I've gathered my posts on poverty of cognitive criticism into a single working paper (title above). Download here:
Social Science Research Network: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2656245
Abstract, table of contents, and introduction below.
Abstract: While literary criticism based on cognitive, evolutionary, and neuropsychology has been relatively successful in addressing a wide variety of issues in theory, poetics, and narratology, it has been less successful in accounting for individual literary texts (practical criticism). Moreover it has been unsuccessful in identifying issues where practitioners of those psychological disciplines can benefit from literary criticism. As long as literary criticism remains grounded in discursive thought, where the primary thinking is captured by the prose on the page, it will not be of much value to disciplines where much of the critical thinking takes place in the forms of experimental design, execution, and data analysis, mathematical and formal models, and computer simulation. Furthermore, these newest forms of literary criticism have neglected computation as a model for mental processes, yet that is what precipitated the cognitive revolution. Properly understood, a computational view allows us to treat literary form as the trace of a computational process. It thus follows that literary critics should be producing detailed analytic descriptions of literary texts. Finally, the subjective activity of interpretation should be recognized as a separate intellectual activity and should reincorporate the normative activity (criticism proper) that it has put at arm’s length.Contents
Introduction: Theory and Practice in a Broken World 2
Alan Richardson Makes a Case 9
What I Learned When I Walked off the Cliff of Cognitivism 14
The key to the treasure IS the (form of the) treasure 25
The ‘Middle Way’, What It Can and Cannot Do 41
It’s Time to Leave the Sandbox 51
Appendix 1: The Disciplines of Literary Criticism 58
Appendix 2: Cog Sci and Lit Theory, a Brief Chronology 61
Appendix 3: A Graduate Syllabus in Naturalist Literary Criticism 66
Consolidated References 70
Introduction, Theory and Practice in a Broken World
In his Preface to Reading Minds: The Study of English in the Age of Cognitive Science (1991) Mark Turner declared that the age of cognitive science would put literature at the center of the study of the mind . Over two decades later that future has not yet become the present. Just this year Alan Richardson has written an essay-review of two new books in cognitive literary studies, “Once upon a Mind: Literary and Narrative Studies in the Age of Cognitive Science” , in which he laments that the authors of those books, while calling for students of cognition and the brain to adopt methods from literary studies, have themselves failed to make a compelling case for a line of inquiry where investigators of the cognitive sciences places methods and evidence from literary studies on par with their own methods and evidence (see my first post, Alan Richardson Makes a Case).
What we have here is a failure of interdisciplinary reciprocity. The traffic between literary studies and the cognitive sciences is still pretty much one-way. It is that failure that prompted me to start drafting what I thought would be a single longish – 1500 to 3000 words – post.
But it didn’t work out that way. It just grew and grew, so I broke it in two and published the first piece. And the second grew and grew, and I ended up with five long-form posts. Now it’s time to call a halt to this project and move on to the next.