Does reading novels make us more empathetic? What can Kafka’s writing teach us about the neuroscientific study of the self and its disorders? How do our experiences in life affect the way our mind processes literature?
These are just a few examples of the questions a new school of literary criticism is tackling: Cognitive literary studies or Cognitive poetics applies the principles of cognitive science to interpret and analyze literary texts. By focusing on psychological, sociocultural and linguistic aspects of literary texts, cognitive poetics illustrates how exploring literature can contribute to a deeper understanding of human cognition. Conversely, new evidence-based tools from the field of cognitive science enrich and enhance the methodological toolkit of literary studies.
The books on my reading list offer exciting new perspectives on what an empirical approach to literary criticism can look like and how it can contribute to demystify the inner workings of the human mind.
Cognitive literary science : dialogues between literature and cognition (edited by Michael Bruke and Emily T. Troscianko)
Written in an accessible style, the book (aimed mostly at literary scholars) not only makes a case for drawing on cognitive-scientific methods to study literature but reveals the ways in which literature itself can also become an object of study and “testing ground” for theories in cognitive science.
Cognitive Literary studies : current themes and new directions (edited by Isabel Jaén and Julien Jacques Simon)
A short but engaging introduction on the subject: contextualizing cognitive literary studies in the larger field of literary theory and drawing on many textual examples to make its case - from Don Quixote through Kafka to Romantic poetry.
Thinking with literature : towards a cognitive criticism (Terence Cave)
Less academic and formal than the other books on the list, author Terence Cave offers a freewheeling exploration of literature as a “way of thinking”.
The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Literary Studies (Edited by Lisa Zunshine)
A deep dive into the subject matter: this hefty volume offers a broad overview on the field, but risks alienating casual readers.