The cognitive sciences are beginning to look at decoupled cognition as a key to understanding complex human cognition. I present William Wordsworth's project of writing a history of the growth of the imagination as an early and illuminating attempt to gain recognition for the central significance of fictional thinking. These include phenomena such as dreaming, pretend play, explicit episodic recall, mind reading, and the ability to tell and comprehend stories. Approaching the text from the conventionally separated disciplines of literary studies and neuroscience, I argue, can be mutually illuminating. Specifically, recent research on dreams, play, and mind reading can be helpful for understanding what is at stake in the Romantic interest in the imagination. At the same time, central topics in Romanticism, such as the limits to the power of the imagination and the nature of the self, pose a challenge to cognitive neuroscience. Through a close reading of Wordsworth's manuscripts, I attempt to formulate that challenge in the form of a cognitive and neurological hypothesis about the nature of the autobiographical self.
Francis Steen is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of English. His dissertation, Negotiating the Natural Mind, returns to the "first cognitive revolution" of the eighteenth century to negotiate the significance of opening up literary and cultural studies to the cognitive sciences. His first article, "The Time of Unremberable Being: Wordsworth's Autobiography of the Imagination," will be published in Autobiography Studies this spring.
© 1998 Francis F. Steen, Communication Studies, University of California, Los Angeles