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Bridging Heterodox Views on Language and Symbols: Gilbert Durand’s Imaginaire and Mark Johnson’s Image Schemata

Summary

This paper aims to bridge anthropological and cognitivist research undertaken by Gilbert Durand and Mark Johnson, who studied the phenomenon of meaning making in a similar way, although they had to use different terminology as their disciplines demanded. Durand established systematization for analyzing symbolism by taking into account the position of the body and the perceptions determining the underlying schemata of symbols. Two decades later, Mark Johnson described image schemata as gestalts having an internal structure derived from bodily perceptions. Owing to these similarities, a comparison between Durand and Johnson’s theories is offered first. In the second place, I reviewed the cognitive value of the anthropological regimes of imaginaire described by Durand. During the analysis, the terminology used by these theorists (like ‘image schemata’ or ‘axiomatic schemata’) was comparatively analyzed to find common ground between their positions. In conclusion, the need for recovering theories of imagination proposed by heterodox scholars like Durand is highlighted, since they anticipate the role of images and imagination not only in language, as Johnson demonstrated, but also in the formation of anthropologically relevant symbols, which are of interest for the analysis of literature and other arts.

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Cognitive Contagion: Thinking with and through Theatre

Summary

Theatre offers an opportunity for communities to think with and through fiction. We come together to hear and tell stories because it is moving, both in the literal and the figurative sense: it changes us. Theories from cognitive science of embodied cognition make clear that making sense of theatre is a full-bodied affair. In this essay, I argue that we can see moments when theatre invited its audience to think in new ways by shifting theatrical conventions. I explore how a contemporary production of Hamlet, Pan Pan’s production of “The Rehearsal: Playing the Dane”, brings its audience to question the stability of the self and text by altering the conventions around casting and representation. This is theatre that I may not understand in a traditional way, but this gives me a way to understand a new way of thinking about the world around me. It is theatre I can use.

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Editorial
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Embodied Simulation. Its Bearing on Aesthetic Experience and the Dialogue Between Neuroscience and the Humanities

Summary

Embodied simulation, a basic functional mechanism of our brain, and its neural underpinnings are discussed and connected to intersubjectivity and the reception of human cultural artefacts, like visual arts and film. Embodied simulation provides a unified account of both non-verbal and verbal aspects of interpersonal relations that likely play an important role in shaping not only the self and his/her relation to others, but also shared cultural practices. Embodied simulation sheds new light on aesthetic experience and is proposed as a key element for the dialogue between neuroscience and the humanities within the biocultural paradigm.

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Empathy in Modern Drama: Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera

Summary

The aim of this paper is to compare Brechtian theory concerning empathy in theatre and recent studies showing the biological basis of empathy. First of all, a brief summary about the concept of empathy is provided, with particular attention to empathy in Brechtian theatre. Then, a paragraph is dedicated to explain how empathy and emotional involvement are linked to neurobiological mechanisms and body state. In the end, an analysis of the Verfremdungseffekte in the Threepenny Opera is traced to understand how recent studies contradict Brechtian theory as far as empathy is concerned.

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Empathy or Empathies? Uncertainties in the Interdisciplinary Discussion

Summary

The term empathy has become a linguistic commonplace in everyday communication as well as in interdisciplinary research. The results of the research questions, raised in the last hundred (and more) years, coming from different areas, such as aesthetics, psychology, neurosciences and literary theory, lack in fact a clear concept of empathy. Not surprisingly, a recent paper has identified up to 43 distinct definitions of empathy in academic publications. By reconstructing the main research lines on empathy, our paper highlights the reasons for this conceptual inadequacy and the deficiencies in the theorization of empathy that create misleading interpretations thereof. Along the line connecting Plato’s insights on empathic experiences to the present neuroscientific experiments, a broad spectrum of issues is deployed for which “empathy” functions as an umbrella term covering a net of categorical relationships – projection, transfer, association, expression, animation, anthropomorphization, vivification, fusion, and sympathy – that only partially overlap. Our paper therefore recommends that “empathy” should not be assumed as a self-evident notion but instead preliminarily clarified in its definition every time we decide to have recourse to it.

Open access
Neurohermeneutics A Transdisciplinary Approach to Literature

Summary

In the epistemic frame of the biocultural turn and of the neuroaesthetics, we have developed neurohermeneutics as an approach to literature that aims at contributing to the current debate about the linkage between literary, cognitive and neuroscientific studies, focusing on the relationship between mindbrain processes mirrored in the formal features of the text and the strategies activated by the author in a text in order to guide the reader in imagining, emotionally feeling and cognitively getting meanings out of the literary experience. The aim of the neurohermeneutical approach is to grasp and describe phenomenologically the mirroring process between the two extremes of the literary experience, i.e. the writer’s creative process as it is mirrored in the formal features of the literary work and the reader’s imaginative reconfiguration of the text, and what they share in common. The reader revives the mental imaginative processes of the author by creating his/her unrepeatable individual experiences of the text and subjectively redesigning it in an endless loop of features that trigger the imagination and its creative potential both while writing and by reading literature.

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Notes Towards a (Neurobiological) Definition of Beauty

Summary

Humans know when they themselves experience beauty, even though the term itself has been difficult to define adequately for a variety of reasons. Given this centuries’ old failure to give an adequate definition of beauty, perhaps the time has come to enquire whether the experience of beauty, regardless of its source, can be defined in neural terms.

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Representation and Immersion. The Embodied Meaning of Literature

Summary

This article explores the relations among three forms of representations (artistic, mental, and neural) and immersion, considered as an altered state of consciousness, in the context of literary reading. We first define immersive reading as an intensification of our embodied experience of literary representation, in accordance to neuropsychological studies about embodied cognition. We further consider the style of interpretation demanded by such immersive reading and its ethical and ecological underpinnings.

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