SMART Lecture – Marco Caracciolo (Ghent): Narrative Beyond Anthropocentrism: Embodying the Nonhuman

Date: 12 May 2017, 16:00-17:30
Location: University of Amsterdam, Oudemanhuispoort F 0.01

Narrative Beyond Anthropocentrism: Embodying the Nonhuman

Narrative is a practice geared toward what psychologist James J. Gibson called the “intermediate world”—that is, the human-scale world of everyday perception. One of the upshots of this idea is that storytelling has, in Monika Fludernik’s (1996, 13) term, an “anthropomorphic bias.” It is not just that narrative understanding is embodied, as psychologists and psycholinguists have persuasively shown; at a very fundamental level, narrative implies human forms of embodiment.

This talk engages with stories that resist this bias, putting the reader in touch with a wide array of nonhuman realities—including the experience of nonhuman animals, the “deep” temporality of evolution, and a cosmic perspective on human affairs. To explore these narratives, I will draw on work on the embodied basis of narrative comprehension in fields such as psycholinguistics and cognitive linguistics. My central claim is that, when approached creatively, embodiment becomes an opportunity for this kind of narrative: through a process of what I call “bodily defamiliarization,” readers’ imagination may be elevated—temporarily, of course, and tentatively—beyond the human. In this way, the talk demonstrates how cognitive literary studies is not just a productive framework in itself, but one that can make a significant contribution to other areas of discussion, particularly the environmental humanities and human-animal studies.


Marco Caracciolo is a postdoctoral researcher at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies in Germany. In February 2017 he will move to Ghent University in Belgium, where he will coordinate the ERC Starting Grant project “Narrating the Mesh” (NARMESH). Marco’s work explores the phenomenology of narrative, or the structure of the experiences afforded by literary fiction and other narrative media. He is also interested in the dynamics of interpretation and in engaging with characters, especially characters whom readers perceive as “strange” or deviant (narrating animals, serial killers, cyborgs). He is the author of three books: The Experientiality of Narrative: An Enactivist Approach (De Gruyter, 2014; honorable mention for the Perkins Prize of the International Society for the Study of Narrative); Strange Narrators in Contemporary Fiction: Explorations in Readers’ Engagement with Characters (University of Nebraska Press, 2016); and A Passion for Specificity: Confronting Inner Experience in Literature and Science (co-authored with psychologist Russell Hurlburt; Ohio State University Press, 2016).