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

Article: “The Test That Can Look into a Child’s (Reading) Future”

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NPR Ed’s Cory Turner speaks with neurobiologist Nina Kraus (Northwestern University) about a new test that predicts children’s literacy skills long before they are able to read.  Dr. Kraus’ study, published in PLOS Biology, found that children who were able to follow the dialogue of a film despite multiple competing noises were less likely to find reading challenging later in life.  While Turner notes that this testing process seems to label children based on “a crime that hasn’t happened yet,” Dr. Kraus proposes that this test will allow for earlier interventions, before reading becomes a challenge.  Read the NPR article in full, and try your own hand at the test, here.

Image: Jessie Willcox Smith for Good Housekeeping, October 1928

Article: ” ‘We Sweat, Crave, and Itch All Day’: Why Writing About Bodies Is Vital”

image by Doug McLean

In The Atlantic, essayist Leslie Jamison reflects on the words of Virginia Woolf that shaped her view of bodies in literature.  Jamison recalls struggling to represent the physical aftermath of surgery, fearing that “writing about bodily experience [is] somehow… the ultimate solipsism,” and ultimately finding solace in Woolf’s essay “On Being Ill.”  Jamison connects Woolf’s essay, Elaine Scarry’s theory on pain and speech, and the works of Whitman and Faulkner to memories of her own discomfort in waiting rooms and creative writing classes.  Ultimately, she concludes that “the surface of the body isn’t poverty; it isn’t lack,” and moreover, it can be a site of deep connection between authors and readers.

Read Jamison’s piece in full here.

Learn more about Jamison’s volume of nonfiction essays on bodies and others, The Empathy Exams, here.

Image by Doug McLean for The Atlantic.