On Thursday, January 5, I suited up and made my way to this session at the annual Modern Languages Association convention in downtown Seattle:
Useful Fictions? A Cognitive Perspective on the Utility of Emotions, Imagination, and Long Novels
Thursday, 5 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., 606, WSCC
A special session
Presiding: Lisa Zunshine, Univ. of Kentucky
1. “Falling in Love Unnoticed: Emotional Structures and Literary Analysis,” Patrick Colm Hogan, Univ. of Connecticut, Storrs
2. “Cognition, Dreaming, and the Literary Imagination,” Alan Richardson, Boston Coll.
3. “Do We Want to Use Cognitive Science to Make a Case for Teaching Literature?,” Lisa Zunshine
I typed up my raw notes from the session’s presentations and q&a session below:
Patrick Colm Hogan’s presentation
Begin with summary of novel, Rabindranath Tagore
Literary work from protostories
Emotion and secure attachment in adult relations
Potential for disruption
“basic explanatory structure”
caregiver and children attachment relations
attachments work both ways—have to exist both ways
two ethical attitudes: 1) attachment sensitivity and 2) attachment openness
ethical dilemma, obligations—emotional obligations
liberate herself from the systems of oppression—suicide is self-liberating?
Marx—internalization of external forces including those of economics
Second story—enforce gender role, malevolent teacher > gives student nickname “housewife”
Narratives of understanding
Systematic approach to Tagore’s works
Teaching his fiction could have effects on emotional sensitivity—the “so what”
Alan Richardson’s presentation
Study of imagination in cognitive science, now a hot topic in neuroscience research
Interdisciplinary approach to imagination
Romanticist by training
Interested in cognitive neuroscience
Sleep, meaning, dreams, and literature
Brain’s default mode—includes creativity in dreams
Categorization, meaning making processes
Bottom-up methods (dreams) and top-down methods (literature)
Narrative and emotionality
REM—recruits same areas as ?
When we are not on-task
Stickle (sp?)—dream research
Neuroscience returns to imagination in the same way appreciated by the high romantics
Novel and creative associations—sought out during REM, not as accurate, but creating loose associations
Science of dreaming via Stickle
Imagining the future worlds and scenarios—sounds a lot like science fiction—will need to contact Richardson to find this work
Stickle’s work already considered in the romantic period
Shelley and Keats—two poems
Keats’ “The Eve of St. Agnes”, Shelley’s ?
Dark-haired girl, think about Philip K. Dick
Personal meaning making
Divergence between literature and neuroscience
What is the dream characterized as?
Shelley—notcurnal dreaming as lucid experience?
Dream is a waking experience
Blurring between supposed divisions between dreaming/waking/daydreaming
Imaginative creation of memory
Private dreaming and public discourse | personal and private
Made out of larger social networks of meaning
Keats actually says “brain” when Madeline enters the church
“the exotic is the erotic” –cultural studies shorthand
Shelley poem ?
Same circle: What can imaginative research do for literary studies and what can literary research on imagination do for neuroscientific research?
Dreaming and literary production
Cognitive science—case for teaching literature
“What to expect when you pick up a graphic novel” in Substance
Pride and Prejudice
Prove added value for the literature over other media
We cannot continue to argue that fiction makes better people
Suzanne Keen, “Empathetic Hardy,” Poetics Today, Summer 2011
No research demonstrates correlation
Jesse Prinz, “Is empathy necessary for morality?” Empathy, Oxford, forthcoming
Texts that differ between what we teach in college and don’t teach in college
Cognitive psychology—mind reading—TOM
Why we read fiction
Zunshine’s term: sociocognitive complexity—a mind within a mind within a mind
Third level embedment—baseline for fiction
Pride and Prejudice graphic novel by Marvel
Simplification of cognitive reasoning/thinking of the characters
Austen goes into detail about TOM, 4th level embedments in the novel
Graphic novel downgrades the sociocognitive complexity
Third-level mental embedments, different styles
“Style brings in mental states,” Style 2011
Tom Jones, Da Vinci Code, Dostoevsky
What do we/readers add to mental states of a book?
Contexts of discourse
Comic panel (Miss Bingley wants to make Elizabeth feel bad)
Comic panel | writer (2 levels)
Comic panel | writer | theorist (3 levels, make graphic novel subject of research paper)
A reader unfamiar with free direct discourse
Sociocognitive complexity? Sociocognitive literacy?
2 level, not good grade, 3 or 4 levels, better
If our texts do not have higher levels of sociocognitive complexity
Think and write in sociocognitive complex ways
Our (those who read it and teach lit) seek out new TOM challenges for rich stimulation
Lit courses—historical origins of literature teaching artifact of the past
Personal happiness of TOM practitioners perhaps not the best argument employing cog sci to teach literature
Q: Damasio and others talk about the concept of sociocognitive complexity, remembering stories are on the page, not real
Z: We do treat characters as real people. Reminder questioner that she came up with the term sociocognitive complexity (staking her claim, though the concept seems obvious). No matter the context, we add other mental states (e.g., what might Judith Butler say in a given case).
H: Authorial, adaptive, bearing on reality, what we think others might think, simulated processes, TOM and imaginative embedded in fiction is same as our own real life mental states, TOM thinking itself is a fiction
Q: empathy and TOM elaboration
Z: different schools of thought, TOM for Zunshine is used in a very broad sense—empathy is a subset of TOM, TOM makes empathy possible
Q: dreaming and metaphor, can neuroscience study this?
R: Stickle mentions this, but he may be loose about talking about metaphor and dreaming. Not anywhere in his work that addresses this. Freud. Stickle tries to eliminate secondary revision by just waking up people and having them talk, unlike Freud who analyzes later.
Q: embeddedness of dreams, away from clearcut meaning or connection to reality. Is this a level of cognitive complexity?
R: thinking about dreams we all know—nested folly. Shelley, taxonomy of dream types. He talked about representation of dreams today. Not all romantic dreams belong in the same category. Kubla Khan gets us closer to historical idea about what dreaming is.
Z: embedded mental states area not the same thing as embedded narratives. Story world created in each level. Is there a confluence between them? Perhaps.
Q: Pleasure and complexity and simplicity.
H: Recurring structure of pleasure and complexity. E.g., pattern recognition. Most intense pleasure from immediately recognizable patterns.
Z: Not necessarily most complex is most pleasurable. Lists or experimental texts (e.g., 3rd level pattern there).