chapter  7
COGNITIVE SCIENCE
ByJOSEPH TABBI
Pages 12

While the expansion of cognitive studies has meant, for some, an opportunity “fully to integrate the evolutionary human sciences and literary study” (Carroll 2009), one could argue that the literary arts always have been about cognition, consciousness, and their coevolution. Critical landmarks in the field – for example, Ingarden’s Cognition of the Literary Work of Art, Szanto’s Narrative Consciousness, and the essays collected in Richardson and Spolsky’s Work of Fiction – require no “and” between the cognitive and literary terms in their titles: literary work is cognitive, narrative is an enactment of consciousness, and fictions do a kind of work (consistent with the mind’s continual need to fill “gaps in nature,” the title of a pioneering book by Spolsky). It may be true that, with the explosion of knowledge about and ways of picturing the mind’s operation, we now have a “novel theory of consciousness” (see Lloyd 2003) – that is, an actual, falsifiable theory presented in the form of a detective novel (with the theory itself set out in an appendix). Actually, we have many novel theories, often advanced by scientists entering territories once inhabited predominantly by literary and cultural scholars. Before one welcomes the merger of literary studies and the contemporary

cognitive sciences, however, it is worth revisiting briefly the way that a literary discipline emerged not by embracing every aspect of cognition under investigation in the sciences, but rather through a process of selection and the setting of institutional boundaries. In rejecting a primary concern with biography and the psychological peculiarities of individual authors, Roman Ingarden was not detaching literary knowledge from knowledge about the world. Though consistent with New Criticism’s rejection of the “fallacies” of authorial intention and readerly paraphrase, Ingarden did not, like many of his New Critical contemporaries, isolate texts from social or scientific knowledge. Rather, the cognition of the literary work was shown to consist of an extensive interaction between conscious and unconscious activity – richer by far, from the perspective

of how phrases, sentences, narratives, and characters actually develop, than the notional categories offered by psychoanalysis. Rather than becoming “constantly diverted into other fields of investigation, primarily into a historically colored individual psychology of the poets,” Ingarden sought (following Husserl) to reorient aesthetics by looking at ways in which “the literary works themselves made us aware of specific artistic problems” (Ingarden 1968: 3, 4). Similarly, Szanto (1972) regarded the “novel as a world in itself,” with its nar-

rating viewpoints, social context, and ecological environment as carefully edited as its textual content. The determining presence of all that is unseen, unrecorded, but nonetheless active at the horizon of consciousness, would eventually distinguish cognitive criticism from more sequestered, largely exegetical forms of critical writing. The innovative take among early cognitive critics on the relation of textuality and a largely non-textual environment was consistent with the mind’s own capacity for separating itself from its environment even as consciousness and a unique personality are shaped by highly selective input from the environment. This combination of self-enclosure at the level of operation (composition, reading, and cognizing) with selective openness to information places cognitive criticism closer to systems approaches than to deconstruction and the latter’s perpetual deferral of meaning in chains of material signification. At the same time, an emphasis on communications within and among separate modules has much in common with media discourse theory, since both approaches emphasize not textuality alone but rather the constitutive coupling of bodily agency, technics, and textual signification (see Hansen 2006). Another innovation that distinguished early cognitive criticism was its una-

bashedly evaluative stance, since its concern with “specific artistic problems” (in an environment of mostly operational discourse and instrumental activity) was consistent with the selective processes required by mental operations. Ingarden, for example, made a point of putting the process of evaluation back on the agenda of literary studies:

Works of belles-lettres lay claim, by virtue of their characteristic basic structure and particular attainments, to being “works of art” and enabling the reader to apprehend an aesthetic object of a particular kind. … [Works] can be “genuine” and “beautiful”; generally speaking, they can be of artistic or aesthetic value; but they can just as well be “bad,” “not genuine,” “ugly” – in short, of negative value. We can experience all these works aesthetically; we can also apprehend them in a preaesthetic cognition or in a cognition which is itself not aesthetic but which builds upon the aesthetic experience.