Featured Minds: Laura Otis

Krishnan

Laura Otis works as a neuroscientist-turned-literary scholar in her position as Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of English at Emory University. Her most recent book, Rethinking Thought: Inside the Minds of Creative Scientists and Artists (Explorations in Narrative Psychology, 2015), describes her interviews with scientists and artists such as Temple Grandin and Salman Rushdie to illustrate how greatly the experience of conscious thinking can vary from person to person. Otis pays special attention to her creative interviewees’ relations with visual mental images and verbal language, since people differ in the ways they use words and pictures to solve problems and imagine other worlds. By showing how differently thinking can work, she aims to build respect for a diverse range of thinking styles.

UCSB and the L&M Initiative were treated to an in-depth look at Dr. Otis’ work on two occasions in Spring 2016. She led our reading group in an engaging discussion of Rethinking Thought; and she presented at UCSB’s Interdisciplinary Humanities Center during its series on “The Humanities and the Brain.”

What are you currently working on in your research or teaching that relates to the mind?laura-otis-scaled

My current research project, Banned Emotions, analyzes metaphors for culturally unpopular emotions such as self-pity, spite, bitterness, grudge-bearing, and prolonged anger. I am trying to learn how bodily experiences and cultural ideologies combine in the ways that people talk and think about emotions. I compare emotion metaphors used in classic and recent novels, popular films, scientific articles, and religious texts. Last spring, I presented this research to UCSB scholars in a talk called “The Physiology and Politics of Emotion Metaphors.”

I am also currently earning a Master’s Degree of Fine Arts in Fiction from Warren Wilson College. The craft analysis I have been doing in this program has led me to a new project on how fiction-writers use language to blend sensory experiences in order to create an illusion of lived reality. Neuroscientists who study sensory systems are challenged by the “binding problem”: How do people combine sensations of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch to create a unified mental representation of a person, place, or thing? Fiction-writers may offer insight into this problem, and it is worth analyzing their solutions.

How did you become interested in the field of Literature and the Mind?

I came to the study of Literature and the Mind via an unusual route. I majored in Biochemistry in college, studied Neuroscience at UCSF, and worked in labs for eight years before deciding to earn a PhD in Comparative Literature. All of my research projects since the dissertation and first book, Organic Memory, have sought common patterns in the ways that laboratory scientists and literary writers use language to develop ideas. These books include Membranes, Networking, Müller’s Lab, Literature and Science in the Nineteenth Century: An Anthology, and a translation of the Spanish neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal’s Vacation Stories. I am interested in memory, identity, communication systems, and in ways that literary writing can shed light on scientific problems.

What unique contributions to mind studies are literary scholars (or scholars of the arts, or of the humanities in general) positioned to make to mind studies?

Besides contributing to neuroscience and sensory physiology, Literature and the Mind as an emerging field may raise new questions for scholars in Disability Studies. Although neuroscience tends to focus on what human nervous systems have in common, scientists are showing increasing interest in individual variation, and literary representations of compelling minds suggest not just what human minds share, but how they vary. Many people read fiction to “enter” fascinating minds, and literary depictions can reinforce scientific studies by showing unusual minds struggling and thriving in the contexts that have shaped them.

How do you see your interests in literature and the mind intersecting with other fields of study in the humanities (such as environmental scholarship, gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, etc.)?

Literature and the Mind promises to grow most hardily when scientists and literary scholars collaborate. I have benefited from team-teaching with Emory neurologist Krish Sathian, who studies the interaction of the visual and tactile systems and the neural basis of metaphor (http://neurology.emory.edu/faculty/neuro_rehab/sathian_krish.html). Together we have designed and taught two courses, “Images, Metaphors, and the Brain,” and “Language, Literature, and Mental Simulation,” and organized a one-day symposium, “Metaphors and the Mind.” Our classes bring students in Neuroscience, Psychology, English, and Comparative Literature into the same classroom and lead to surprising insights. Many laboratory scientists are eager to learn from literary scholars, and team-teaching can be an energizing learning experience.

What does literature do for minds?

What literature can do for human minds is a question for neuroscientists as well as literary scholars. The perspective of fiction-writers needs to be considered, too, because nothing shows you all the details a unique mental world involves better than trying to create one yourself. My undergraduate teaching now includes scientific, analytical, and creative assignments, because these approaches to Literature and the Mind offer complementary mental workouts. In my “Languages of Emotion” courses, students compare Sigmund Freud’s insights to relevant findings published in recent, peer-reviewed articles and create scenes in which they, as an attending physician in charge of an ER, have to call in experts such as Freud, William James, or Paul Ekman to evaluate a suffering patient. Literature and the Mind may be even more productive as a teaching field than as a research field, because it can inspire a new generation of scientists, doctors, scholars, and writers.

 

Selections from Laura’s Work:

Below you will find an excerpt from the first few pages of Laura’s Rethinking Thought (Oxford University Press, 2015):

Chapter One

Who’s the “You”?

Rethinking Thought (cover)

One day I walked into the lab and cried. I’d been a graduate student in neuroscience for almost two years, and in that time, my feeling of foreignness had grown from queasy twinges to overwhelming nausea. I was in the wrong place, and my ashamed attempts to hide it were sapping the energy I needed for creative work. The monoclonal antibodies I had raised to identify developing neurons stuck to no proteins identifiable on a Western blot. I needed to start over, and I read the setback as a signal: it was time to get out. Resting my elbows on the white bench paper, I hid my wet face. How could I disappoint the people who’d invested so much time teaching me? Yet I sensed that by staying, I’d be committing a greater betrayal. As far as I could see, the place I’d chosen to work demanded things my mind couldn’t do and had little use for the things that it did.

Three decades later, I’ve come to know my mind better. It will never lose its potential to learn, but its strengths and weaknesses have emerged clearly. My mental world functions acoustically, and my passions for languages, music, and stories are supported by sensitivity to sound. On most days, I can pull an “A” out of thin air. To find my keys, I shake my purse once and know in which corner they’ve lodged. If a friend drops a coin, I know it’s a quarter. Sometimes I think I could echolocate like a bat. When I write dialogue, I transcribe the voices I hear—not because I’m schizophrenic, but because my mind works like an iTunes library. My memories consist of people’s voices replayed as they originally sounded, often without visual components. This system absorbs tones, phrases, and tales, which recur and recombine against a field of gray. What taxes this mind—causing me to collapse in tears—is trying to recall pictorial or spatial information.

I’ve lived in my apartment for ten years but couldn’t tell you which way to turn my echo-located key. Each time I bring my hand to the lock, it’s as if I’ve never done it before. I try it first one way, then the other—it’s a 50-50 shot. As I write this, I’m trying to picture my shower and am unsure whether the hot water is on the left or the right. I certainly couldn’t tell you which way to turn the knob to make the water flow. “Picture an N,” says Stephen Kosslyn, a psychologist who has shown that visual mental imagery can be studied scientifically. In his Harvard office, whose details I can’t recall, I do my absolute best. I close my eyes. I conjure a big, black N, just a little bit fuzzy, like a New York Times “N” under a magnifying glass. “Now rotate it,” says Kosslyn. “Does it form another letter?” I know that the only candidate is “Z.” To see whether the “N” can form a “Z,” I nudge it—clockwise, I think. (I have to think actively about which way a clock turns.) The N dissolves into dust. I try it again. Poof. Frustrated, I struggle to rotate the mental N, but as soon as it budges, it disintegrates. Looking now at all the “N’s” I’ve just typed, I see easily that if you tilt one 90 degrees, it forms a “Z.” But I couldn’t do that with my imagined “N.” Why, thirty years ago, did I want to study neuronal membrane proteins? How did I ever pass physics?

When I think about physics, a phrase comes to mind: F=ma. In my mental world, that’s what it is: a phrase. I recall it as a series of vowel sounds, a song that runs, “Eh-eh-ay.” I passed high school and college physics by memorizing these melodies and on tests, plugging in numbers for tones. When I read Richard Feynman’s descriptions of science, I realized I’d never understood physics. During a physics class in Brazil, Feynman observed, “The students were all sitting there taking dictation, and when the professor repeated the sentence, they checked it to make sure they wrote it down right. . . . There, have you got science? No! You have only told what a word means in terms of other words” (Feynman 1997, 213, 217). For me, as for the Brazilian students, the formulas didn’t correspond to anything real. A friend who majored in physics told me how he’d puzzled over “F=ma,” the second law of classical mechanics. Newton’s law dictates that force equals mass times acceleration, which at first seems counter-intuitive. Shouldn’t a force consist of a mass times its velocity? For weeks, my friend thought about it until one day he understood. I can’t imagine what went on in his head during those weeks, but maybe, like Feynman, he was picturing examples. The Nobel prize-winning physicist confessed, “I can’t understand anything in general unless I’m carrying along in my mind a specific example and watching it go” (Feynman 1997, 244). For me, there was nothing to understand and nothing to see, only a representation I took on faith. I never learned physics, and it wasn’t my teachers’ fault. At the time, I wouldn’t force myself to think in a way that didn’t come naturally.

