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