On January 29th, Visiting Scholar and Cognitive Scientist Urban Kordes joined us for Lit and Mind’s Winter Reading Group Meeting. Professor of cognitive science and first-person research at the University of Ljubljana, Dr. Kordes currently serves as head of the cognitive science program. He as well teaches at the University of Vienna, Austria (cognitive science), University of Primorska, Koper, Slovenia (methodology) and Nan Tien Institute, Wollongong, Australia (cognitive science & mindfulness). Professor Kordes holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematical physics, and a master’s & doctorate in philosophy of cognitive science. His research interests include in-depth empirical phenomenology, neurophenomenology, enactivism, and neuroaesthetics.
Professor Kordes led a discussion on Thomas Fuchs and Hanne De Jaegher’s “Enactive Intersubjectivity: Participatory Sense-Making and Mutual Incorporation” and chapter seven of Charles Fernyhough’s The Voices Within: The History and Science of How We Talk to Ourselves (“Chorus of Me”). Lit and Mind graduate student Rebecca Baker chose and presented on our third reading, Jorge Luis Borges’s “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” weaving our earlier conversation into the literature.
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.
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.
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).
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!
Henry is a recent graduate of UC Santa Barbara. He specialized in Literature and the Mind in the English Department, and helped bring together fellow Mind-inclined students as an undergraduate representative for Lit and Mind. He currently works at PathPoint as a Direct Support Professional, helping individuals with disadvantages and those with physical, developmental, or psychiatric disabilities reach their fullest potential. Read on to learn more about his experience with Lit and Mind and its applicability to everyday life, and to see excerpts from “Feeling Attachments in Dickens’ Great Expectations.” Congratulations, Henry!
How did you first get interested in studying literature and the mind?
At the end of my first year at UCSB, I took a class taught by Professor Kay Young called “Comic Turn of Mind.” I feel as if my college education began there. Never before had I been exposed to such meaningful material. Throughout college, Literature and the Mind courses, mostly taught by Professor Young, inspired me to ask questions–to wonder and wander until I arrived at an understanding of my own passions and feelings. My favorite class was Professor Young’s “The Meaning of Life,” in which we studied my favorite literary work, “Notes from Underground,” by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Literature and the Mind provided a community in which I found genuine, deep people with interesting ideas. Professor Young, as an extraordinary teacher and mentor, provided the sparks with which I would kindle my own fire of learning.
After a year of helping gather students to study the theme of “intersubjectivity,” what are your thoughts on this topic now?
Essential to our humanity is the search of meaning. We must ask ourselves: why do I exist? The meaning of our existence is fundamentally relational, for we come to know ourselves by coming to know others. The self takes shape through interaction with the not-self. Forms of otherness affect us, whether this be family, friends, strangers, enemies, authors, artists, lovers, lost ones. The minds we meet in life define us, and intersubjectivity provides a path by which we can better understand our relational nature. A life lived intentionally, with a deep, empathic awareness of the ways we affect one another, is a life rooted in humanity, connecting us to the essence of our existence.
Where do you think the study of literature in the mind is headed, or should be headed?
Hopefully Lit and the Mind continues to emphasize relationally, exploring the connections between self and other. With this emphasis, Lit and Mind should stress the importance of empathy and imagination. If taught to imagine the feelings of others, young minds will be encouraged to welcome difference. I’d also like to see Lit and Mind think more about ambiguity and its effects on the mind. Ideally, Lit and Mind will move people toward more meaningful lives, in which people feel connected to themselves, to the natural world, and to one another.
What would you like to tell current or prospective English Majors, or Literature and the Mind specialists, at UCSB?
Read as many books as possible. Take a class with Professor Young. Immerse yourself in nature. Seek out meaningful moments and connections. Don’t fear vulnerability. Privilege passion and feeling above all else.