Rethinking Thought

     In 27 years of teaching courses that combine science, literature, and writing, I’ve been struck by how differently people think. For the purposes of this book, I will define thought as the ways people consciously process information: how they plan, imagine, learn, reason, and remember. Most mental activity occurs without conscious awareness, but I am focusing on the lived experience of thought. People’s mental worlds vary astonishingly, as I’ve learned since trying to picture proteins’ shapes. Mystified, I used to stare at the twin, candy-like structures in my organic chemistry textbook, whose authors swore I should see one three-dimensional molecule. I never did. Skeptically, I listened to other students describe the virtual Calder mobiles they were viewing. In my mind’s eye, I’ve never seen anything in three dimensions, and I thought about “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Seeing my cohorts’ conviction, though, I couldn’t believe that they were lying. Their minds were doing something mine couldn’t do. I felt inadequate and ashamed, but simultaneously, I was fascinated.

What goes on in other minds is a mystery that can evoke frustrated responses. Thinking, I joke, is like going to the toilet: we don’t know what the experience is like for other people, and we rarely talk about it. We presume that their experience is a lot like ours, but we don’t know for sure. When it comes to thinking, this premise is shaky.

The recent HBO film about engineer Temple Grandin depicts a breakthrough realization (Ferguson 2010). Noticing that the teenage Grandin has a good visual memory for horses, her science teacher asks her if she remembers common objects just as well—shoes, for instance. Representing the activity of Grandin’s mind—which she compares to the search engine Google Images—the film flashes pictures of shoes, increasing the pace as her excitement mounts. As fast as she can, Grandin names all the shoes she’s seeing, but her speech can’t keep up with her visual memory. “So you can picture every pair of shoes you’ve ever seen?” interrupts her science teacher. “Sure, can’t you?” she asks.

As someone who has moved from science to literature, I have experienced this moment repeatedly. Again and again, I’ve seen people astonished to learn what other people’s minds can and can’t do, such as mentally rotate the letter “N” 90 degrees and observe its new properties. I’ve felt the strength—and deadliness—of each person’s premise that other people have the same mental life and think just as she or he does. This assumption not only thwarts communication; it can lead unconventional thinkers to believe that they can’t think at all.

This book is for anyone who’s ever been told, “You’re not thinking!” All too often, thought that occurs in an unfamiliar form is mistaken for the absence of thought. As explanations emerge for the ways that thought works, we risk losing valuable knowledge if we impose pre-fabricated narratives on minds rather than letting them tell their own stories.

In a recent discussion at Emory University, a psychologist was telling some literature professors how human brains process language.

“When you hear speech,” he said, “There’s activity in your left cortex. You–”

“Wait a minute,” said Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, “Who’s the you?”

For Garland-Thomson, who has helped create the field of Disability Studies, every “you” is unique. She questions attempts to establish a normal “you,” since they can cause variant “yous” to be seen as inadequate. Temple Grandin’s skill with visual mental images has made her a creative designer and engineer. Variant ways of thinking that create disadvantages in some contexts can confer advantages in others.[1]

Until recently, many neuroscientists and psychologists have sacrificed intriguing studies of individual differences to build basic knowledge of human brains. This choice to focus on shared human traits has been a conscious, informed decision made in order to lay a foundation for emerging fields. Interest in personal variations has always been high, but until recently, laboratory scientists have had to concentrate on common features to produce data they can trust. For the most part, studying individual quirks has been a luxury they cannot yet afford. Scholars in the humanities do experimenters an injustice when they criticize the “naïveté” of scientists seeking the “neural underpinnings” of complex phenomena such as telling jokes. No neuroscientist expects to learn everything about humor by studying functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) images; most are keenly aware of their methods’ strengths and limitations. Having worked in labs for nearly ten years, I appreciate the innovation, dedication, and bravery of experimental scientists. Designing controlled experiments to explore complex functions such as ways of thinking—and writing grants to get them funded—means having the courage to begin.

So far, building basic knowledge about the neural mechanisms underlying human thought has meant concentrating on neural features most humans share. In twenty-first-century science, however, individual variations are attracting increasing attention. Sharon L. Thompson-Schill, Todd S. Braver, and John Jonides have argued that cognitive neuroscientists will learn a great deal if they regard individual differences as data rather than noise (Thompson-Schill, Braver, and Jonides 2005, 115-16).[2] In an fMRI study of how practice affects performance on mental imagery tasks, Kosslyn and his colleagues found that “individual-differences analyses may be helpful in revealing brain areas that are overlooked in standard group analyses” (Ganis, Thompson and Kosslyn 2005, 245). The notion that science pursues universal truths, whereas literature illuminates particular situations, is crumbling fast. Like the opposition of science to literature, that of the universal to the particular may be blocking the understanding of human thought.[3] To learn how thinking works, scholars in every field that analyzes cognition need to combine their methods and insights. Together, we need to rethink thought. We need to develop the emergent science of “the” human brain into a science of human brains, since a body of knowledge restricted to what seven billion mental worlds share will create a severely limited, unrealistic picture of what human thinking involves.

This book contributes to this task by exploring differences in people’s thought experiences. Like Vera John-Steiner’s study of creativity, Notebooks of the Mind (1985), it aims to complement laboratory research by comparing and analyzing introspections.[4] As a narrative study, it offers a diastolic response to the driving systole of laboratory work. While only controlled, intelligently planned experiments produce generalizable data, studies examining personal introspections can provide insights that affirm, challenge, or trouble experimental results. Most significantly, narrative analyses of individual thinking can suggest new experiments to try.[5] By focusing on individual experiences, I have sacrificed any attempt to make universal claims in order to provide a glimpse of lived reality–at least as some people experience it. In the terms of psychologist Jerome Bruner, I am analyzing material offered in the narrative mode of thought (which aims to tell good stories) to shore up the paradigmatic mode (which seeks to explain), but I do not see these modes as opposed (Bruner 1986, 11-13). On a very small scale, I have tried to learn what thinking is by studying differences in the way thinking feels.

[1] The research underlying this book may contribute to neurodiversity studies, although the neurodiversity movement has often emphasized the experiences and perspectives of people diagnosed with disorders such as autism. To the best of my knowledge, all but one of my participants are neurologically “normal,” but analyzing the astonishing range of the so-called normal also reveals the diversity of human minds. For a review of the neurodiversity movement, see Kras 2010. I thank Adam Newman for pointing out the affinity of this project to recent studies of neurodiversity.

[2] The entire volume of Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience in which Thompson-Schill’s, Braver’s, and Jonides’s editorial appears is dedicated to research illustrating what can be learned from fMRI studies that analyze individual differences. I thank Corey Inman for bringing this volume to my attention.

[3] Patrick Colm Hogan argues that, “universalism vs. particularism is a false dichotomy” (Hogan 2003, 16).

[4] In her study of creative thinking, John-Steiner wrote that she aimed “to complement and extend the analyses of thinking obtained from laboratory studies with a broad, theoretical, and interdisciplinary approach.” For the most part, however, John-Steiner did not bring her participants’ insights into dialogue with the outcomes of laboratory experiments (John-Steiner 1997, 3).

[5] I am grateful to psychologist Jessica Alexander for introducing me to this idea.

Featured Minds: Paul Megna

Krishnan

Paul is a recent graduate of UCSB’s English PhD program, and one of the Literature and the Mind Initiative’s earliest members.  His dissertation, “Emotional Ethics in Middle English Literature,” examines the surprising extent to which medieval literature anticipates recent revelations concerning emotion’s centrality in ethical decision-making.  He continues this work as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia, contributing to the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions. His current research focuses on emotion and ethics in Middle English and medievalist drama. He has published pieces in Exemplaria, Glossator, The Yearbook of Langland Studies, and PMLA. He has pieces forthcoming in Postmedieval, The Once and Future Classroom and Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Literature but Were Afraid to Ask Žižek: SIC 10.

On the Prime Meridian at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich

What are you working on now in your research or teaching that relates to the mind?

I’m currently working on two projects, both of which relate to the emotional mind. First, I’m adapting my dissertation into a monograph, tentatively entitled Existential Emotion in Middle English Literature, which explores the trans-historical resonances between the discourses on emotion contained in Middle English literature and nineteenth- and twentieth-century existential philosophy. I’m particularly interested in the ways that both of these extremely multifaceted fields of thought characterize “negative” emotions including anxiety, despair, shame and lovesickness as essential to authenticity. On the one hand, I read this apotheosis of ugly feelings as powerfully therapeutic: a way to make philosophical lemonade out of the lemons of human suffering. On the other hand, premodern and modern philosophers who zealously authenticate painful emotions often do so from a position of privilege and sometimes do so to camouflage their privilege in the guise of heroic suffering. Throughout the book, I compare case studies in Middle English literature and existential philosophy in an effort to ethically assess the long history of existential emotion.

Secondly, I’m starting a new project on medieval and post-medieval passion plays (i.e., dramatic renditions of Christ’s capture, scourging, crucifixion and death). This project is quite interdisciplinary. Drawing on historicist and literary critical methods, I analyze medieval passion plays, assessing how and why these dramatizations of Christ’s suffering solicited compassion from their audience. Turning to anthropological and sociological methods, I attend and interpret passion plays performed in Australia, Southeast Asia, Europe and the United States. Interviewing actors and audience members, I am pursuing questions including: Do the producers and consumers of modern passion plays understand these plays as exercises in medievalism? To what extent do their understandings of the devotional value of passion plays align with those of their medieval precursors? Do modern passion plays contain any of the anti-Semitic undercurrents common, but not ubiquitous, in their medieval precursors? In addition to live performances, I examine cinematic passion plays including Denys Arcand’s Jésus de Montréal (1990) and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004), as well as popular and critical reactions thereto.

