Mark Leffert, “New Directions in Clinical Psychoanalysis”

Lit&Mind_Mark Leffert


Mark Leffert joined Literature and the Mind on November 6th to discuss his work on clinical psychoanalysis. Dr. Leffert’s interdisciplinary reformulation of psychoanalytic thought and practice is informed by his ideas concerning postmodernism, complexity, and neuroscience. His discussion of the background of clinical psychoanalysis, different kinds of unconsciousnesses, and the discontinuous self that is always embedded and entangled within its environment led to a group conversation about the role of literature in understanding the self, as a place to learn about and grasp the shifting sense of self-state.


Mark Leffert talk Mark Leffert discussion

Ruth Evans, “Margery Kempe’s Internal Reality”

On October 31st, Literature and the Mind & Medieval Literatures presented a talk by Ruth Evans (Professor of English at St. Louis University) on The Book of Margery Kempe.

Ruth Evans

Here is Evans’s preview of the talk:

“Recognizing that there is such a thing as psychosis … does not mean that we need to buy into the discourse of mental health and illness. Although many people experience unbearable levels of suffering, this does not make them “mentally ill,” as there is simply no such thing as mental health. The more we explore each individual case, the more we find that the seemingly “healthy” person may have delusional beliefs or symptoms that generate no conflict in their lives and hence attract no attention. Each of us faces problems that we tackle in our own unique ways, and what is labelled mental illness may in fact … be an effort to respond to and elaborate these difficulties. Using such labels not only entrenches the false dichotomy of health and illness, but also eclipses the creative, positive aspect of psychotic phenomena.”

—Darian Leader 2011, 7-8


I begin this paper on The Book of Margery Kempe (c. 1439) by revisiting the vexed question of Kempe’s “madness,” the question that most medievalists consider, for crucial historical and political reasons, to be strictly off limits. As Jonathan Hsy and Richard Godden remind us, the “inner qualities” of mental states in the Middle Ages “resist easy alignment with modern discourses” (2013, 314). I do not want to argue that Kempe is “mad.” Rather I argue that Kempe’s text reveals distinctive and unique patterns of thinking about her beliefs and experiences, patterns of thinking that need to be distinguished from the fact that those beliefs and experiences were at the time, to invoke an anachronism, cultural norms. The speaking with Jesus, the voicehearing, the sobbing and roaring, the desire to live chastely, the conviction of her own righteousness: these are all features of late medieval devotional practices and of the vitae of the holy women that Kempe strove to emulate. Kempe’s behaviors, excessive as they appeared to some of her fellow-Christians and as they appear to some readers today, are entirely congruent with the beliefs and practices of her day. They are also congruent with the experiences of many people today that we would not consider to be “mad”: voicehearing, for example, is a phenomenon that is experienced not only by those subject to “psychiatric diagnoses” but also by some men and women going about their everyday lives (Saunders and Fernyhough 2017, 210).


Taking my cue from the psychoanalyst and writer Darian Leader, I argue that what is at stake in the Book’s rhetoric is not the content of Kempe’s beliefs and experiences, which are entirely conventional, but the place they occupy in her life: how she articulates what they mean to her. I do not think there has been sufficient attention paid to this dimension of the Book’s textuality. While I acknowledge that the text is a collaborative production, I think we can still read in it Kempe’s permeability to language: how language, the symbolic, enters the real of her body and organizes it for her, for example, in the too-presentness (for her) of the libido. The Book is not only a spiritual autobiography but a text within a tradition of representing what are problematically called “abnormal” states of mind, but which are deeply creative and reparative attempts to structure the world: from Thomas Hoccleve’s account of his disordered mental state in the Complaint to Judge Daniel Paul Schreber’s Memoirs of My Nervous Illness (1903). In attending to the language of the Book as a structuring of internal reality my project is very different from reading Kempe’s text as an artless case study of surface symptoms for which we can propose contemporary psychiatric diagnoses. I nevertheless court the dangers of reductionism, including a reductionism of religious experience, and of deauthorizing Kempe as a female mystic. My paper will address those dangers.

Ruth Evans Ruth Evans Talk

Nicole Seymour, “Awkwardness, Ambivalence, Glee: A Catalogue of Bad Environmental Feelings”

On October 20th, Literature & the Mind joined Literature & the Environment for a presentation by Nicole Seymour (CSU Fullerton) that brought together ecocritical scholarship, affect theory, and film studies. Focusing on “awkwardness,” “ambivalence,” and “glee,” Seymour’s discussion considered “bad” environmental feelings that characterize a particular recent trend in the environmental humanities across film, television, literature, and performance art and show an alternative, often ironic and humorous, approach to environmental activism that diverges from the sincerity and sentimentality often associated with it.

Nicole SeymourSeymour‘s publications include Strange Natures: Futurity, Empathy, and the Queer Ecological Imagination (2013) and Bad Environmentalism: Affect and Dissent in the Ecological Age (forthcoming).

Lit & Mind Opening Reception

On October 2nd, Lit & Mind faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, and researchers from various departments and initiatives gathered together over food and drinks for our opening reception. Kay Young (Director), Chip Badley & Dalia Bolotnikov (Graduate Representatives), and Casey Coffee & Baily Rossi (Undergraduate Representatives) are thrilled to begin a new academic year of exciting events and speakers and to enter the second year of our research topic, “Intersubjectivity.”

