The Routledge Companion to Literature and Cognitive Studies


On-going Project, Edited by Jan Alber and Ralf Schneider

The question of what exactly happens in the minds and bodies of readers when they process fictional literature has fascinated people for a rather long time. Roughly speaking since the 1990s, narratologists, linguists, and reader-response theorists have started to look at different branches of the cognitive sciences to develop theories and models to account for the reading process. This companion will offer about 40 articles by top international scholars in the field of cognitive literary studies who will introduce and critically discuss the latest and most influential theoretical tools to explain the mental and bodily dimensions of literary processing.

Although essay collections on cognitive literary studies already exist, this new companion will distinguish itself by means of a rigorous, thorough, and critical engagement with core issues and debates as well as recent scholarship on literature and cognitive studies. On the one hand, chapters 1-4 (see below) will clarify what exactly a cognitive perspective on literature entails, and why the focus on the nexus of literature and mind-bodies has turned into an important approach (among many others). In this context, we will zoom in on the role of cognitive parameters (such as frames, scripts, and schemata), i.e., knowledge structures in which information is stored; mental (or situation) models, i.e., cognitive representations (such as storyworlds); mechanisms of perception (such as the distinction between figure and ground or primacy and recency effects); and processing mechanisms (such as blending, i.e., the fusing of two input spaces to create a new mental space, and naturalization, i.e., the human tendency to explain the unfamiliar in terms of the familiar). On the other hand, chapters 5-7 (see below) will focus on the latest developments regarding cognitive approaches to literature (including cognitive cultural studies, situated [or 4E] cognition and the role of embodiment, as well as empirical investigations).

The new subfield of cognitive cultural studies addresses the issue of the cultural imbrication of cognitive categories by pointing out that literary processing is highly influenced by cultural contexts. The concept of the ‘cultural model’ (understood as a mental representation shared by members of a certain culture or geographical region) fuses an interest in cognitive parameters and principles on the one hand and cultural studies on the other, thus enabling us to distinguish between universally occurring and culture-specific features of cognition.

Furthermore, 4E approaches to cognition demonstrate how literary understandings are grounded in the bodies of readers (including the prior experiences they bring to the text). They conceptualize mental processes as being embodied (i.e., connected to a body), embedded (i.e., coupled with an environment), extended (because technologies participate in our thinking), and enactive (since the interactions of organisms with environments always involve past and present experiences). One of the central assumptions of situated cognition is that we do not all think, read, or interpret alike; rather, different mind-bodies generate various readings or enactments of literature because they operate in different geographical and historical contexts and bring various experiences (or experiential backgrounds) to the reading situation.

Finally, cognitive approaches provide a plethora of tools which enable us to see literature as a phenomenon that engages our minds and bodies in specific ways. We argue that the field of cognitive literary studies will be most effective if it is combined with an empirical interest in actual (flesh-and-blood) readers. Indeed, the many claims and ideas regarding literary processing as well as our mental and bodily reactions provide ample material for empirical testing. In the context of empirical experiments, participants undergo a certain treatment: they are typically presented with text passages that they are asked to read, while their reactions are measured through, say, questionnaires or elicited in interviews.

All essays will illustrate the usefulness of the cognitive theories and tools by means of selected examples of literature. The goal of these illustrations is to show what the discussed concepts can do but also to highlight their potential limitations. Furthermore, the articles in the handbook will cover approaches to a variety of literary genres and media, and the range of contributors will represent the input to cognitive literary studies by scholars with backgrounds in linguistics, more hermeneutically oriented scholarship (such as narratology), and cognitive psychology – to acknowledge the inherently interdisciplinary nature of the field.

Preliminary Overview of Contents

  1. Introduction (Jan Alber & Ralf Schneider)

Part I: Historical Developments

1. Cognitive Literary Studies: The History of the Field

a) Narratology and Cognition

b) Reader-Response Theory

c) Linguistic Roots

d) Neurobiology and the Study of Literature

Part II: Core Issues and Debates

2. Cognitive Narratology

a) ‘Natural’ Narratology and Experientiality

b) Schema Theory

c) Social Cognition and the Reception of Literary Characters

d) Possible-Worlds Theory and Cognition

e) Theory of Mind

f) The Phenomenon of Narrative Immersion

g) Blending and Literature

h) Cognitive Grammar and Prose Fiction

i) The Cognitive Processing of Experimental Literature

j) Cognition and Literary History

3. Cognitive Linguistics and Literature

a) Stylistics

b) Text-World Theory

c) The Storyworld Possible Self

d) Viewpoint in Literature

e) Metaphor, Cognition, and Literature

f) Cognitive Grammar and Poetry

g) Poetry, Sound, and Cognition

4. Literature and Emotion

a) The Emotional Impact of Literature

b) Empathy and Affect

c) Imagination, Literary Studies and the Cognitive Sciences

d) Neuroscience and Aesthetic Emotions

Part III: New Debates

5. Culture and Cognition

a) Cognitive Cultural Studies

b) Cultural Models and What to Do with Them

c) The Cultural Impact of Literature

d) Narrative, Culture, and Identity

e) The Phylogenetic Basis of Poetic Behavior

6. 4E Cognition and Literary Processing

a) What is 4E Cognition?

b) Towards an Embodied Narratology

c) Literature and Enactments

d) Predictive Processing and the Embodied Reader

e) Situation Models and Embodied Cognition

f) Mental Health and Literary Reading

7. Empirical Literary Studies

a) The Empirical Investigation of Cognitive Processes

b) Foregrounding and Empirical Literary Studies

c) Storyworld and Artifact Absorption

d) Literature and Persuasion

e) Media Format and the Study of Reception Differences

f) Empirical Ecocriticism

g) The Empirical Study of Iconicity: Sound and Poetry