For a while now, I have been wanting to write a blogpost about this podcast I discovered, to break up the sciency blogposts of the last couple of weeks. The podcast is called Imaginary Worlds (“how we create them and why we suspend our disbelief” is the tagline) and it is hosted by Eric Molinksy. This show is basically a dream come true for a story world loving nerd like me. Every 2 weeks, Molinsky publishes a new episode with a particular theme related to the notion of imaginary worlds. He discusses all kinds of narrative media, all kinds of genres, and takes fresh and intersting perspectives on these narrative world and their world-builders.
Some of my favorite episodes include: The economics of thrones and starships, in which economists discuss the costs of running the seven kingdoms of Westeros or building the Death Star. This episode changed my view on economists, as I used to view them as rather boring and unimaginative. However, like the podcast argues economists and fantasy and science fiction writers actually have a lot in common, especially when it comes to drawing up projections and making predictions. Fantastical story worlds basically take economic models to the extreme.
Another favorite of mine was Magical Thinking. I love reading fantasy, science fiction, magic realism or absurdistic novels, and a lot of what attracts me to these kinds of novels are the magic or alternative science systems they introduce. There are huge amounts of work being put in by authors to make their fantastic story worlds feel authentic and give them depth, without actually spelling out the differences between their world and our world. This episode is all about magic systems in some of the great contemporary fantasy literature – Molinksy even interviewed two of my favorite fantasy authors: Lev Grossman and Patrick Rothfuss. I appreciated how this episode discusses the dilemma that magic systems pose: if there is magic in a world, presuming that magic is powerful and can fix things what mere mortals cannot, how are there still conflicts worth writing about?
This podcast has, on multiple occasions, given me inspiration for my research or even new ways of looking at the topic of narrative absorption, a topic I have been studying for years now. I think this has to do with the fact that my research is about the general experience of feeling absorbed in a book, whereas this podcast is looking at individually absorbing narrative worlds. For xample, the episode I was listening to today – The theatre of the mind – about radioplays, actually gave me some great ideas for a paper I am writing with my colleague Elke Lange from the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics on the experience of absorption while listening to audiobooks. Our mind is challenged differently when listening to something than when viewing something: we have to put in more work. At the same time, there is also a lot more possible in books and on radio than in film and tv. Some things are just not translatable to a screen.
This podcast often takes me back to the time when I got started on this strand of research, when it was just my own anecdotal evidence of getting lost in a book that I had to work with and I was trying to put my finger on what it was that was able to transport me to fictional worlds. I think that over the course of nearly 10 years of empirically investigating narrative absorption, I sometimes feel like I have lost touch with what fascinated me originally: the intricacies of some story worlds, the craftmanship behind it, the intense and lasting impressions these worlds made on me. When investigating aesthetic experience empirically within a scientific context, these fascinations shift to controlled settings, minute text manipulations, and the search for significant effects. It can sometimes take the joy out of the experiences I am trying to understand. But for me listening to Imaginary Worlds on the way to work, has brought the joy right back and given me inspiration to liven up my research with absorbing examples and put a little magic back into it.
I can highly recommend this podcast to any researcher interested in narrative absorption or any story world loving nerd in general. Enjoy!