How did you become interested in this field?  (Either generally, or pointing to a particular book or scholar that initially drew you into mind studies)

I owe my interest mind studies completely to UCSB. When I was working on my MA in English at the University of Rochester, with some really wonderful professors, and becoming interested in Lacanian psychoanalysis, one of those wonderful professors (Thomas Hahn) recommended that I read Aranye Fradenburg’s Epilogue to Sacrifice your Love. For me, that act of reading was a revelation—it changed the way I think about enjoyment, medieval studies, and the humanities; it made me apply to UCSB’s PhD program. When I arrived at UCSB, the Literature and the Mind MA exam reading list was brand new. Reading through it opened my eyes to a wide array of mind studies including, but not limited to, psychoanalytic theory. I read theories of trauma, cognition, affect/emotion, gender, and post-colonialism. As I began my dissertation, I became particularly interested in critical discussions of affect and emotion. I took a class with Julie Carlson on the affective turn and romantic literature and another with Aranye Fradenburg on anxiety, both of which were extremely important experiences to me. In the latter class, we read Kierkegaard’s book on anxiety alongside Freud’s work on the subject and Lacan’s tenth seminar. At the time, I was also reading things like Piers Plowman and the mystical autobiographies of Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe. That really provided a starting point for the work that I’m doing now.

What unique contributions to mind studies are literary scholars (or scholars of the arts, or of the humanities in general) positioned to make to mind studies?

I think the work being done by the faculty and graduate students in UCSB’s Literature and the Mind program really answers that question, as does Professor Fradenburg’s recent book Staying Alive.

How do you see your interests in literature and the mind intersecting with other fields of study in the humanities (such as environmental scholarship, gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity…)?

Just as gender and race studies are insisting upon intersectional approaches that attend to differences while forging alliances, so too should mind studies speak (and listen) to other critical paradigms including ecocriticism, Marxism, new materialism, feminism and critical race studies (to name a few). A great example of this critical intersectionality was the beautiful and powerful talk that Fred Moten gave at UCSB on improvisation and race in the wake of Michael Brown’s death at the hands of the Ferguson Police Department. Sitting in the audience with so many folks from diverse research clusters within UCSB’s English department, as well as other departments, I remember feeling that, in these trying times, mind studies cannot afford to be an insulated world unto itself.

Where do you see this field heading?  What’s unanswered (or just beginning to be answered) that you are curious about?

Of course, the field should not move in just one direction, but continue to explore different avenues. I’d love to read more work on animal minds and I think the rise of disability studies opens up really important vistas of thought on neurodiversity, a term that is currently being theorized in really fascinating ways. In terms of my own interests, in the future I hope to collaborate with (social) scientists to produce some studies on the neurological and psychological effects of watching performances of religious violence, such as passion plays. The more we can replace interdisciplinary squabbling with creative collaboration, the more mind studies will continue to thrive in literature departments and elsewhere.

 

Selections from Paul’s Work:

Below you will find the abstract for Paul’s article in PMLA (vol. 30, num. 5), “Better Living through Dread: Medieval Ascetics, Modern Philosophers, and the Long History of Existential Anxiety.”  

Intellectual historians often credit Søren Kierkegaard as existential anxiety’s prime mover. Arguing against this popular sentiment, this essay reads Kierkegaard not as the ex nihilo inventor of existential anxiety but as a modern practitioner of a deep-historical, dread-based asceticism. Examining a wide range of Middle English devotional literature alongside some canonical works of modern existentialism, it argues that Kierkegaard and the existentialists who followed him participated in a Judeo-Christian tradition of dread-based asceticism, the popularity of which had dwindled since the Middle Ages but never vanished. Following medieval ascetics, modern philosophers like Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger, and Jean-Paul Sartre cultivated and analyzed anxiety in an effort to embody authenticity. By considering premodern ascetics early existentialists and modern existentialists latter-day ascetics, the essay sees the long history of existential anxiety as an ascetic tradition built around the ethical goal of living better through dread.

Congratulations 2016 Undergraduate Specialists!

img_4003This year, we celebrated the achievements of another graduating class of English majors at UCSB who specialized in Literature and the Mind.  Graduating seniors gathered with faculty and graduate students from English and Comparative Literature to share memories from their courses in the field, favorite texts and perspectives they encountered, and their plans for the final week of class and life after graduation (including applications to medical school and animation studios, finishing coursework abroad, and taking some well-deserved time off before pursuing graduate school).  We also celebrated three successful years of programming under Julie Carlson’s direction, gathering faculty and students from centers with whom she collaborated in the study of Improvisation (including the American Cultures in Global Contexts Center, Hemispheric South/s, the Early Modern Center and English Broadside Ballad Archive, and Transcriptions).

A hearty congratulations to the following seniors who earned the specialization by taking four or more courses taught or endorsed by Literature and Mind faculty: Suzanne Becker, Kore Busath-Haedt, Diane Byun, Jennifer Chang, Darrin Ching, Garrett Edwards, Tasha Harris, Andrea Hashimoto, Charles Langeland, Williams Leiva, Amanda Levya, Veronica Nakla, Tiffany Park, Jackie Parra, Imelda Perez, Michelle Plevack, Carlo de la Rosa, Aldair Serrano, Cecilia Sin, Alexia Stidham, Diana Valle, Nicole Villanueva, and Marisol Zarate.

 

 


img_0334

img_0319

img_4024

img_4005

 

Featured Minds: Sowon Park

Krishnan

Sowon is joining the UCSB English Department as a faculty member in the fall, from a position as Lecturer and Tutor in English at Corpus Christi College, Oxford.

Last winter, she presented her ongoing research on cognitive neuroscience and literature to our department. Her talk, “Memory and the New Unconscious”, identified metaphors of the unconscious mind and discussed the contributions that literature, psychoanalysis, and cognitive neuroscience might make when brought together.

Her most recent publication is ‘Transnational Scriptworlds’ in a special issue of The Journal of World Literature 1:2 (Brill, June 2016), The Chinese Scriptworld and World Literature, that she guest-edited. In her essay, Sowon examines the relations between writing and thought by comparing the ideographic “scriptworld” afforded by Chinese characters (China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam) with the alphabetic world.

sowon

 

What are you currently working on in your research or teaching that relates to the mind?

I have been researching representations of mind in the works of Woolf, Eliot, Joyce, and Beckett for a book called Modernism and the Mind. It discusses modernist ‘stream of consciousness’ literature of the early twentieth century in the light of recent cognitive neuroscientific findings in the areas of emotion, memory, perception and cognition. Teaching-wise, there was no room within the Oxford syllabus to teach courses in cognitive literary criticism at the undergraduate level. So I am delighted to be starting a course in ‘Mind, Brain and Literature’ in the winter term at UCSB.

How did you become interested in this field?

I specialized in Modernism in Graduate School partly because I became entranced by the specific kinds of experiences that are afforded by different kinds of writing. For example, certain passages written in free indirect discourse and ‘stream of consciousness’ technique can press the world of the character up against you closer and closer till for a moment you start feeling like that character. I was curious to understand such processes better. Cognitive neuroscientific evidence has helped me gain a better understanding of what happens during reading.

What unique contributions to mind studies are literary scholars (or scholars of the arts, or of the humanities in general) positioned to make to mind studies?

Some people question whether literary scholars can engage in a meaningful way with neurobiologists and researchers in artificial intelligence. And rightly so. Complex problems arise when trying to work across the divide of the “two cultures” and they tend to be exceedingly difficult to resolve. But before the remarkable expansion of the science of mind in the late twentieth century, the field that produced the most sustained forms of thinking about the mind was literature. Literature provides a historical archive of human thinking of every kind, which sometimes challenges and sometimes enriches scientific knowledge. Ultimately, answers to the really big questions about the mind are more likely to come from a broad framework which includes the cross-cultural and historical perspectives that the literary archive provides, as well as the cognitive neurosciences.

How do you see your interests in literature and the mind intersecting with other fields of study in the humanities (such as environmental scholarship, gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity…)?

Another area in which I specialize is feminist theory and literature, and that intersects with mind studies in a very direct way. Admittedly, talking about the ‘female mind’ is very controversial. For several decades exploring sex differences was taboo for fear of entrenching gender essentialism and sex discrimination. There are still many who believe that for women to claim equality, gender neutrality must be observed. Of course, deconstructing gender essentialism is highly important. But I think ignoring sex differences is a disservice to women because it so often leads to an epic disregard for women’s specific realities, leaving unchallenged a masculine norm that parades as neutral. Gender is socially constructed but the constructions are not laid upon a tabula rasa. That is emphatically not to say that there is such a thing as a ‘female brain’ which is fixed. But attending to and gaining an accurate awareness of gender-specific biological predispositions is important too. Neurofeminism is necessary.

Where do you see this field heading? What’s unanswered (or just beginning to be answered) that you are curious about?

One of the most exciting areas in mind studies at the moment, for me, is the unconscious mind. While interrogations of the unconscious are far from new, cognitive neuroscience during the last thirty years has reclaimed the unconscious as the new scientific frontier. For the last two years I have run a neuroliterary seminar series on “Unconscious Memory”. (http://torch.ox.ac.uk/unconscious). And I am keen to re-start it at UCSB as soon as I find my feet.

