Cultures of Mind-Reading: The Novel and Other Minds - ‘Narrative and/as Heterophenomenology: Modelling Nonhuman Experiences in Storyworlds’
Prof David Herman (Durham) on ‘Narrative and/as Heterophenomenology: Modelling Nonhuman Experiences in Storyworlds’ with responses from Dr Emily Troscianko (MML) and Dr James Carney (Social and Evolutionary Science Research Group) followed by refreshments Wednesday 20th November, 4-6.30pm, The Seminar Room, TORCH, Radcliffe Humanities Building with Prof David Herman (Durham) on ‘Narrative and/as Heterophenomenology: Modelling Nonhuman Experiences in Storyworlds’ with responses from Dr Emily Troscianko (MML) and Dr James Carney (Social and Evolutionary Science Research Group) followed by refreshments and discussion. David Herman is Professor of the Engaged Humanities in the Department of English Studies at Durham University. He is author of Storytelling and the Sciences of Mind (MIT Press, 2013) and many other books and articles working at the intersection of literary study and cognitive science. Emily Troscianko is a JRF in Modern Languages at St John’s College, Oxford. Her study of Kafka, Kafka’s Cognitive Realism, will be published early next year by Routledge. James Carney is a post-doctoral researcher in the Social and Evolutionary Science Research Group in Oxford. He is co-editor of Beckett Re-Membered: After the Centenary (2012) and is currently working on a monograph entitled: Life Stories: Towards a Biosemiotic Model of Narrative Signification to be published by de Gruyter. The seminar is the first organized as part of a new project with the working title: “Cultures of Mindreading: The novel and other minds” Report from Cultures of Mind-Reading: The Novel and Other Minds
The session inaugurated a new thread in the Comparative Criticism and Translation Programme which will be investigating ways in which the novel as a form reflects on and contributes to a flexible understanding of how human beings interact with, understand and make sense of each other. David Herman’s presentation focused on the limit case: interacting with and understanding non-human animals, asking where and why we draw the limits of mutual understanding, and looking at the ways in which narratives which focus on animal consciousness can reflect on, expand and explore the limits of human self-understanding. Emily Troscianko, in her response, asked whether there was a lingering commitment in Herman’s otherwise very innovative approach to a model of consciousness as a representation of the world (agent-makes-representation-of-environment-in-its-mind). This is a crucial point. If we want to escape from the idea that literature ‘mirrors’ the world, it is probably helpful to give up the parallel trope that the mind ‘mirrors’ reality and to look to models, like that of Alva Noë, on whom David Herman drew in his presentation, which understand the mind not as a mirror or inner state but as a form of shared practice: a product of things people do together in a shared environment. James Carney emphasized the importance of checking the models of narrative we develop with what can be observed of the way people actually behave. He reminded us of the variety of narrative forms, not all of which we treat in the same way, and not all of which we have the same expectations of. Finally, he issued a caveat about anthropomorphism. However circumspect we are when approaching and trying to understand animal minds, it is all too easy to construct them in the end as nothing more than attenuated human minds. An element which strongly emerged from the discussion was the strength of the assumption that there will be one uniform human mind or one uniform animal mind. But the more we include culture and shared practices of interaction in our approach, the less tenable this will appear. Human beings and dogs learn to interact with each other in specific contexts, so there will be as many varieties of canine minds as there are cultures of dog-handling. The session opened the way for further study of the different cultures through which we learn to engage with other minded beings. (BM)
Participants: Ben Morgan, James Carney, Emily Troscianko, David Herman, Céline Sabiron, K. Earnshaw, Yin Yin Zu, Laura Marcus, John Cook, Kirsten Shepherd-Barr, Laurence Mann, Matthew Reynolds, Stephen Harrison, Mohamed-Salah Omri, Simon Kemp, Xiaofan Amy Li, Lianjiang Yu, Kaitlin Standt, Foranzisha Kohlt, Ian Klinke, Anne Sommer, Rey Conquer, Lia Raitt Kaitt, Barry Murname, Christopher Cheung, San Verhauert, E. Cykoswke, L. Braddork, Alicia Gaj, Brooke Berdtson, Joanna Raisbeck, Benedict Morrison, Harriet Wragg.
Prof David Herman (Durham) on ‘Narrative and/as Heterophenomenology: Modelling Nonhuman Experiences in Storyworlds’ with responses from Dr Emily Troscianko (MML) and Dr James Carney (Social and Evolutionary Science Research Group).