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Reading Kafka Cognitively

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Erica Wickerson.

We can’t read in any way other than cognitively, of course, but for much of the 20th century this fact was not reflected in academic discourses on literature, which tended to prioritise more complex theoretical frameworks over the specifics of text-reader interactions. Over the past three decades or so, cognitive literary studies has, albeit with many different emphases and commitments, begun to work through the implications of acknowledging that literature exists only through our cognitive engagement with it. Recent rapid advances in many of the fields grouped together under the heading of the ‘cognitive sciences’ make this kind of interdisciplinary dialogue much more viable and fruitful now than it was even 20 years ago. In this talk I use Kafka’s works as a case study to show how a scientifically informed cognitive approach can help us better understand literary texts and readers’ potential interactions with them, including in an empirically testable sense. My approach tries to keep things simple by applying relevant scientific theories and findings directly to the analysis of textual features, through the lens of what I call ‘cognitive realism’. I give examples from the realms of vision and imagination, emotion, and cognitive pathology, and in general advocate an approach to cognition that takes seriously its embodied and enactive essence.

This talk is part of the German Graduate Research Seminar series.

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