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Kolloquium Geistes- und Sozialwissenschaften - Joseph Harris, Christian Schneider

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Cognitive approaches to literature


Dr. Joseph Harris (University of London) and Prof. Dr. Christian Schneider (Washington University in St. Louis )

Cognitive approaches to literature
When Nov 21, 2016
from 11:15 AM to 12:45 PM
Where FRIAS, Albertstr. 19, Seminar Room
Contact Name
Contact Phone +49 (0)761 203-97362
Attendees universitätsöffentlich / open to university members
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Joseph Harris: Mind’s Eye or Eye’s Mind? Embodied Cognition and the Seventeenth-Century Theatre Spectator

My paper addresses the prehistory of modern cognitive and phenomenological approaches to literature through the theoretical writings of two of the key architects of French ‘classical’ poetics, Jean Chapelain and François Hédelin, abbé d’Aubignac. Unlike narrative modes of representation – such as novels, epic, or history – theatre was understood to appeal directly to the senses and indeed, quite often, to completely override the need for any intellectual reflection. As I’ll demonstrate, although the aesthetic conventions of seventeenth-century French theatre have long been typecast as abstract or impersonal, they actually emerge out of, and engage with, a very specific – if perhaps debatable – conception of the spectator’s own cognitive capacities and embodied experience.

Christian Schneider: Reading Minds Through Narrative? Approaches to Storytelling and Cognition in Medieval German Epics

In recent years the study of narrative has increasingly turned to cognitive approaches of human storytelling. Among the many aspects of narration that are examined under the label of “cognitive literary studies”, two stand out. “Theory of Mind” (ToM) analyzes how narrative represents mental states and how and on which grounds the reader attributes certain thoughts, feelings, beliefs, desires, etc. to the characters of a story. Also, it has been argued that our brain itself frequently resorts to “poetic” structures, such as metaphor or metonymy, in order to make sense of the everyday world. If it is true that the instruments of thought used to invent and interpret literary texts are basic to everyday thought, they can tell us much about the nature of mind. Picking up on these two strands of scholarship, I wish to discuss one feature of medieval vernacular storytelling that I believe is of particular interest for a cognitivist approach to pre-modern narrative: that is its spatial dimension. I will argue that medieval narrative displays specific forms of embodied, spatial representation; spatial configurations of mental processes may not only affect the design of the story world but also the narrative structure of medieval storytelling itself.