Trying to Grasp What Grips Us:
Nagging Questions about Paradigm Shifts in the Cognition of Fiction
(revised 1 October 2000)
Are we simply redescribing old problems without bringing them closer to solutions? Are we asking new questions on the premature assumption that all older ones have been answered well or can safely be disregarded? Worse still, are we serving up rehashed old answers to questions both old and new?
Proponents of cognitive approaches to the work of fiction had better anticipate charges along such lines before a whole chorus of their opponents (not, of course, at our conference) intones them. I propose to engage in this kind of preventive counterstrike in two ways:
1. Trying to make explicit some fruitful affinities between certain traditional arguments about fiction and the innovative arguments advanced during the conference. I plan to do this at the "wrap-up session" on the basis of notes taken both from website versions of the papers and during the conference.
2. Trying to make most such commentary on my part unnecessary. I hope to do this by offering below a selective check list of some time-honored concepts. This list may prompt our speakers either to build appropriate long-standing concerns into their presentations or to explain briefly why apparently pertinent references to those concerns would in fact be beside the point.
Needless to say, I don't expect that the conference will fully clarify the kind and degree of relevance, if any, of all listed concepts to the cognitive study of fiction. But I think that a systematic beginning along such lines would be an eminently possible step in the right direction. Indeed, several posted abstracts suggest interest in relating recent cognitive perspectives to various traditions of thinking about the work of fiction -- what it does, how, and why.
Please note that this list doesn't include numerous influential terms and concepts which I expect will be brought to our full attention in papers and round tables specifically devoted to relationships among cognitive, feminist, and cultural materialist approaches. My list will be modified in later versions of this abstract in response to suggestions by other conference participants in their posted papers or private communications. Please keep them coming!
Professor of English and Comparative Literature
Department of English, University of California, Santa Barbara CA 93106
Maintained by Francis F. Steen, Communication Studies, University of California Los Angeles