21 austen and the brain

21 austen and the brain - Of Heartache and Head Injury:...

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Unformatted text preview: Of Heartache and Head Injury: Reading Minds in Persuasion Alan Richardson English, Boston College Abstract The new intellectual climate inaugurated by the cognitive revolution can help elicit neglected contexts for literary historical study, to pose new questions for analysis and reopen old ones. The current challenge to social constructionist ac- countsofsubjectivity,forexample,canleadtoafundamentallynewreadingofJane Austens last novel, Persuasion (). Austens was a period when a dominant con- structionist psychologyassociationismvied with emergent brain-based, organi- cist, and nativist theories of mind. Austen pointedly contrasts a heroine seemingly formedbyahistoryoferoticdisappointmentwithanantiheroine,whosecharacteris transformedinsteadbyasevereblowtothehead,atatimewhenbraininjuryfeatured centrallyindebatesonthematerialityofmind.Moreover,thenovelsinnovativenar- rative style and approach to characterization take up and extend the embodied ap- proach to subjectivity being worked out contemporaneously by Romantic poets and brain scientists alike. How might the study of literary history change in the wake of the cog- nitive revolution (Gardner )? A few literary scholars, most notably MaryCraneandF.ElizabethHart,havebeguntoexplorethetensionsbe- tween relatively stable patterns of cognition and linguistic categorization on the one hand and the specific cultural and ideological milieus within which they develop and gain expression on the other (Crane ; Hart ). Such work illustrates MarkTurners contention (posed elsewhere in this issue) that cognitive theory can inspire a more sophisticated notion of human history by supplementing the prevailing emphasis on cultural Poetics Today : (Spring ). Copyright by the Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics. 142 Poetics Today 23:1 historywithanincreasedattentiontotheclaimsofphylogeneticandonto- genetic history. Even within the current parameters of literary historical studies,however,anawarenessofrecentdevelopmentsincognitivetheory and neuroscience can significantly affect critical practice by shifting atten- tion to previously unexamined issues, providing new terms for the critical lexicon,andreopeningquestionsforeclosedoreffectivelyabandonedbythe reigning consensus. TheBritishRomanticperiod,tociteaparticularlyrichexample,haslong beenviewedasdominatedbyanassociationistaccountofmind,reliedupon by writers as diverse as William Wordsworth and Jane Austen, and chal- lenged primarily by the transcendental idealism best represented by S.T. Coleridge (Caldwell ). However, as cognitive psychology and neuro- sciencehavereturnedfigureslikeF.J.Gall,withhisbrain-based,modular accountofmind,toacentralplaceinthehistoryofpsychology,anewview of BritishRomanticismhasbecomeavailable,onethatplacesitinrelation to the contemporary development of many basic neuroscientific concepts in the work of Gall and other early brain scientists (Marshall ; Clarke...
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21 austen and the brain - Of Heartache and Head Injury:...

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