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