First Speaker, Main Forum Session
The Study of English in the Age of Cognitive Science, An Update
For over a decade, the cognitive study of literature has progressed under the same general guiding principles: a human child with a standard genetic and developmental endowment, born into a human environment, cannot fail to develop a basic set of universal, everyday cognitive abilities that are the essential instruments of literary acts. The research design of cognitive studies has remained stable. But the reception of cognitive literary criticism has changed dramatically. At first, crude popular concepts of the relationship of biology to culture (e.g., concepts must be either cultural or "hard-wired") interfered with its reception. As literary critics have learned more about complex adapative systems, neurobiology, language, evolutionary thinking, child development, and cognition, cognitive studies has acquired a new reputation.
My talk will provide a reception history of the field and an overview of new developments. As scholars in cultural studies are becoming aware that local cultural construction accounts for only some aspects of human meaning, so scholars in cognitive studies are increasingly finding time to pursue and publish analyses of specific texts, to reveal how basic mental capacities operate over highly local cultural frames in the production and interpretation of those texts. In cognitive studies, greater attention is being paid to the way universal human abilities are exercised in local cultural moments. Although not explained by historical change, material settings, and social and cultural practices, cognition is always embedded in them, and since specific human actions and thoughts inseparably combine cognition and culture, it is appropriate to look for an academic integration of cognitive studies and cultural studies. Cognitivists have often taken up the challenges of cultural and historical studies – as when Sweetser analyzes the concept of lie in different cultures, or Turner analyzes the historical changes in connotations of kinship terms used metaphorically in European literature. Cognitive poetics and culture studies need to take up the challenges each poses to the other.
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