Ellen Esrock

Associate Professor, Communication and Media

Ellen Esrock researches the effect that our sense of touch, temperature, body position, and pain has on our perceptions of visual art and literature.

“My research explores how spectators and readers use their somatosensory/motor systems to create boundary changes that enhance their cognitive and affective experience of visual art and literature,” said Esrock. “To these ends I propose the concept of the ‘transomatization,’ which operates in parallel to the notion of the simulation, as formulated in philosophy and the cognitive sciences.  The models of bodily spectatorship and reading that I am developing draw upon current scientific research in emotion, perception, language processing, and motor theories, as well as rich traditions of phenomenology and cultural histories of bodily empathy and imagination.” 

Esrock devoted her second book, The Reader's Eye: Visual Imaging as Reader” to this topic, and is currently working on her third book, Touching Art: Empathy and the Somatosensory System. She has also published several articles including “Embodying Art: The Spectator and the Inner Body” in Poetics Today, "Embodying Literature" in the Journal of Consciousness Studies, and "Touching Art: Intimacy, Embodiment, and the Somatosensory System” in Consciousness and Emotion.

Professor Esrock was awarded Rensselaer's FishbachTravel Grant in 2009, Rensselaer Ramp Up grant in 2008, a Fellowship from The Italian Academy of Columbia University in 2003, and a Harvard Mellon Faculty Fellowship in 1986.  


Ph.D., Comparative Literature, New York University

B.A., Philosophy, Washington University St. Louis

Research Focus
  • literature