Vera Tobin – Elements of Surprise: Our Mental Limits and the Satisfactions of Plot

Vera Tobin, currently affiliated with Literature and the Mind and formerly a UCSB Arnhold Faculty Fellow (Postdoctoral), has published a new book: Elements of Surprise: Our Mental Limits and the Satisfactions of Plot.

Elements of Surprise

Here is a description, provided by Harvard University Press:

Why do some surprises delight—the endings of Agatha Christie novels, films like The Sixth Sense, the flash awareness that Pip’s benefactor is not (and never was!) Miss Havisham? Writing at the intersection of cognitive science and narrative pleasure, Vera Tobin explains how our brains conspire with stories to produce those revelatory plots that define a “well-made surprise.”

 

By tracing the prevalence of surprise endings in both literary fiction and popular literature and showing how they exploit our mental limits, Tobin upends two common beliefs. The first is cognitive science’s tendency to consider biases a form of moral weakness and failure. The second is certain critics’ presumption that surprise endings are mere shallow gimmicks. The latter is simply not true, and the former tells at best half the story. Tobin shows that building a good plot twist is a complex art that reflects a sophisticated understanding of the human mind.

 

Reading classic, popular, and obscure literature alongside the latest research in cognitive science, Tobin argues that a good surprise works by taking advantage of our mental limits. Elements of Surprise describes how cognitive biases, mental shortcuts, and quirks of memory conspire with stories to produce wondrous illusions, and also provides a sophisticated how-to guide for writers. In Tobin’s hands, the interactions of plot and cognition reveal the interdependencies of surprise, sympathy, and sense-making. The result is a new appreciation of the pleasures of being had.

Copies of the book are available for perusing in the Literature and the Mind office library.

Lit & Mind Conference: Intersubjectivity and Literature

Intersubjectivity & Literature

PANEL ONE: OTHER MINDS: WHAT ARE THEY GOOD FOR?

Giorgina Paiella — “‘Listen to My Tale’: Storytelling, Attachment, and the Search for Intersubjectivity in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Casey Coffee — “Progress and Circularity: Ambivalent Words and Gazes in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes

Chip Badley (moderator) — “Henry James and Impersonal Intersubjectivity”

Felice Blake and Julie Carlson — “Just Friends”

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PANEL TWO: MIND-MEETING ACROSS TEXTS AND SPECIES

Rebecca Baker — “Cognitive Cyborgs: Internet Literacy in the Age of the Born-Digital”

Baily Rossi — “The Blossoming Self: Dorothea, Rosamond, and the Intersubjective Moment”

Aili Pettersson Peeker (moderator) — “The Imaginary Powers of Imagination: Address, Anticipation, and Difficult Empathy in Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones

Jessica Zisa — “From Despair to Divine Love: Finding Intersubjectivity through the Matrixial Gaze in A Revelation of Love and The Book of Margery Kempe

Sowon Park — “On Intersubjectivity and Limitrophy”

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PANEL THREE: ON RECOGNITION and REMEMBERING

Maddie Roepe — “‘Damn Your Eyes’: Vision, Tactility, and Distance in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse

Tessa Fieri — “Virginia Woolf and the Moment of Arrest”

Dalia Bolotnikov (moderator) — “Intersubjective Mourning: The Poetic Fragmentation of Fred D’Aguiar and Charles Reznikoff”

Rebecca Chenoweth — “‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’: Shared Memory and Subjectivity in ‘San Junipero’”

Kay Young — “‘On her promise of recognition’: Intersubjectivity and Richard Berengarten’s The Manager

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Corinne Bancroft, Literature and the Mind Research Assistant 2016-17 and recent graduate of our Ph.D. program (June 2018), created a beautiful film featuring faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students who make up our Literature and the Mind community. Accompanying the interviews were images from many of our events over the years. In Corinne’s words, the purpose of the film was to “communicate a sense of the history of Lit and Mind” through interviews with “the professors who helped dream, found, and lead” it and with the students who have been “changed, helped, and influenced” by the “ideas, attachments, and community that have emerged” as a result of Lit and Mind’s existence.

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Introduced by Julie Carlson, Aranye Fradenburg Joy’s keynote address and farewell lecture “Organ/ize This:  Intersubjectivity and Trans-Subjectivity in Critical Organization Studies” began with recent work and findings in the discipline of organization studies, and then moved through the current institutional situation of both Literature and the Mind and our English department as a whole. Her talk confronted problems of institutions, underscored the necessity of compassion and joy within organizations, and led us through ways in which Bracha Ettinger’s matrixial theory of trans-subjectivity could help us rethink and reimagine the vital, vibrant possibilities of both our department and Literature and the Mind.

Aranye's Keynote

After the conference, we gathered for dinner and dancing in celebration and honor of Aranye and all she has done for our community — for Literature and the Mind and UCSB’s English Department.

Celebration

Ben Ogden – Beyond Psychoanalytic Literary Criticism: Between Literature and Mind

Ben Ogden (co-author with father Thomas Ogden of The Analyst’s Ear and the Critic’s Eye: Rethinking Psychoanalysis and Literature) has published a new book of interest to Literature and Mind: Beyond Psychoanalytic Literary Criticism: Between Literature and Mind.

 

Ben Ogden
Here is a description, provided by Routledge:

 

Through a series of radical and innovative chapters, Beyond Psychoanalytic Literary Criticism: Between Literature and Mind challenges the tradition of applied psychoanalysis that has long dominated psychoanalytic literary criticism. Benjamin H. Ogden, a literary scholar, proposes that a new form of analytic literary criticism take its place, one that begins from a place of respect for the mystery of literature and the complexity of its inner workings.

 

In this book, through readings of authors such as J.M. Coetzee, Flannery O’Connor, and Vladimir Nabokov, the mysteries upon which literary works rely for their enduring power are enumerated and studied. Such mysteries are thereafter interwoven into a series of pioneering studies of how the conceptions of thinking, dreaming, and losing become meaningful within the unique aesthetic conditions of individual novels and poems. Each chapter is a provisional solution to the difficult “bridging problems” that arise when literary figures work in the psychoanalytic space, and when psychoanalysts attempt to make use of literature for analytic purposes.

 

At every turn, Beyond Psychoanalytic Literary Criticism: Between Literature and Mind acts as a living example of the territory it explores: the space between two disciplines, wherein the writer brings into being a form of psychoanalytic literary criticism of his own making. Forgoing traditional applied psychoanalysis and technical jargon, this highly accessible, interdisciplinary work will appeal to psychoanalysts and psychoanalytic psychotherapists, as well as literary critics and scholars.

Lit and Mind Winter Reading Group, led by Urban Kordes

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.

Kordes Event

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, “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

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.

CCSposter

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.

Bernini

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.

Caracciolo

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.

Kukkonen

conference_presentation

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