English 250

Research Seminar: Literature and the Brain

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
3 Fall 2016 Gang, Joshua
Thurs. 3:30-6:30 186 Barrows

Other Readings and Media

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As imaging and computational technologies become more adept at measuring the neurology of reading and writing, literary study faces a number of challenges. Some of these challenges—like instrumentalizing fMRI data or working with live subjects—are relatively recent and raise new questions about what literary criticism can entail. But other difficulties—like literary study’s approach to empirical problems of mind, or the relation between aesthetic experiences and brain states, or the apparent gap between quantitative research and determinations of value—aren’t new at all. These problems already have long literary, scientific, philosophical, and critical histories. And as interest intensifies in cognitive literary study, these older problems intensify and their histories become even more important to know.

Looking across literary periods and national traditions, “Literature and the Brain” will examine both the opportunities and difficulties that cognitive science and philosophy of mind afford to literary criticism. Topics of discussion will include: the relation of self-knowledge, other minds, and dualism to literary form and convention; language acquisition and use; theories of physicalism, supervenience, and multiple realizability; intention, interiority, and memory; theory of mind; the relation of cognitive literary study to older models of literary criticism and “theory”; and recent discussions of neuroaesthetics, cultural neuroscience, Darwinian approaches to literature etc.

Literary readings will likely include those by Dante, Cavendish, Mary Shelley, Coleridge, Woolf, Faulkner, Beckett, Pinter, Haddon, Fanon, Coetzee, McEwan, and Kronovet.

Philosophical and scientific readings will likely include those by Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, Locke, Hobbes, Hume, Hartley, Kant, Bell, James, Lashley, Watson, Skinner, Wittgenstein, Chomsky, Ryle, Sellars, Anscombe, Place, Fodor, Putnam, Davidson, Nagel, Churchland, Gleason, Libet, Mele, Searle, Johnson-Laird, Goldman, Chalmers, Noë, and others.

Critical readings will likely include those by Richards, Wimsatt and Beardsley, Lukács, Kramnick, Lynch, Scarry, Dames, Bérubé, Zunshine, Phelan, Starr, Spiller, Richardson, Jager and Savarese, Ohmann, Vermeule, Spolsky, Phillips, Easterlin, and others.

This course satisfies the Group 6 (Non-historical) requirement.

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