What does literature do for minds?

This is a very difficult question. Wittgenstein famously said in his Philosophical Investigations that if a lion could speak we would not understand it. What he means by that is that the human mind, however lofty and rational, is never detached from our constrained sensory apparatus and is shaped by our material way of life. Literature is quite obviously a distinctively human mode of interaction, produced by minds for other minds. But that can make literature sound reified and instrumental. Another way of approaching literature is to see it as the place where our embodied social existence reveals itself. Literature shows us who we are, what we are capable of, what we hope for, what we fear. If literature can be said to do anything for minds, it is not as reified objects but as a human practice, whose meaning is grounded in our senses and situated in history.

 

Selections from Sowon’s Work:

Below you will find two excerpts from Sowon’s already-published work that illustrate her ongoing research interests.  You can also find her exploration of the field in “The Dilemma of Cognitive Literary Criticism,” a chapter from English Studies: The state of the Discipline, Past, Present, and Future (2015): 67-81.  (Please email litandmind@gmail.com if you would like a PDF of this chapter.) 

From ‘Beside Thinking’, The Canadian Review of Comparative Literature (April 2014): 5-12.

(This is a special issue of the journal guest-edited by Sowon.)

The most advanced teachings of the Buddha are said to have been conducted in silence. In the Zen world, this mode of communication is known as the ‘heart-to-heart transmission’ (以心傳心), a form of meditative practice that requires the banishment of all words from the mind. By abjuring language and, consequently, conscious thought, adherents believe that they can convey truths more profound than those that logical verbal discourse can express. So the lore goes.

 

It is unlikely that this mythic practice will carry much authority with our readers. For how would one know if the message has been received, if a ‘non-thought’ can be said to comprise something as concrete as a message at all? And where would one begin to assess the depth of the truths thus communicated, check the accuracy of the deductions, analyze the efficacy of the procedure, and test the reliability of the set-up? The transmission cannot be disproved and that would seem to be as much as intellectual inquiry can establish. But before one sweeps aside this putative interaction as pre-modern mysticism or ‘Eastern’ mumbo jumbo that science has eradicated, it might be remembered that it is not only the Zen master who subscribes to and has faith in mental processes beside thinking.

 

It takes but little reflection to note that in our everyday lives we engage in a vast range of non-verbal sense-making of the world of which we have little awareness. From gauging the weather to writing an essay to falling in love, we are all dimly conscious that what may appear as decisive thoughts and deliberate actions are in no small part maintained by the unrevealed mental processes that underlie them. Implicit cognition is also discernable in a wide range of deeply-rooted cultural practices. Dancers, actors and trapeze artists are, for example, just a few of the many whose shared physical actions rely on non-declarative communication. Though it is difficult to articulate exactly what is being communicated and how, it is evident that both the mythic Zen transmissions and dizzying Cirque du Soleil acts rely upon certain ‘non-thoughts’ and the communication of these ‘non-thoughts’ as an integral part of their task.

 

However, since the implicit mental processes that lead up to, or conflict with, our conscious awareness are not verifiable or even directly knowable, there is immense difficulty in attempting to cover the range of these processes with any conceptual precision. We speak vaguely of having a gut instinct, a hunch, a premonition, an intuition, a ‘sense’ of things. This ‘intolerable wrestle with words and meanings’, as T.S. Eliot put it (Four Quartets 1944, 23), about the unsaid and the unsayable has always been of great fascination to artists and writers, not least Henry James, whose major novels would unravel without the crucial unspoken messages that hold the epiphanic structure in place. Isabel’s recognition of the role of Madame Merle in the piano scene in The Portrait of a Lady, for example, is all the more real for having been produced out of the unsaid. If the processes of the mind that are not conscious have preoccupied writers and artists, scientists have mostly regarded them with indifference, maintaining that what is not testable and falsifiable is an unsuitable topic of inquiry. However, in a strange turn of events, undeclared mental processes have become in the last thirty years a revived area of interest in a number of scientific fields. In psychology, the concern with mental processes besides rational thinking was well represented by Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow (2011), which advanced the idea that the human mind processes information on two levels-by means of ‘System 1’, the intuitive, emotional and fast; and ‘System 2’, the rational, logical and slow. By drawing distinctions between intuitive and logical modes of thought, Kahneman successfully put rational thought on a par with what was customarily consigned to the Freudian unconscious. Before that Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea of ‘thin-slicing’ – the unconscious and rapid processing of accumulated knowledge – in his bestselling Blink (2005), which went some way to support its subtitle: ‘The Power of Thinking Without Thinking’. Meanwhile, in neuroscience, the role of the unconscious in the human mind has become the new frontier. New and ongoing discoveries in memory and perception demonstrate that very little of what goes on in the brain is actually conscious, restoring the validity of the unconscious to human cognition. As the Nobel laureate neuroscientist Eric Kandel writes, ‘One of the most surprising insights to emerge from the modern study of states of consciousness is that Freud was right: unconscious mental processes pervade conscious thought; moreover, not all unconscious mental processes are the same’ (Kandel 2013, 546).

 

Against this background, this special issue on ‘Beside Thinking’ considers the range of meanings of what it is to know without thinking and how this mode of unconscious cognition has functioned throughout literary history in various cultures, alongside, beyond and against thought. While the idea of an unconscious has been a central concept in literary studies since at least the nineteenth century, with a great deal of specialized meaning accrued around it, there is still little agreement on what ‘not-thinking’ is. This special issue asks what the relation is between thought and ‘non-thought’, whatever its meaning, and discusses how thoughts define, regulate, and enable the concept of ‘non-thought’ in literature.

 

From ‘The Feeling of Knowing in Mrs Dalloway: Neuroscience and Woolf’, Contradictory Woolf: Select Papers from the Twenty-First Annual International Conference on Virginia Woolf (May 2012): 108 – 114.

The chief task of the novelist, Woolf stated, was to convey the mind receiving “an incessant shower of innumerable atoms, composing in their sum what we might venture to call life itself ” (Essays 3, 33). Novels should not merely provide the data that a character is processing in the mind—the shower of atoms—but express the experience of that data, to “record the atoms as they fall upon the mind in the order in which they fall” (Essays 3, 33). So Woolf represents to the reader not just the information of what a character may see, hear, smell, taste and touch but the process of what it feels like to have that sight, sound, smell, taste and touch and the kind of thoughts and memories they trigger, making us acutely aware that while only some mental processes are conscious, all mental processes are physical. This produces in the reader a perceptual mimesis of consciousness which approximates the process of the sensations and cognitions of lived experience.

 

Likewise, Damasio (2000)’s discovery about how the body-loop functions in the normal mind was that the feelings generated by the body are an essential part of rational thought. Rationality requires feeling and feeling requires the body. So the body and the mind are actually indivisible. He asserts that we live inside this contradiction of anatomical reality: rationality produced from the flesh. Long before Damasio, Woolf wrote continually of mind depending upon flesh. For example, in “On Being Ill” (1930) Woolf observed that although

 

literature does its best to maintain that its concern is with the mind; that the body is a sheet of glass through which the soul looks straight and clear…On the contrary the opposite is true. All day, all night the body intervenes; blunts or sharpens, colours or discolours, turns to wax in the warmth of June, hardens to tallow in the murk of February. The creature within can only gaze through the pane—smudged or rosy; it cannot separate off from the body like the sheath of a knife or the pod of a pea for a single instant. (4)

.

That we do not have a body but are a body is a fact of our existence she captured … which is one of the reasons her prose feels so alive. Feelings and thoughts are never immaterial: they are formed through the body. She begins Mrs Dalloway (1925) with the squeak of Rumplemayer’s men taking the doors off the hinges, triggering in Clarissa the physical sensation of plunging into open air 30 years before when she burst open the French windows at Bourton, the memory of which feels like being flapped and kissed by the waves of the sea. Woolf presents physical sensations as a vehicle for knowledge, undercutting the presumed opposition between reason and emotion. And emotions are suffused with highly discriminating responses to what is of value to each character. The following is Clarissa Dalloway’s famous “feeling of knowing” from Mrs Dalloway: “Only for a moment; but it was enough. It was a sudden revelation, a tinge like a blush which one tried to check and then, as it spread, one yielded to its expansion, and rushed to the farthest verge and there quivered and felt the world come closer, swollen with astonishing significance, some pressure of rapture, which split its thin skin and gushed and poured with an extraordinary alleviation over the cracks and sores. Then, for that moment, she had an illumination; a match burning in a crocus; an inner meaning almost expressed… the moment” (MD 24). What may seem like contradictory cognitive processes—thinking and feeling—in the conceptual scenography of the “two cultures” are reshaped into a continuum of “feeling of knowing” in Woolf, as they are in the experiments of Damasio. … By incorporating feeling into epistemology, Woolf guides the reader’s mind through the structure of the somatic responses that gave rise to the thoughts of the characters; this in turn creates “as-if” responses in the reader as to how another mind thinks, how another body feels.