After an overview of the 2017-2018 schedule of events, Kay Young discussed the meaning of intersubjectivity and turned to a passage from Daniel Stern’s The Present Moment in Psychotherapy and Everyday Life , one of the selections from our first reading group meeting last year:

Our nervous systems are constructed to be captured by the nervous systems of others, so that we can experience others as if from within their skin, as well as from within our own. A sort of direct feeling route into the other person is potentially open and we resonate with and participate in their experiences, and they in ours. (I will give the evidence that supports this view shortly.)


Other people are not just other objects but are immediately recognized as special kinds of objects, objects like us, available for sharing inner states. In fact, our minds naturally work to seek out the experiences in others that we can resonate with. We naturally parse others’ behavior in terms of the inner states that we can grasp, feel, participate in, and thus share.


This must be seen in the light of our being highly social animals who probably spend the majority of our lives in the presence of others, real or imagined. Sometimes our imagined companions are vivid presences; at other times, they are vague background figures or audiences or witnesses that float in and out of our awareness. But they are there nonetheless.


When we put all this together, a certain intersubjective world emerges. We no longer see our minds as so independent, separate, and isolated. We are no longer the sole owners, masters, and guardians of our subjectivity. The boundaries between self and others remain clear but more permeable. In fact, a differentiated self is a condition of intersubjectivity. Without it there would be only fusion (Rochat & Morgan, 1995; Stern, 1985).


Opening Reception

With Stern guiding much of our understanding of how we function as intersubjective beings, we have had a successful and illuminating year of exploring intersubjectivity. We now look forward both to hosting scholars who discuss literature together with intersubjectivity and to showcasing and celebrating the intersubjective work in literary studies done by scholars in our own program. Our two-year series will culminate in a spring conference, “Intersubjectivity and Literature at UCSB,” which will feature the work of our university’s faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students, with Aranye Fradenburg as our keynote speaker.

Thank you to all who joined us for a great opening event. We can’t wait to see what this year will bring!

Opening Reception

Lit & Mind Senior Celebration

On June 9th, after a wonderful year of speakers, readings groups, and quarterly undergraduate pizza parties, we celebrated our seniors graduating with a specialization in Lit and Mind. This year, twenty-four seniors graduated as L&M specialists. Together, over delicious pizza and cake, we shared memories of particularly meaningful and inspirational experiences both in and out of the classroom, reflections on the program and the opportunities it provides, and thoughts and suggestions for future programming and classes.

Senior CelebrationWe feel incredibly grateful for such a genuine, thoughtful, and caring undergraduate community and are thrilled to see it steadily growing. We warmly congratulate our Lit and Mind graduates and wish them the best in all that is to come!

Lit and Mind Conference: The Cognitive Humanities ~ Trans-Atlantic: Intersubjectivity and Literature

Literature and the Mind presented two exciting programs June 1-2 on the cognitive humanities featuring our four visiting European scholars: Marco Bernini, Marco Caracciolo, Karin Kukkonen, and Merja Polvinen.

On June 1st, Bernini, Caracciolo, Kukkonen, and Polvinen directed a special workshop on “Cognition and Creativity” for all interested students, especially undergraduates, at the College of Creative Studies. They discussed topics such as metaphors, personification and how writers shape fictional beings, enaction, embodiment, and predictive processing.


CCS CCSpresentations


On June 2nd, we had a full day of talks, discussions, and delicious food catered by C’est Cheese in the McCune Conference Room with our visiting scholars. Please see the poster and conference program below.

If you’re having trouble viewing this image, download the PDF here.

The Cognitive Humanities ~ Trans-Atlantic

Conference program (PDF here):

Lit&Mind Conference Program


In “Phantasmal Intersubjectivity: Mental Co-Presence and the Emersivity of Literary Characters,” Marco Bernini discussed the fictional elements that transmigrate into real life outside of the immediate reading context. His talk discussed the “emersivity” of literary characters and asked how and why literary characters enter our cognitive life and give us new cognitive capacities to feel what we would not and could not otherwise.


Marco Caracciolo’s talk on “Embodiment and the Physics of Intersubjectivity in Contemporary ‘Lab Lit’” asked how we can envisage human and nonhuman interrelations, how narrative can integrate realities beyond the human. In particular, Caracciolo directed our attention to the use of metaphors in contemporary lab lit, which focuses on scientists in realistic settings, their personal lives, and how they are related to what they study. The presentation showed ways in which narrative can resist anthropomorphic bias by using metaphor as a formal device to take itself out of human-centered comfort zones.


Karin Kukkonen’s talk, “Mediated Intersubjectivity: Pamela, Julie and 4e Cognition in the Public Sphere,” addressed the role of social cognition in the novel, focusing especially on Samuel Richardson’s Pamela and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse. Pamela itself is comprised of letters between characters, and then dialogue continues through interactions in the public sphere – the conversation is extended through rewritings and continuations of the story, such as Henry Fielding’s Shamela and Eliza Haywood’s Anti-Pamela. After considering the eighteenth century novel, Kukkonen discussed the contemporary web series Skam and ongoing changes in the mediation of social cognition. The presentation considered how serialization prompts a metacognitive response.



In “Enaction, Emotion and Reflective Attention in Narrative,” Merja Polvinen focused on Dave Eggers’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, in which artificiality and affect exist simultaneously, playing with the space between truth and fiction. The paratext includes suggestions on how to enjoy the book, twenty-five pages of acknowledgments, and a reflection on issues with the book. The insistence on the paratext makes it seem more like metafiction than a work of nonfiction. Polvinen presented the mental processing involved with this memoir: there is the narrative, the implied author’s actions, and the self-referential processing of ourselves as authorial audience.

PolvinenThe conference concluded with a roundtable discussion facilitated by Kay Young, followed by a wine and cheese reception.

Transatlantic Conference