Excerpts from Henry’s paper “Feeling Attachments in Dickens’ Great Expectations,” composed for Kay Young’s course entitled Cognitive Dickens and drawing on sources ranging from Freud to contemporary studies of attachment and cognition:
Attachment informs cognition. In Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, different forms of attachment yield different ways of thinking. Pip’s realization of his secret benefactor fuels in him a newfound sense of agency and truthfulness in his interactions with Miss Havisham and Estella. Miss Havisham internalizes the loss of her lover, and her insecurities manifest in outward anger as Pip detaches from her. Estella is unfeeling toward Pip and removes herself from relationality, while Pip develops his sense of identity in relation to his feelings for Estella. Miss Havisham projects her loss upon Estella and Pip and feels her misery all over again when Estella and Pip reenact her trauma.
In “Chapter Forty-Four,” with the mystery of his benefactor known, Pip addresses himself to Miss Havisham and Estella with a newfound sense of identity. As soon as Miss Havisham and Estella see Pip, they see “an alteration” in him (380). Pip’s relation to others changes when he realizes his great expectations. His statement, “I have found out who my patron is,” immediately focuses the scene (381). All that proceeds his statement is the effect of his discovery on two of his deepest attachments. Pip’s language is direct and clear, reflecting clarity within his sense of self. Pip requests money from Miss Havisham on Herbert’s behalf, and he “reddened a little” in doing so (382-383). Now independent and no longer bound by the false assumption that Miss Havisham is his patron, Pip gains agency in interacting with Miss Havisham. He also reveals his attachment to Herbert and embodies the compassion he has for Herbert as he blushes. Pip grounds his expectations in truth rather than speculation and brings honesty to his attachments.
Pip is no longer dependent on Miss. Havisham, and she becomes defensive as he seeks the truth from her. As Pip brings up Mr. Jaggers, Miss Havisham responds in a “firm tone” (381). Miss Havisham’s tone betrays her sensitivity to the topic. Reprimanding Miss Havisham for leading him on, Pip asks, “Was that kind?” (381). Pip’s question challenges Miss Havisham’s character in a way previously impossible due to the mystery of his benefactor. With no ability to question his patron, Pip cannot exist as an individual apart from his patron. In inquiring information of Miss Havisham, Pip shifts the balance of power and illustrates the independence of his cognition. Miss Havisham’s reaction illustrates her guilt toward Pip. She cries, “Who am I?” and strikes her stick upon the floor, proceeding in wrath, “Who am I, for God’s sake, that I should be kind?” (381). She repeatedly questions her own identity, for her anger is concentrated inward. Her internal indignation stems from the traumatic separation from her loved one. As Freud observes, “The shadow of the object fell upon the ego” (course reader 72). Miss Havisham’s loss is a shadow darkening her ego, for her suffering confuses her ego. As Pip questions her identity, she becomes enraged, for her identity is uncertain and veiled by the past disappointment. Attempting to conceal her internal suffering, she lashes out at Pip. Her anger protects her ego from guilt, for she refuses to feel guilt for her contribution to Pip’s disillusionment. She wields a stick as her material object with which she can strike out at her environment. Feeling the endangerment of her ego, Miss Havisham attacks her environment in order to distance herself from others and how others make her feel. Miss Havisham does not allow herself to feel, for as Freud elucidates, her ego is complicated “due to ambivalence” (course reader 76). Her relationality is ambivalent, evidenced by her sudden outburst. Miss Havisham claims, “You made your own snares. I never made them” (382). Miss Havisham distinctly separates herself from Pip, as she emphasizes “I” in contrast to “you.” In opposing her actions to Pip’s actions, Miss Havisham seeks to remove responsibility from her own ego. However, the harder she tries to separate her feelings from Pip, the clearer her attachment to him becomes. Miss Havisham is defensive because Pip actively affects her ego. Her words are beyond her immediate control, as they “flashed out of her in a wild and sudden way” (382). Miss Havisham is attached to Pip, and his detachment from her elicits resistance and insecurities within her which manifest in outward anger. Pip’s detachment from Miss Havisham is possible because he no longer depends on her as his patron.