Cognitive Science and Literary Studies






In 1998, Joseph Bizup, Ellen Spolsky, Alan Richardson, Francis Steen, Mark Turner and Lisa Zunshine inaugurated the MLA discussion group on literature and cognitive sciences and agreed that "the literary act --the conception, composition, use, and interpretation of fictional narratives-- constitutes one of the most sophisticated and spectacular manifestations of human cognition. They also believed that "the study of the mind is one of the best avenues to the study of literature." They showed us that:  

by recognizing texts as historically specific records of human minds in action, we can achieve new insights into both individual texts and the cultural milieus in which they exist. Knowledge developed by cognitive science about such subjects as perception, metaphor, concept formation, and categorization can be recruited to support recognizably literary and historical kinds of scholarship and criticism: the exegesis of individual texts, studies of authorial corpuses, examinations of genre, investigations into the structure and parameters of historical discourses, and so on. (MLA 1998 Forum Proposal)

At Purdue University, Professor Howard Mancing has since 1994 been helping students learn about the endless possibilities that an interdisciplinary approach to the human mind  in context offers for literary studies. His seminar on "Cognition and Literary Theory" is very well known and has served as an inspiration to create other similar discussion groups throughout the US and across the Atlantic. Read his essay Against Dualisms, which was originally written as a response to Henry Sullivan's Don Quixote de la Mancha: Analyzable or Unanalyzable?  and originated a juicy debate on the validity of psychoanalysis n the age of cognitive science.

How can cognitive theory help us in our literary research? Here's some other opinions:

In Mark Turner's words
Read his essay on cognitive science and literary theory

What does the MLA say?
You'll find this at CogWeb.

"Toward a New Interdisciplinarity,"
By Mary Crane and Alan Richardson. Abstract of their article.

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