Symposium Call for Papers: “Narrative, Cognition and Science Lab”

Image credit: Agostini Editore, "Galileo facing the Inquisition"Please consider proposing a paper to (or simply following the proceedings of) a symposium organized by ELINAS (Research Center for Literature and Natural Science).  The symposium is entitled “Narrative, Cognition and Science Lab,” and will be held from October 21-23, 2016, at the Friedrich-Alexander Universitat Erlangen-Nurnberg, Germany.

Keynote speakers include Marie-Laure Ryan (Independent Scholar in Residence, University of Colorado), Mark Turner (Institute Professor and Professor of Cognitive Science, Case Western Reserve University), Bruce Clarke (Paul Whitfield Horn Professor of Literature and Science, Texas Tech University), Hans Ulrich Fuchs (Professor of Physics and Founding Director of the Center for Narrative in Science), and our very own H. Porter Abbot (Research Professor Emeritus of English, UCSB).  See the description below and send questions and/or 400-word abstracts for papers 25 minutes in length to Mike Sinding (michael.sinding@fau.de)

What would a narratology of science look like? A narratology of science-in-literature? How might principles of cognition bring narrative and science together?

 

Narrative is a fundamental, probably natural, mode of thought and meaning-making. Science is now a central, more culturally-organized mode of knowing the world, of imagining, exploring, modeling, and acting on it. Narrative and science are not self-evidently related—indeed they may seem opposed. Yet many connecting threads can be discovered. Scientists are adept and versatile narrators, telling many kinds of stories in many different genres and media. They recount unfoldings of events, at sometimes uncanny scales—from a particle collision at near light-speed, to the evolution of life, to the history of the universe—in order to interpret them. They narrate as individuals or in teams of thousands. Their events may be natural or manufactured, observed or inferred, objective or subjective or both. Scientists also tell human stories of developing hypotheses, arguments, theories and experiments, and they speak to many publics. Scientific stories may operate at the most concrete or the most abstract levels imaginable. Even mathematical proofs and physics equations have narrative qualities, some suggest. Narrativity appears at various stages of scientific processes: informal speculation, thought experiments, experimental design and execution, measurement, argumentation, writing and revision, theorizing, paradigm-shifting, popularizing, caricaturing (boosting and bashing), retrospective histories and philosophies of fields, and more. Scientists may adapt elements of literary narration (intentionally or not); in grand narratives or close case studies, understandings of nature become emplotted, shaped.

 

Complementarily, non-scientists often tell stories of science. In proto-scientific eras, knowledge-formation is arguably allied with myth, religion and magic: physics is entangled with metaphysics, chemistry with alchemy. And myth persists in modern discourses of science: myths of selfless or self-serving geniuses, of the promises and perils of technology. Journalists report and (attempt to) interpret scientific findings. Politicians and legal professionals grapple with scientific advice to decide social policies. Teachers tell science’s stories to students—starting with simple versions, as ladders to be kicked away once the rung of the next-best version is grasped. Other versions circulate on social media (for better or worse), mutating as they move. Literary narrators draw ideas and forms from scientific writing, as topics, themes, images and structures. Narrative art reimagines physical forces, forms of causality and time, natural orders, whole cosmologies—inflecting partial scientific understanding with intuitions of pattern and meaning.

Much excellent scholarship analyzes exchanges between science and narrative. In addition, cognitive scientists have explored narrative’s centrality to mental processes and products, and literary scholars drawing on cognitive science have produced far-reaching reinterpretations of basic concepts of narrative. Yet there remains a need for deeper understanding of the processes by which science can move into narrative, and (especially) vice-versa—deeper in the sense of more detailed, more precise, more systematic, more extensively informed by theory and practice, both narrative and scientific. The “narrative turn” has transformed the human and social sciences, but we have yet to take the full measure of narrative in the context of the physical sciences. The “cognitive turn” suggests that cognition may be a key to the deeper understanding we seek. In this light, we propose a dialogue involving a direct and close focus on the intersections of narrative, cognition and science. This focus defines a very wide field of exploration, given the complexities of these terms, and we hope to inspire a rich discussion of new dimensions of these intersections.

 

We encourage consideration of questions on a range of topics bridging our foci:

  • How do scientific thought, practice and communication use narrative qualities?  How does narrative cognition enable and reflect scientific cognition?  How do scientists see their work as involving story?  What forms of cognition overlap but contrast with narrative forms, and how? e.g. abstraction, ambiguity-reduction, visualization, mathematics, description, argument.
  • What are the implications of the first questions for epistemology, ontology, communication?  Does anyone still think science is “just another narrative”?  What alternatives to the relativist/absolutist polarity have developed in the wake of the “science wars”?What does the future hold?
  • Are there identifiable structures or qualities specific to scientific narratives? What kinds of narrators, characters, plots, causalities, chronologies, discourse structures, rhetorics, emotions, themes and ideologies do we find? What parts of narrative theory resonate with science communities?
  • What are the functions of scientific narratives? How is narrative used to describe, predict, explain, enlighten, persuade, entertain?
  • How are scientific thought and communication adapted into extra-scientific narrative? How can they affect narrative form and processing?
  • How might a consideration of scientific narrative change narrative theory, and cognitive theory? From recognizing previously neglected forms of narrative and thought to revising major concepts.

 

All forms of narrative, cognitive, and scientific processes, artifacts and theories are welcome.

Graduate Course: Psychosomatics

fig9Instructor: Aranye Fradenburg

Course: Engl 236, Fall 2016

“Interaction is the conscious or unconscious exchange of behavioral or nonbehavioral, sensible and intelligible signs from the whole arsenal of somatic and extrasomatic [cultural, social and environmental] systems.”

– Fernando Poyatos, “Nonverbal Communication in Interaction: Psychology and Literature”

The purpose of this course is to broaden our understanding of the somatic and environmental features of expressive (and impressive) experience.  Readings will draw primarily on the recent revitalization of interest in psychosomatics occasioned by neuroscientific developments in distributed cognition/affect, but will also include social-psychological studies in nonverbal communication (especially paralanguage), enactivist research, and biosemiotics.  Authors will include Elizabeth A. Wilson (Psychosomatic:  Feminism and the Neurological Body and Gut Feminism); Brian Massumi (ed. A Shock to Thought: Expression After Deleuze and Guattari);  Andy Clark (Supersizing the Mind); Giovanna Colombetti  (The Feeling Body); Aleksandra Kostic and Derek Chadee (eds. The Social Psychology of Nonverbal Communication); Fernando Poyatos (Nonverbal Communication Across Disciplines and Crosscultural Perspectives in Nonverbal Communications); Marilia Aisenstein and Elsa Rappoport de Aisemberg (eds. Psychosomatics Today: A Psychoanalytic Perspective); Donald Favareau (ed. Essential Readings in Biosemiotics), and Daniel Paul Schreber (Memoirs of My Nervous Illness).  If possible, students should have read Darwin’s Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals and Freud’s Studies in Hysteria before the class begins.

Image: “Fig. 9: Cat, savage and prepared to fight, drawn from life by Mr. Wood,” from Charles Darwin, The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals

Announcements: New Faculty, New Director, New Theme

As a new academic year approaches, Literature and the Mind is pleased to welcome new faculty and a new initiative director.

After three years of dedicated and welcoming leadership, Julie Carlson will step down from her position as Director of the Literature and Mind Initiative.  With her guidance, we have explored “The Value of Care” and “Improvisation,” putting insights from mind and literary studies into conversation with students and scholars in disciplines across the university.  (Stay tuned for reflections and resources on “Improvisation,” coming soon).  As we move into the fall, Kay Young will take up the Initiative Director position, and will lead our group in studying “Intersubjectivity.”  More details will be announced as the 2016-2017 academic year gets underway!

This past winter, UCSB’s English Department held an exciting job search for a full-time faculty position in the field of cognitive literary studies.  We saw many excellent candidates and learned about cutting-edge research in this field; and we are happy to have Dr. Sowon Park of Oxford University join our department and Literature and Mind in the fall.  Here is a brief overview of Sowon’s interdisciplinary research:

Sowon S Park specializes in British Modernism, Political Fiction, World Literature, and the relationship between Literature and other forms of knowledge, in particular Cognitive Neuroscience. Before coming to UCSB, she taught at Oxford University for over a decade, where she was Lecturer and Tutor in English at Corpus Christ College.  Her previous academic appointments were at Cambridge University and Ewha University, Seoul.  She has also held visiting appointments at UCSD and ZFL, Geisteswissenschaftliche Zentren, Berlin.  She received an M.Phil and D.Phil in English from Oxford.  Recently, she was awarded a four-year AHRC grant to work on “Prismatic Translation’.  Her latest publication is a special issue of The Journal of World Literature that she guest-edited, titled, The Chinese Scriptworld and World Literature (June, 2016).  She has published her academic work in The Review of English Studies, ML!, ELT, European Review, Arcadia, Neohelicon and Comparative Critical Studies.  She has been President of the ICLA Research Committee on Literary Theory since 2014 and is the founder and convenor of the Unconscious Memory Network.

We look forward to sharing more of Sowon’s research, pedagogical interests, and perspectives of literature and the mind soon.

Conference: IHC, “The Humanities, The Neurosciences, and the Brain”

 

Rene Descartes, illustration of mind/body dualism

UCSB’s Interdisciplinary Humanities Center continues its year-long focus on the humanities and the brain in a conference entitled “The Humanities, The Neurosciences, and the Brain.”  This conference, held on UCSB’s campus from May 12-13, features Gabrielle Starr as the keynote speaker, and includes presentations by graduate students affiliated with Literature and the Mind.

