Featured Minds: Henry Bernard

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.

 

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)

Reading Group Notes: Derrida and Coleman on Improvisation and Play

Ornette Coleman & Jacques Derrida intervenidos x Villavicencio - Descontexto

I didn’t always know where I was, so I went to a library and I checked out all the books possible and imaginable on the human brain, I read them all.  They said that the brain was only a conversation.  They didn’t say what about, but this made me understand that the fact of thinking and knowing doesn’t only depend on the place of origin.  (Ornette Coleman, “The Others’ Language”)

On October 26, George Blake led us in a discussion of an interview between Jacques Derrida and free jazz artist Ornette Coleman, and their joint performance onstage in July 1997.  In “The Others’ Language,” Derrida interviewed Coleman about improvisation (including the place of repetition and groups in improv); and “Play–The First Name” comprises the text of Derrida’s “solo” performance following Coleman’s concert with pianist Joachim Kuhn.  Julie Carlson aptly summarized the dynamic between Derrida and Coleman as one not characterized by confrontation of experts viewing a topic through different lenses, but rather characterized by a “tonal” respect of the other that eschews direct agreement or disagreement; thus, the deflections of questions that some of us noticed were not outright rejections of each other’s ideas and work, but rather indicate an improvisatory mode of conversation that reaches across disciplinary divides.

After working through definitions of bebop, harmolodic music, and free jazz, listening to excerpts of the “free jazz” composed and performed by Coleman, and discussing receptions of Derrida’s speech vs. that of his written work (as the audience jeered his recitation of “Play”), we noted some questions and themes that recurred from our previous explorations of improvisation:

  • The importance of balancing play and the “new” with codes and repetition (particularly germane, in this conversation, to deconstruction and its work with language systems);
  • The difficulty of knowing when you have mastered a framework enough to improvise after it;
  • The idea of “mastery” that is equally prevalent in musical performance and in academia, compared to the immersive, embodied, unconscious relationship we may have with a craft or field after working with it for years;
  • The role that the body, the environment, and objects can play in improvisation (as when the sound of audible breathing in a clarinet links the performer’s body and the instrument);
  • The importance of improvisation in groups for social survival and thriving, and the risks of improvising with others (as when Derrida indicates his shame at invoking the words of Coleman’s mother when he does not know her name);
  • The use, place, and risks of deferment, and (similarly) of absence–if we cannot do everything, how can we stop apologizing for what we don’t do?

 

Article: “Can Reading Make You Happier?”

Artist: Tom Gauld

In The New Yorker, Ceridwen Dovey explores the history and practice of bibliotherapy, including her own experience with a program at The New School that used interviews and questionnaires to recommend novels that could prove provocative and therapeutic.  Dovey finds that, in order to be effective, bibliotherapists must keep the reader/patient’s individuality in mind, and refrain from the all-too-common practice of “thrusting a book into your hands with a beatific gleam in their eyes, with no allowance for the fact that books mean different things to people—or different things to the same person—at various points in our lives.”  Read the article in full here.

Image: Tom Gauld, “Lake Monster” (detail)

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.