Thursday, August 20

Thoughts on suspense

The yearning to read and learn, constantly seeking truth and better ways, may be as crucial as any number of years spent in a classroom, earning grades and credits. The path to improvement depends on a willingness, even eagerness, to absorb and analyze new bits of information by any means necessary. People who want to learn more and solve big problems that others might avoid are stronger, more prepared to encounter inevitable change. They embrace rather than avoid uncertainty or feign to know it all.

Action and emotion intersect as emotions drive actions and actions drive emotions.  Likewise, there is intersection between emotion and reason in driving human judgment, as explained Chelsea Helion and David Pizarro in an essay for Handbook of Neuroethics: "The inner conflict that humans experience between their moral selves and their more unrestrained, egoistic selves has been a consistent theme in literature for centuries. While (largely) discarding the good-versus-evil aspects of this dichotomy, moral psychology has nonetheless embraced the basic division of mental processes into two general types – one mental system that is cold, rational, and deliberative, and another that is emotional, intuitive, and quick." 

The pursuit of knowledge is linked to suspense and R.J. Jacobs explains the allure of reading that provokes anxiety for CrimeReads. Readers seek a vicarious experience that offers a sense of control, the opportunity to explore possibilities in finding new methods to complete a story and the joy of solving problems.

Suspense spans a long list of emotions including fascination, hope, anticipation, envy, anger, rejection, hatred, anxiety, tension, fear and more. Aaron Smuts analyzes four theories on "The Paradox of Suspense" for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and points out points out that Robert Yanal suggests that "suspense is best thought of as a composite emotion," "better described as an emotional amalgam, comprised of fear and hope, where uncertainty, if it is required, is implied in the components." Smuts goes on to describe the broad nature of suspense: "The intensity of our feelings of suspense seems to rely on two features of an event's outcome: (1) its uncertainty and (2) the significance of what is at stake."  

Suspense novels encourage readers to form strong opinions and become invested in the narratives and characters. Sheila O'Neill graciously included Fear of Beauty in her video list compiled for a Ezvid Wiki - "9 Suspenseful Reads Full of Real Emotion." Sofi, the protagonist in Fear of Beauty, is desperate to learn how to read after finding some papers not far from a cliff where her son fell to his death. "Some mysteries and thrillers focus on emotionally detached sleuths and cases where the killer is simply after money. The titles on this list go a step further, tackling difficult relationships and characters facing hard truths, allowing readers to really get invested in the twists that come. Here, in no particular order, are nine books that are as emotional as they are thrilling."

Despite the prevalence of suspense in literature, the condition is rare in the modern world ... except maybe for the processes of learning and critical thinking. Learning serves as both trigger of suspense and antidote as people generally anticipate impending challenges and quickly discern possible approaches. Perhaps the readers who relish suspense literature are best adept at taming suspense, keeping this feeling at arm's length in everyday life. 

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