Featured Minds: Steven Willemsen

Steven Willemsen is a PhD Researcher and Junior Lecturer in Film and Literary Studies at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, and currently a visiting scholar at UC Santa Barbara.  During his time at UCSB, he has shared his work on narrative complexity in cinema, including the newly published monograph,  Impossible Puzzle Films: A Cognitive Approach to Complex Cinema (Edinburgh University Press), which he co-authored with Dr. Miklós Kiss.  His work can also be found in Projections: The Journal for Movies and Mind, ACTA Film and Media Studies, and other publications.  

The works of David Lynch are a prime example of the complex narratives that Steven studies: set up as “puzzles” with no apparent solution that nevertheless draw viewers in, these films tempt some viewers to map out these impossible worlds, or lead other viewers simply to return to films that elude understanding.

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

I’m interested in the way in which our minds interact with complex stories. Particularly in film and television, it seems that complexity in storytelling and story structures is currently more popular than ever. Audiences are fascinated by all sorts of non-chronological, multi-layered, metaleptic, impossible, paradoxical and puzzling stories. The aim of my project is to explore the aesthetic experience that we get from such narratives. We usually tend to think about stories as being ‘mimetic’ conductors – things we engage with for their content, like the characters, actions, emotions, or immersive storyworlds. But a confusing story seems to block our access to these dimensions somewhat. Apparently there is something particularly engaging about narrative complexity in itself, and I hope to find the key to that in the particular cognitive and hermeneutic mental activities that such stories cue us to perform.

How did you become interested in this field?

The project grew out of a more general interest in cognitive film theory. Cognitive film studies is a vivid, still developing field where film scholars and psychologists meet and draw on ideas from cognitive sciences to understand how films ‘work’ on viewers – in terms of perception, comprehension, or emotion. There is still something quite magical to me about the way in which a series of 2D images and sounds can result in such lifelike and intense experiencs. Cinema taps into all kinds of traits of the human cognitive and perceptual systems to involve us emotionally, perceptually, intellectually, and on a bodily level, and to create a smooth sense of continuity, narrative coherence, and even of presence. I’m excited about the idea of getting a grip on how this works, because I believe it is something that is very elementary to culture: using media to create, or re-create, simulated experience, which in turn allows us to reflect on actual experience. For me, cognitive approaches to art and narrative are all about mapping those intersections: between our minds and our artworks, and the way these shape each other.

What unique contributions are narrative scholars positioned to make to the interdisciplinary field of mind studies?

In any case, narrative theorists have developed quite an understanding of one of the key tools that the human mind has to integrate information, experience and impressions in a coherent and intelligible form. The idea that narrativity is in some ways ingrained in our cognitive make-up seems quite accepted now, across a range of fields. But actual two-way dialogues between the humanities and the ‘mind-sciences’ (like cognitive psychologists or neuroscientists) can remain difficult – because of our different vocabularies, and the different stances towards empiricism. Ultimately, however, I think that both perspectives could work to illuminate and correct each other. It seems to be increasingly acknowledged how strictly naturalistic perspectives on the mind also leave explanatory gaps, in terms of the full phenomenological richness involved in experience and sense making. It is my hope that as a result, multi-perspectival takes on the topics of mind and cognition will be increasingly valued, and that the humanities’ and sciences’ approaches to the mind might be able to meet somewhere in the middle.

What does narrative do for minds (whether through film or literature)?

That is a really complex question –  perhaps even the underlying mystery of all art! One of the things I hope to gain a better understanding of is the simple question why we engage with fictional stories at all, including excessively complex ones. Why should we enjoy – or require – stories that are not about the real world, or that confuse us? One of the reasons, I think, is that complex narrative artworks allow us to draw on our whole range of everyday experiences – from very basic, ‘low-level’ sensations and emotions, like the feeling of being under a threat or in love, to very sophisticated ‘higher-order’ frames of knowledge, like understanding complex socio-political situations or philosophical ideas. Making sense of a complex artwork allows us to ‘activate’ and recombine all these levels of knowledge at the same, because it has the ability to evoke and simulate all that mental and bodily experience. I think that that process, of putting our real world knowledge and experience to new, interpretive use, is inherently enjoyable and creative, and can be potentially revealing about ourselves and our relation to the world.

Selections from Steven’s Work:

Steven’s latest project is Impossible Puzzle Films: A Cognitive Approach to Contemporary Complex Cinema, co-authored with Miklos Kiss.  Here you will find a description of the book’s primary questions and interventions; and for a free preview of the first chapters of the book, click here.

“Narrative complexity is a trend in contemporary cinema. Since the late 1990s there has been a palpable increase in complex storytelling in movies. But how and why do complex movies create perplexity and confusion? How do we engage with these challenges? And what makes complex stories so attractive? By blending film studies, narrative theory and cognitive sciences, Kiss and Willemsen look into the relation between complex storytelling and the mind. Analysing the effects that different complex narratives have on viewers, the book addresses how films like Donnie DarkoMulholland Drive or Primer strategically create complexity and confusion, and, by using the specific category of the ‘impossible puzzle film’, it examines movies that use baffling paradoxes, impossible loops, and unresolved ambiguities in their stories and storytelling. By looking at how these films play on our mind’s blind spots, this innovative book explains their viewing effects in terms of the mental state of cognitive dissonance that they evoke.”

  • Analyses the effects of complex narratives on viewers, including the psychological experience of puzzlement and perplexity
  • Explores impossible puzzle films as a specific set of highly complex popular films
  • Introduces cognitive dissonance as a key feature of these films
  • Brings together literary theory, cognitive narratology and film studies

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.

 

 


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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)

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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