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In Winter 2017, Literature and the Mind was thrilled to host Jessica Benjamin and Donna Orange, two of the most important intersubjective thinkers and psychoanalysts today.
On February 22nd, Jessica Benjamin led a workshop on intersubjective psychoanalysis. Ahead of time, we read “Beyond Doer and Done to: An Intersubjective View of Thirdness,” which explained the concept of a co-created or shared intersubjective thirdness and proposed a restoration of recognition through surrender. On February 23rd, Benjamin gave an IHC public lecture titled “The Discarded and The Dignified—The Politics of the Fear that ‘Only One Can Live’” for the “Community Matters” series. Benjamin discussed the zero-sum conversations about suffering that presume a denial of “the Other,” arguing for the need to consider suffering not oppositionally, but through thirdness. This attachment to a social third leads us out of revenge, out of the binary of “deserving” and “discarded,” and into reparation. Both the harmers and the harmed need the moral third to repair the world where only one can live – with the knowledge that all can live. A failure to witness the suffering of the other breaks the bonds of social attachment in the world and can lead to monstrous action. In Benjamin’s words, “disgust happens when the horror from which we want to dissociate floods into us too quickly.” Click here for a description and recording of the talk.
On March 6th, Donna Orange led a workshop on ethics, humanitarianism, and intersubjective psychoanalysis. Ahead of time, we read “My Other’s Keeper: From Intersubjective Systems Theory to the Ethical Turn in Psychoanalysis,” which carried us from Orange’s background as an intersubjective systems theorist to her work on ethics of responsibility and the “suffering strangers,” both those in the consulting room and those harmed by climate crisis and poverty. Intersubjective systems psychoanalysis focuses on the relational field created by multiple unique, unrepeatable subjective worlds of experience – an individual can be understood only within these organic psychological systems. Orange writes that the ethical turn to responsibility and solidarity easily follows this emphasis on the irreplaceable, irreducible other who must be treated dialogically. On March 7th, Orange gave an IHC public lecture for the “Community Matters” series titled “My Other’s Keeper: Radical Ethics and Visions of Community.” Orange discussed the meaning of radical ethics in community – how do we enable our imaginations to affiliate with “all” rather than “some”? Click here for a description and recording of the talk.
On January 23rd, Literature and the Mind celebrated a book launch by Steven Willemsen, our visiting research scholar in cognitive film studies from the University of Groningen. Willemsen’s presentation focused on his new book, Impossible Puzzle Films: A Cognitive Approach to Contemporary Complex Cinema, which looks into the relation between complex storytelling and the mind.
Willemsen’s book reconceptualizes narrative complexity by focusing on its effect on the viewer. Despite the impossible structures of complex films, people are driven to approach them as if they operate as traditional narratives: the puzzle films that Willemsen discussed make us expect and seek rational explanations when there are none to be found. Willemsen’s presentation and book question the ways in which impossible puzzle films create complexity, the methods through which their narratives strategically keep viewers in the loop of sense-making, and the reasons for the evident appeal of such dissonant narrative experiences.
Dan Siegel, M.D. joined Literature and the Mind on November 28th to talk about his new book, Mind: A Journey to the Heart of Being Human. Dr. Siegel focused on his early work to organize an interdisciplinary team of scholars to acknowledge the existence of the mind and to develop a working definition.
Dr. Siegel drew our attention to the differences in how disciplines think about ideas, especially the idea of the mind. Some intentionally refuse to define it, others cannot affirm its existence because they cannot measure it, and still others take it for granted.
Literature and the Mind joined Medieval Literature on November 18th for a talk by Rebecca McNamara entitled “Love and the Emotional Language of the Law in Chaucer’s Poetry.” Professor McNamara explained the ways in which Geoffrey Chaucer uses technical legal register in his poetry for marked emotional effect.
The talk focused on Chaucer’s poems “The Complaint Unto Pity” and “Anelida and Arcite” to show how legal language operations emotionally in some of his works. Professor McNamara’s talk stemmed from a larger project on the history of emotions related to the suicidal impulse in late medieval English literature and culture.
Professor Michael Gazzaniga joined Literature and the Mind on November 16th for a conversation about The Social Brain: Discovering the Networks of the Mind. Professor Gazzaniga, along with Roger Sperry, pioneered the study of the split brain. Our discussion focused on the human brain processes that generate belief systems. Professor Gazzaniga’s research showed that the mind has a modular organization, and each module or unit is capable of producing independent behaviors. After the emission of behaviors, the left-hemisphere language-based system interprets the behaviors and constructs a narrative to explain their meaning. Thus, human beliefs are generated as a result of the dynamics between our mind modules and our left-brain interpreter module.
On November 7th, we came together for this year’s first Literature and the Mind reading group meeting, co-lead by Kay Young and Corinne Bancroft. We read selections from Daniel Stern’s The Present Moment in Psychotherapy and Everyday Life alongside Louise Erdrich’s short story “Father’s Milk.”
We discussed the powerful ability of Erdrich’s text to perform intersubjectivity by creating the felt quality of interactions, both between characters and between text and reader. Works of fiction representationally slice lived reality into moments – and then slow these moments down, immersing us and inviting us into states of identification.
Professor Sowon Park, who joined our initiative and university this year from Oxford University, gave the inaugural Literature and the Mind talk on October 24th. Professor Park specializes in neuroscientific approaches to literature and British Modernism, and she is the founder and convenor of the Unconscious Memory Network. Professor Park’s talk, “A Shade or a Shape of You: Theory of Mind in Lily Briscoe’s Vision,” reflected on what Theory of Mind might mean for literary research, focusing particularly on Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. The paper presented Lily’s final vision in the novel as an example of mind-reading that transcends power relations and transactional dynamics.