Kent State English Colloquium, Literary Studies in the Age of Neuroscience

This afternoon I attended the last Kent State English Department Colloquium of the school year. Its neuroscientific subject matter was very interesting to me, because I am working on a similar problem to the ones highlighted in the talk, albeit from the trajectory of science fiction studies.

Today’s colloquium, presented by Professor Tammy Clewell and Lit MA Brittany Adams, was titled, “Literary Studies in the Age of Neuroscience.” Professor Clewell began the presentation by mapping out what has led to the new interdisciplinary approach that melds neuroscience with literary studies. It is in part a rearticulation of humanistic practices (as big as that term is), but it is perhaps more importantly a powerful rebuke to neuroscience as the arbiter of what makes us human. The claim is that there might be some parts of being human that cannot be understood or explored through a scientific framework. While pushing back against some claims of authority by neuroscientists over the humanities, the humanities may be able to learn some things from neuroscience, and in turn, enrich both fields of study. Ms. Adams then presented her findings on the neuronovel (novels in which the brain and its biology supplant the role in literature traditionally held by the psychological mind) and the presence of interpretive frames (in this case, Freudian and neuroscientific) beyond the novel itself. Most importantly, she questions how these interpretive frames define the human too restrictively as they appear to exclude certain persons with “deficits” from what is considered universally human traits. Afterwards, I enjoyed a vibrant discussion with Professor Clewell, Ms. Adams, and Caleb, an English Lit MA student.

Today’s presentation was very interesting, and it was refreshing to see public collaboration between faculty and students at the colloquium. At the University of Liverpool, I participated in their English department colloquium series, but I haven’t inquired about doing so here at Kent State. I will have to ask about this over the Summer for the next school year.

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Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I direct the B.S. in Professional and Technical Writing Program and coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.