OSL Symposium: New Perspectives on Literature and the Brain

Amsterdam (hybrid) | 6 May 2022, 13:00-17:00 | 1 EC

During the first two decades of what many define “the century of the brain”, literary studies have increasingly engaged with new developments from neuroscience and cognitive studies. A growing number of literary scholars, for example, has fruitfully engaged with the novel perspectives offered by 4e cognition — namely the idea that our cognitive processes are embodied in the physical world, embedded in specific contexts, extended into the surrounding environment, and enactive in their relation with the environment. How exactly can these recent findings shed new light on literary texts? And how can literature, in turn, help us better understand the human brain/mind?


In this symposium, four leading scholars will present their ongoing research on literature and the brain:


Paul B Armstrong is Professor of English at Brown University. His most recent book is Stories and the Brain: The Neuroscience of Narrative (Johns Hopkins UP, 2020). This neuro-phenomenological analysis of our embodied cognitive capacity to tell and follow stories is a sequel to his book How Literature Plays with the Brain: The Neuroscience of Reading and Art (Johns Hopkins UP, 2013; Slovenian translation, Arabic and Chinese translations in progress). His Norton Critical Edition of E. M. Forster’s novel A Passage to India was published in 2021; he previously published two Norton Critical Editions of Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness (2006 and 2017).


Marco Caracciolo is Associate Professor of English and Literary Theory at Ghent University, where he coordinates the ERC Starting Grant project “Narrating the Mesh” (NARMESH). His books include Narrating the Mesh: Form and Story in the Anthropocene (University of Virginia Press, 2021), Strange Narrators in Contemporary Fiction: Explorations in Readers’ Engagement with Characters (University of Nebraska Press, 2016) and 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). Together with Karin Kukkonen, he also authored With Bodies: Narrative Theory and Embodied Cognition (Ohio State UP, 2021).


Karin Kukkonen is Professor in Comparative Literature at the University of Oslo. She leads the research and teaching initiative “Literature, Cognition and Emotions” (2019-2023), an interdisciplinary hub that brings together literary studies, linguistics, psychology and neurosciences in a new conversation about literature. She has published extensively in the field of cognitive literary studies, including the books Probability Designs: Literature and Predictive Processing (Oxford University Press, 2020), 4E Cognition and Eighteenth-Century Fiction: How the Novel Found its Feet (OUP, 2019) and A Prehistory of Cognitive Poetics. Neoclassicism and the Novel (OUP, 2017).


Pablo Valdivia is Professor of European Culture and Literature at the University of Groningen, and Associate in Applied Physics at the Harvard Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. From 2014 to 2018, he was president of the Steering Committee of the H2020 European Commission Marie Skłodowska-Curie RISE project “Cultural Narratives of Crisis and Renewal” (CRIC). His current research focuses on active learning, cultural narratives and conceptual metaphor at the intersection between neuroscience, Artificial Intelligence and literary theory. 


Each presentation will be followed by an open Q&A. 


A more detailed programme will be circulated closer to the date of the event; meanwhile, please contact osl@rug.nl  for any questions regarding this event.