From the IHC description:  “This interdisciplinary conference will exploring the multiple accords, and discords, that characterize humanistic and neuroscientific approaches to the study of the brain…. Participants will explore creative framings of neuroscientific inquiry through humanistic perspectives, as well as artistic explorations of inner states and mental landscapes.”

The conference is free and open to the public.  You can find more information, including information about registering to attend, here.

CONFERENCE SCHEDULE

Thursday, May 12, 2016
9:00 AM coffee and pastries

9:15 AM Welcome: Susan Derwin, Director, IHC

9:30 AM Panel 1: Sight and Sound
Katie Adkison, English, UCSB, “Speaking What We Feel: The Sense of Speech in King Lear”
Chip Badley, English, UCSB, “’If not in the Word, in the Sound’: Sound, Affect, Frederick Douglass”
Cole Cohen, Interdisciplinary Humanities Center, UCSB, “Merleau-Ponty and Me: The Phenomenology of Neurodiversity”

10:30 AM break

10:45 AM Sight and Sound continued
Phillip Grayson, Literature, St. John’s University, “At The Edge of Evening, Often Forever: Extramission, Consciousness, Literature”
Ery Shin, English, Eureka College, “Imaging the Mind in Literary Contexts”

12:00 PM lunch

 12:45 PM Panel 2: Sociality, Intersubjectivity, Empathy
Corinne Bancroft, English, UCSB, “The Face of Friendship in Louise Erdrich’s Fiction”
Ksenia Federova, Cultural Studies, UC Davis, “Identity Transactions and Interpersonal Dynamics in Art and Science”
Cheryl Jaworski, English, UCSB, “The Embodied Mind and ‘the Demon of Domesticity’ in Dickens’s Dombey and Son

2:15 PM break

2:30 PM Panel 3: Theories of Mind, Machines and Mechanical Metaphors
Hannes Bend, Quantum Physics Aleman Lab and Institute of Neuroscience, University of Oregon, “Metaverses/Myndful”
Jennifer Duggan, English, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, “The Victorians and the Mechanical Brain”
Melissa M. Littlefield, English and Kinesiology & Community Health, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, “Public Displays of Arousal: EEG Wearables and the Fashioning of Instrumental Intimacy”

4:00 PM break

4:15 PM Panel 4: Interdisciplinary Perspectives and Historical Influences
Louis Caron, History and Religious Studies, UCSB, “Some Observations on the History of Neuroscience, and on Thomas Willis, the First Neurologist”
Jap-Nanak Makkar, English, University of Virginia, “Libet’s Missing ½ Second, Digital Technology, and Political Critique”
Robert Samuels, Writing Program, UCSB, “Damasio’s Error: The Humanities Between Psychoanalysis and Neuroscience”

5:45 PM reception

Friday, May 13, 2016
8:30 AM coffee and pastries

8:45 AM Welcome

 9:00 AM Panel 5: Altered States
Elliott D. Ihm, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UCSB, “Neurocognitive Foundations of Self-Transcendent Experiences:  A Speculative Predictive Coding Account”
Brianna K. Morseth, Psychological and Brain Sciences, UCSB, “To Forget the Self: Religious, Cultural, and Neuroscientific Dimensions of Ego Death through Contemplative Practice”
D.C. McGuire, Neuroscience Researcher, “Neuroscience Offers Humanity’s Second Chance”

10:30 AM break

10:45 AM Keynote: Gabrielle Starr, English, New York University, author of Feeling Beauty
“Pleasure and Form: Chasing Imagination”

12:15 PM lunch

 1:00 PM Panel 6: Memory and the Creation of Consciousness
Jacob Burg, English, Brandeis University, “Reading Forgetful Minds: The Social Brain in Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant
Wallace Chafe, Linguistics, UCSB, “Immediate versus Displaced Thinking”
Rebecca Chenoweth, English, UCSB, “Remembering ‘The Best of England’ from the Periphery of War in The Remains of the Day
Sara Pankenier Weld, Germanic & Slavic Studies, UCSB, “The Birth of Consciousness: Andrei Bely’s Modernist Pseudo-Autobiography”

 3:00 PM Closing remarks

 

Image: Rene Descartes, illustration of mind/body dualism from “Meditations on First Philosophy” (duplicated)

Conference: Third NeuroHumanities Dialogue, “Ars et Ingenium: The Processes of Imagination”

 Literature and the Mind is excited to spread the news about “Ars et Ingenium: The Process of Imagination,” the third NeuroHumanities Dialogue, coming May 26-28 in Catania, Italy.  This dialogue is organized by by the NewHums Research Center–Neurocognitive Studies of the University of Catania (Italy), the International NeuroHumanities Studies Network, and the Lamberto Puggelli Foundation.  For further details, please see the poster below, and the official website here.

Third NeuroHumanities Dialogue

Undergraduate Course: Crazy Talk: Memoirs of Madness

Unknown illustrator and Rodolfo Fucile

Instructor: Aranye Fradenburg

Course: ENGL 197

Time: Spring 2016, 9:30-10:45, MF

This class focuses on the experience of madness (schizophrenia, depression, bipolar illness, and borderline personality disorder); its expression in the form of the memoir; and the role of autobiographical discourse in changing minds.  Trauma Warning:  the material in these course texts and topics of class discussion could be traumatizing.  Do not take this class if you have concerns about your ability to tolerate unhappy and sometimes outrageous subjects.

This small seminar requires regular class participation, one seminar presentation one 2-3 page paper, and one 7-10 page paper.  The course will cover memoirs and fictionalized memoirs, including the following texts:

D. P. Schreiber, Memoirs of My Nervous Illness.  Daniel Paul Schreber was the son of a famous pediatrician and later became a prominent attorney and judge in 19th-century Germany.  The Memoirs of his mental illness became the topic of an important case study by Sigmund Freud.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar.  Sylvia Plath is one of the USA’s best 20th-century poets; Ariel is perhaps her best-known book of poems.  The Bell Jar  is a somewhat fictionalized memoir that tells the story of Esther Greenwood’s first episode of major depressive disorder.

Susanna Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted.  Susanna Kaysen was the daughter of one of John F. Kennedy’s economic advisors and is now a novelist.  Her memoir of her institutionalization for borderline personality disorder became the film Girl, Interrupted, starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie.

Kay Jamison, An Unquiet Mind.  Kay Jamison is a clinical psychologist, Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, and Honorary Professor of English at St. Andrews University.  Her book An Unquiet Mind explores the experience of bipolar illness.

Elyn Saks, The Center Cannot Hold.  Elyn Saks is Associate Dean and Orrin B. Evans Professor of Law, Psychology, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law.  She is also a MacArthur Fellow.  The Center Cannot Hold tells the story of the onset of her schizophrenia.

Image credit: unknown illustrator, “The Bell Jar;” Rodolfo Fucile, “El Caso Schreber”

 

 

Undergraduate Course: Cognitive Dickens

823.839_Ea85k_1900_PartIX_5

Instructor: Kay Young

Course: ENGL 170 CD

Time: Spring 2016, MW 1:00-2:15 PM

Charles Dickens is the great English novelist of identity “wounded by mystery.”   Dickens narrates the rupture of parent from child as a psychic drama in relation to which his particular realism, his novel of the orphan and of detective fiction, work in reflective embodiment.   In this course we’ll explore how Dickens’s response to the questions, “Who am I?” and “What are my origins?” and “To whom do I belong?” and “What is mine?” lead to new sounds in his psychologizing of the 19th-century English novel—in the lived narrative experience of being the orphan who asks those questions and in what forms of cognitive processing the narrative uses to answer them.   We’ll read David CopperfieldBleak House, and Great Expectations  in conjunction with works of attachment theory and cognitive science.

Image: “Charles Dickens’ Legacy to the World” (detail)

Featured Minds: Julie Carlson Profiled in UCSB Current

Mary Shelley portrait by Rothwell

Julie’s work on Mary Shelley was recently profiled by Jim Logan in the UC Santa Barbara Current.  Follow the link here for a brief look at Julie’s focus on Mary Shelley’s writing and intellectual exchange; and see the quoted passage below for a glimpse into Literature and the Mind’s view of art as a means of surviving and thriving:

“She’s known for ‘Frankenstein’ or she’s known as part of this group of people whose lives are so fascinating,” Carlson added. “Both things are true. My work emphasizes the ongoing connections that she forges between the two — between the texts that she writes and the people whom she loves, fights and mourns. For the legacy of Mary Shelley is her belief that survival is a matter of persons being enlivened by texts that house the remains of bookish creatures.”

Those of us on campus at UCSB will be familiar with Julie’s work on friendship and Romantic literature from her co-presentation on “The Humanities and the Neurosciences” at the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center last quarter, and our reading of Julie’s work alongside Aranye Fradenburg’s work in “A Playful Conversation” (co-sponsored by UCSB’s Early Modern Center) in the fall.  If you are interested in participating in future reading groups and receiving notifications of upcoming events, please email litandmind@gmail.com to sign up.

Image: Mary Shelley’s portrait by Richard Rothwell (detail)

Live Minds: New Texts and Open Access from Punctum Books

p126

We have exciting news from our friends at punctum books.  Please read their press release (produced in full below) about their innovative approach to open access, reader patronage, and extending intellectual life beyond the university library system.

