Suspense: Computation, Affect, and the Virtual Reader

Mark Algee-Hewitt
Stanford University

What is responsible for the feeling of suspense in certain types of literature? Is it something located entirely within the reader’s subjectivity? Or are there identifiable textual, narrative or semantic features that help to shape the reader’s experience? Moreover, if the feeling of suspense is rooted in the uncertainty of outcome, why do we still experience suspense when re-reading a book whose outcome we know? This project explores these questions through a mixture of textual and genre studies, social science and machine learning. It offers a new computational approach to reader response theory, as it seeks to uncover the textual conditions of possibility for the subjective experience of suspense.

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