GU4510: The Mind Between Literature and the Brain | V. Amoretti
Undergraduate and Graduate Seminar
What — to paraphrase Catherine Malabou — should literary studies do with neuroscience? How should critics and theorists approach the wealth of research about the neural bases of cognition? Should empirical findings about the brain supplant or complement interpretative and speculative theories of the psyche in the literary critic’s toolkit? Is the psyche and its “inner life” still a meaningful level of analysis for literary scholars? The field of “cognitive literary studies,” as the heterogeneous body of work drawing from research psychology, cognitive science and neuroscience is known, has steadily grown in stature over the last few decades, in lockstep with the burgeoning prominence of neuroscience in popular culture and within the academy. Some of its exponents argue that the rise of neuroscience must imply the decline of psychoanalysis and other “folk” psychologies. Others point to the constraints of reproducibility and of the empirical method as insur-mountable handicaps for the study of complex cultural objects such as literature. In this seminar, we will consider the literary experience as a whole — from the act of reading and comprehension, to the affective impact of reading and even the lifelong permanence in one’s memory and imagination of what Eve Sedgwick called “phantasy books” — and ask which parts of the experience can be fruitfully elucidated by reference to empirical knowledge about neural processes.
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