Someone, or some distributive collectives of someones, needs to take responsibility for securing the [necessary] freedom for the greatest number of persons possible who want to participate in intellectual-cultural life, and for enabling the greatest possible number of forms of such life, thereby also ensuring the creative robustness of the larger social systems within which we are all enfolded together, whether university, whiskey bar, apartment building, city park, subway car, kitchen, church, cruise ship, bedroom, or polis. A publisher is a person, or a group, or a collective, or a multiplicity, or a consortium, or a desiring-assemblage, who accepts responsibility for this.

(Eileen A. Joy, “A Time for Radical Hope”)

Dear Friends,

Today punctum launches a new platform for distributing our titles, which we are calling (for lack of a more elegant phrasing) Graduated Open Access. By way of how this all looks and works, we are also thrilled to announce the publication today of The Digital Humanist: A Critical Inquiry, written by Domenico Fiormonte, Teresa Numerico, and Francesca Tomasi, and translated from the Italian by Desmond Schmidt and Christopher Ferguson (more on which below). Our new platform is inspired by Library Consortium models such as Knowledge Unlatched and Open Library of Humanities, and it has been developed to assist punctum (and any other Open Access publishers who may want to adopt a similar model) in creating sustainable share economies that could be counted upon to better irrigate our growing (yet always threatened) Open Commons — not only with tender feelings, but also with the sort of resources that would give us some hope of more open futures.

More practically speaking, under punctum’s new Graduated Open Access platform, the downloadable PDF of each title published from this date forward will carry a reasonable fee ($5.00) for a temporary period of 6 months, after which period each title will be fully unlocked and made available for free download (all existing titles that are already completely open will remain that way). Each title will still carry a Creative Commons license that will allow it to be shared and distributed and remixed at no cost, with no restrictions (except that all further uses be non-commercial), and the bottom line is that, little by little, and with everyone’s help, the open archive of punctum titles will continue to grow in leaps and bounds. (We want to make clear here as well that punctum allows its authors to devise the copyright license that is right for them.) In addition, we are adding a series of subscription options that will allow readers to pay as little as $10.00 per month to access all punctum titles as soon as they are published, and to also affirm themselves as ongoing patrons of the Open Commons.

The primary idea here is that Open Access publishing won’t work without at least some reader support (and this will also eventually include the involvement of institutional libraries as well), and the current format of asking for a donation of any amount at the point of download — while we are grateful to everyone who has generously made donations — has not proven sufficient to address our growing needs. For example, we have a staff of 4 co-directors, a web developer, book designers, associate editors, proofreaders — all of these currently working on an ad hoc, volunteer basis, and we also want to be able to compensate authors as well. The labor that goes into design, marketing, and everything else that punctum does for its authors and readers requires support at a level far beyond what we currently enjoy. (We continue, as always, to also seek support from various institutions, such as universities, and foundations.) Open Access publishing will not survive, especially in the American context, without government, institutional, and foundational subsidies, and we at punctum very much want to avoid the author-pay system that appears to be endemic now throughout Europe, such that large sums of money are being set aside (such as by Research Councils UK, in the wake of the recommendations of the Finch Report) to pay commercial and university presses to publish open-access monographs, edited volumes, and journals at exorbitant rates that are based on exceedingly bloated “business-as-usual” pricing structures. We believe that this poses a potential impediment to access to publication for many authors and projects, and we hope our readers will be willing to lend some small support to the sustenance of Open Access publishing. We should be willing to pay reasonable prices for things we really want and need (whether that is a book, a journal issue, a song download, a TV series, a software app, and so on), unless we want to live in a world where companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon own all of the content and all of the tools and toys and don’t ultimately care how any of this relates to democracy and a thriving Open Commons, and who will quickly dump any platforms for making content available if it doesn’t suit their ever-evolving-at-hyper-speed business plans.

To put an even finer point on this, unlike in Europe and in other countries, there are no explicit funding mandates in the United States, either at state or national levels, for the cultivation of Open Access publishing within the so-called “academic” scene (although there have been calls from within institutions such as Harvard and the University of California to move in this direction). Currently, many university publishers and Digital Humanities Centers are looking to foundations like Mellon for help with developing the initial infrastructure for projects such as Manifold Scholarship, a joint project between University of Minnesota Press and CUNY Graduate Center’s Digital Scholarship Lab, and Luminos + Collabra, University of California Press’s new Open Access Monographs and Mega-Journal platforms. In the case of the latter, it is hoped that long-term sustainability will be achieved through a combination of authors+home universities, libraries, and the publisher itself sharing the cost of producing the titles up front, and/or through Article Processing Charges. And thus the troubling question obtains, especially in the American context where state legislatures are slashing budgets for higher education and university managerial technocrats are increasingly uninterested in helping to sponsor experimental, speculative, and “useless” scholarship: If there is, for example, currently no money to be had for say, creating more tenure lines or reducing class sizes or supporting faculty development (such as through travel grants, reductions in teaching loads, and the like) or making tuition affordable for all or adequately compensating graduate student assistants, and the like, then where is the money coming from to sustain these new publishing initiatives into the long term? The answer is: from nowhere … at least, not right now. And let us be emphatic here: as stated above, we at punctum are adamantly against the author-pay system, as we believe that does severe damage to the health of what might be called the biodiversity of Public Thought.

More troubling still, as Gary Hall and Janneke Adema (Open Humanities Press) have recently written, “Open access is currently being positioned and promoted by policy makers, funders and commercial publishers alike primarily as a means of serving the knowledge economy and helping to stimulate market competition. This version has become so dominant that even those on the left of the political spectrum who are critical of open access are presenting it in much the same terms: as merely assisting with the ongoing process of privatising knowledge, research and the university” (for a critique of this state of affairs, see the shortly forthcoming punctum title Knowledge, Spirit, Law by Gavin Keeney, and for one of its neoliberal manifestations, see Palgrave Open). At a conference this past summer that Hall and Adema convened under the rubric of “RadicalOA,” there was a lot of emphasis on publishing as a practice of care (of persons, of ideas, of relations), on the technological fragilities of the Open Access enterprise and the Digital Humanities more largely, on the ways in which we need to guard against technological determinism and overly simplistic “catching-up” narratives tied to the privatization of everything, on the precarious labor practices involved with Open Access publishing and how to be more mindful of and strategic about that, on how we need to resist “prestige” ranking systems, on cultivating writing as risk/adventure, on promoting invention/intervention over “innovation” (a term toxified through its use within capitalist ventures), on how to resist the neoliberal uptake of Open Access by commercial presses while also collectively strategizing how to survive that state of affairs, and somewhat interestingly, everyone seemed invested in preserving the print book while also exploring new platforms for digitized interactive-networked forms of scholarship and publication (and we at punctum believe this hybrid approach is a valuable stand against the hyper-aggressive planned obsolescence of everything that seems endemic within neoliberal capitalism).

So this brings us back to why we are launching our new Graduated Open Access platform — because we are working on futures, and not on profits that exceed what we need to be comfortable, and because these futures can only be realized through Mutual Aid. Emphasis on the Plural. We must aid each other; we must help each other to realize our life works. Further, there is no, and never can be, just one future. Of necessity, certain futures will materialize and others will only emerge partially and still others will be suppressed, outright stomped upon, etc. Our job in the present is to try to keep all options in play and to maximize what is possible over what is determined in advance (usually by the powerful) to (supposedly) not be possible. This is an ethical, as well as a political, project, and it is not one that could ever be made to be “profitable,” although it could be sustainable if enough persons — in the administrative towers of academe, in the state legislatures, in the gilt halls of the (hopefully socially-minded) privileged, and also in the streets — banded together to make it a reality. And this is why we are hoping our readers will embrace the new platform, and thus aid us in fostering a more rowdily vibrant and promiscuous Open Commons (on which front, see also Eileen’s essay “Let Us Now Stand Up for Bastards: The Importance of Illegitimate Publics”).

And thus we also think it is important to underscore (yet again) the core mission of punctum books, and why we also think what we are doing is truly different from any existing university press and even from most experimental academic presses (although we have our allies and heroes, such as Open Humanities Pressre.pressMediaCommons Press, and Meson Press, among others): We are an Open Access press, not just because we make our titles broadly available to the public (to readers) without exorbitant fees and high paywalls (although we do do that, and it matters, especially in the context of public universities where research should never be shuttered from the public), but because we are dedicated to opening up access to the means of publication for authors who otherwise might not find a publisher, either because their work does not fit within a readily recognizable current disciplinary paradigm, or because they want to experiment with the forms and styles of academic writing, or because their work engages in disciplinary mashups that would make marketing their work overly difficult and so on. It’s a question of personal freedom and how the publisher (however defined: university-based, independent, etc.) is an agent of both sustenance and change. It’s about recognizing that the university, and especially the humanities, should be the haven par excellence for the weirdos and for the weird and for the care and curation as well of “seeding” new publics (in Michael Warner’s words, public-ation as “the poeisis of scene-making”), around which persons, who otherwise might become marginalized, suppressed, lost, etc., can “groupify” (in important counter-cultural modes) with others who share certain predilections, values, orientations, affinities, etc.

