Park had consisted of Buka and Klayton, while AP2 featured primary players Buka and Level, with Klayton producing the record. In the winter of 2000, Tooth & Nail cut AP2 due to the low sales of this album. Since Buka had only wanted AP2 to release albums for Tooth & Nail, AP2 ended as a band after Tooth & Nail dropped them. [1]

Suspension of Disbelief was every bit as experimental as its precursor, including elements of gabber techno, dance-pop, drum and bass, ambient techno, R&B, punk rock, and metal. The opening track, "The End", contains vocal samples from two of the old Argyle Park songs, giving the album some sense of closure to that era of the band before diving headlong into the new material.

Suspension of Disbelief (film)

Suspension of Disbelief is a 2012 English thriller film directed, edited, co-produced by Mike Figgis and starring Sebastian Koch, Lotte Verbeek, Emilia Fox, Rebecca Night, Eoin Macken, Lachlan Nieboer, Frances de la Tour, Julian Sands and Kenneth Cranham. It was premiered at the 7th Rome Film Festival in November 2012. It played in the 12th East End Film Festival on 6 July 2013 and in Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival on 26 September 2013. The film was released in the UK on 19 July 2013.

Technobabble

Technobabble (a portmanteau of technology and babble), also called technospeak, is a form of jargon that consists of buzzwords, esoteric language, specialized technical terms, or technical slang that is impossible to understand for the listener. Various fields of practice and industry have their own specialized vocabularies, or jargon, that allow those educated within that industry to concisely convey ideas that may be confusing, misleading, or nonsensical to an outside listener. The difference between technobabble and jargon lies with the intent of the user and the audience: a dishonest person might use overly technical (and often meaningless) language to overwhelm and confuse the audience, masking their dishonesty, while a fiction writer might use it to cover plot holes or to invoke suspension of disbelief of story elements that defy current understandings of science and technology. Use of jargon within technical circles and with no intent to obfuscate is not usually included in the definition of technobabble.

Translation convention

The translation convention is a filmic and television story-telling device in which the characters within a fictional story are heard or seen speaking not their native language but instead the language of the film's audience, which is pretended to be their native languages. Sometimes, some or all of the characters speak with an accent that reflects the actual language spoken in the fictional or historical story setting.

This conceit has been used since the beginning of narrative sound film. It uses, among other things, a degree of suspension of disbelief.

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