And the reason why we are hoping you will want to help us with this is because we have been working so hard for about four years now with no external support whatsoever to secure the space that is so necessary for others to do exactly the sort of work they want to do (as opposed to doing the work they are often subtly, and not so subtly, coerced into doing), and at a time when more traditional university and commercial academic presses are simply not adequately wired to help provide for such space that hasn’t already been deemed in advance to be “profitable,” “marketable,” “trending,” “dominant,” etc. Because the future of academic publishing cannot be just one thing, or one wagon, that we all have to get on (or risk being left behind), and it won’t be secured by funneling all of the money into corporate entities (such as commercial academic publishers like Taylor & Francis) that have no real concern for the public commons other than the profits to be gained thereby, and because we don’t want our work to be shaped by forces that have no regard for the the singular desires that lead us to our work in the first place.

And so (as mentioned above), we are also thrilled to announce the publication today of The Digital Humanist: A Critical Inquiry, written by Domenico Fiormonte, Teresa Numerico, and Francesca Tomasi, and translated from the Italian by Desmond Schmidt and Christopher Ferguson — The Digital Humanistoffers an indispensable critical introduction to the core technologies underlying the Internet from a humanistic perspective. It also provides an invaluable cultural critique of computing technologies, by exploring the history of computing and examining issues related to writing, representing, archiving and searching. The book raises awareness of, and calls for, the digital humanities to address the challenges posed by the linguistic and cultural divides in computing, the clash between communication and control, and the biases inherent in networked technologies. A common problem with publications in the Digital Humanities is the dominance of the Anglo-American perspective. While seeking to take a broader view, this book attempts to show how cultural bias can become an obstacle to innovation both in the methodology and practice of the Digital Humanities. Its central point is that no technological instrument is culturally unbiased, and that all too often the geography that underlies technology coincides with the social and economic interests of its producers. The alternative proposed in the book is one of a world in which variation, contamination and decentralization are essential instruments for the production and transmission of digital knowledge.

Vive la Open Access.

In Loving Solidarity, Andrew Doty, David Hadbawnik, Eileen A. Joy, Chris Piuma, and Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei

Reading Group Notes: Derrida and Coleman on Improvisation and Play

Ornette Coleman & Jacques Derrida intervenidos x Villavicencio - Descontexto

I didn’t always know where I was, so I went to a library and I checked out all the books possible and imaginable on the human brain, I read them all.  They said that the brain was only a conversation.  They didn’t say what about, but this made me understand that the fact of thinking and knowing doesn’t only depend on the place of origin.  (Ornette Coleman, “The Others’ Language”)

On October 26, George Blake led us in a discussion of an interview between Jacques Derrida and free jazz artist Ornette Coleman, and their joint performance onstage in July 1997.  In “The Others’ Language,” Derrida interviewed Coleman about improvisation (including the place of repetition and groups in improv); and “Play–The First Name” comprises the text of Derrida’s “solo” performance following Coleman’s concert with pianist Joachim Kuhn.  Julie Carlson aptly summarized the dynamic between Derrida and Coleman as one not characterized by confrontation of experts viewing a topic through different lenses, but rather characterized by a “tonal” respect of the other that eschews direct agreement or disagreement; thus, the deflections of questions that some of us noticed were not outright rejections of each other’s ideas and work, but rather indicate an improvisatory mode of conversation that reaches across disciplinary divides.

After working through definitions of bebop, harmolodic music, and free jazz, listening to excerpts of the “free jazz” composed and performed by Coleman, and discussing receptions of Derrida’s speech vs. that of his written work (as the audience jeered his recitation of “Play”), we noted some questions and themes that recurred from our previous explorations of improvisation:

  • The importance of balancing play and the “new” with codes and repetition (particularly germane, in this conversation, to deconstruction and its work with language systems);
  • The difficulty of knowing when you have mastered a framework enough to improvise after it;
  • The idea of “mastery” that is equally prevalent in musical performance and in academia, compared to the immersive, embodied, unconscious relationship we may have with a craft or field after working with it for years;
  • The role that the body, the environment, and objects can play in improvisation (as when the sound of audible breathing in a clarinet links the performer’s body and the instrument);
  • The importance of improvisation in groups for social survival and thriving, and the risks of improvising with others (as when Derrida indicates his shame at invoking the words of Coleman’s mother when he does not know her name);
  • The use, place, and risks of deferment, and (similarly) of absence–if we cannot do everything, how can we stop apologizing for what we don’t do?

 

Events on Campus: Conference on Metamorphosis: Human, Animal, Armor

Bronze-Beetle-Yale-2

Please join us for “Metamorphosis: Human, Animal, Armor,” an interdisciplinary conference on the 100th anniversary of the publication of Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis.”  Literature and the Mind director Julie Carlson is acting as convener, along with Elisabeth Weber (Germanic and Slavic Studies) and Wolf Kittler (Germanic and Slavic Studies); and L&M-affiliated faculty members Russell Samolsky and Kay Young will be participating in the conference’s opening panel.  The conference will be held December 3-5; please see the conference’s official website for the official schedule, locations on campus, and details about participants, here.

From the conference’s official description: “On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the publication of Franz Kafka’s famous text “The Metamorphosis,” an interdisciplinary conference at UCSB brings together a wide array of scholars and artists to discuss Kafka’s text in its literary-historical context, and to read it as an exploration of metamorphoses that problematize borders between species and between living organisms and machines. Kafka’s text opens pressing questions in such fields as human and animal rights, old and new forms of warfare, art and technology: mimicry of animals in developments in drone warfare, bionics (exoskeletons), prostheses, and nano-technology, as well as digitally engineered perception through animal eyes.”

Image: Bronze Beetle, Greek, 750BCE, Yale University Art Gallery

Events on Campus: Notes from Opening Reception

IMG_2606

On October 12, Literature and the Mind gathered with affiliated programs on campus for an introduction to the new year and to share information about our mind-related projects.  We had a fantastic turnout, with undergraduates, grad students, faculty, and post-doctoral researchers from a variety of departments and initiatives (including English, Comparative Literature, and Psychology).  Below, you’ll find pictures of our attendees, as well as more information about the programs that we heard about across campus.

IMG_2622

Julie (pictured above left) led us through the L&M Initiative’s plans for the upcoming year, as we undertake two endeavors: continuing to study our biennial theme of “Improvisation,” searching for a new English Department faculty member who specializes in cognitive science, and engaging with the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center’s study of “The Humanities and the Brain.”  We will have more word on both of these events throughout the year, so stay tuned!

IMG_2630

We heard from Dr. Bridget Queenan, Associate Director of the Brain Initiative at UCSB (pictured above right).  This initiative, under the direction of Dr. Ken Kosick, will “assemble & support research teams to attack the most fundamental problems in neuroscience. Providing intellectual, technical, and financial resources, [they] are changing how academic research is done.”  Dr. Queenan was especially excited to discuss this project and the brain with scholars in literature and the humanities at large, and to bring these disciplines that have studied the mind and brain into deeper conversation.  Learn more about the work and scholars behind this project here.

IMG_2637

Claire Zedelius (pictured above left) spoke with us about the UCSB Daydream Project, an initiative housed in Dr. Jonathan Schooler’s Memory Emotion Thought Awareness, or META, Lab (website here).  The project’s description notes, “We spend about half our waking lives daydreaming. This research project is investigating how different styles of daydreaming influence creativity.”  Learn more about the Daydreaming project, and how you can participate in the data-gathering stage of their project, on the group’s Facebook page here.

Thanks to all of our attendees for helping us to kick off a dynamic year!

Undergraduate Course: Body Language

Instructor: Aranye Fradenburg
Course: English 170BL, Winter 2016

Darwin argued that when animals experience emotion, they are experiencing bodily events (the corners of the mouth twitch, blood pressure rises). Expression is emotional experience, not what signifies it. Influenced by Darwin, Freud was convinced that mind and body were in some way of a piece: psychological distress could affect the body and also be caused, in part at least, by the body’s troubles. Since Freud’s time, many researchers, clinicians and theorists have doubted, sometimes even ridiculed, the existence of psychosomatic and somatopsychic phenomena. But times have changed again, and we are more and more prepared to believe, at minimum, that bodily and psychical experience co-construct one another. This course will begin with a sampling of Darwin’s writing on the emotions; with Freud and Breuer’s remarks on abreaction and catharsis in Studies in Hysteria; and with a contemporary study of Hysteria by Christopher Bollas, psychoanalyst (and former English Ph.D.) interested in the idea of a body that prepares to speak, developmentally and otherwise. In this part of the course we will also consider some examples of literature on “lovesickness.” Next, we will consider the embodied character of delusional experience, through Daniel Paul Schreber’s Memories of My Nervous Illness and Freud’s commentary thereon; selections from the works of Deleuze and Guattari and Massumi on schizophrenia and expression; and essays from the anthology Psychosomatics Today: A Psychoanalytic Perspective, which will introduce us to very recent work on these topics. The last part of the course will draw from the work of Elaine Scarry (The Body in Pain), Giovanna Colombetti (The Feeling Body) and Andy Clark (Supersizing the Mind), all important proponents of “distributed”/“extended” mind. The mind may be embodied, but it’s also extended well beyond the body, by means, for example, of written texts. How might we want to conceive of literary experience accordingly?

Image: Still from Chaplin, “Modern Times”