Exciting Neuro-Things

Hi everyone,

I have on my hands two fun neuro-related links, so how can I not share them?

1) The deli by the Grad Center is now selling these: http://drinkneuro.com/  The man behind the counter really tried to sell me on the sleep one, swearing that it works (I refused).

2) If any of you are trying to teach cognitive studies to your undergrads, this might be helpful (I’m going to try to teach the Zunshine article we covered): http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/08/good-intentions-taking-a-cognitive-approach-to-literature-and-stories/

Hope everyone is having a great semester!


NYTimes Debate on ‘Neuro Lit Crit’

Hi everyone,

Hope all is going well with final papers and such.  I don’t know that anyone will be checking the blog anymore, but since it is staying up, I just wanted to post a link to an article debating different views of ‘Neuro Lit Crit’, that I came across before this semester (it is from April 2010 so it may be slightly dated) and in doing research for class came across again:  http://roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/05/can-neuro-lit-crit-save-the-humanities/.



Brainpickings Archival Treasure

The blog Brainpickings has published a bunch of responses to a 16-year-old student’s four questions about symbolism, posed to and answered by an interesting range of well-known writers, including Ralph Ellison (and Bradbury, Kerouac, and Rand):

Interestingly, one of the questions focus on conscious intention versus subconscious origins of symbols, so consciousness becomes a thread in most of the responses.



Perowne and details

In Saturday, McEwan guides us through Henry Perowne’s day– his first sighting of the celestial plane as it crashes through the sky, his daughter’s much anticipated arrival, and his various encounters with Baxter (first on Tottenham Court Road and finally in the late night hum of the ICU). In spite of its compressed temporal framework (no more than twenty-four hours, Perowne’s Saturday) the novel, at times, follows a fairly conventional narrative arch– we have moments of rising action, a climatic moment in the midst of a family dinner, and a sense of the narrative’s dénoument as Perowne slips into bed. Yet, I think what gives the novel its “neuronovel” feel (aside from its more self-conscious references to the brain/mind and neurosurgery) is the way in which we are made privy to not only the ups and downs of Perowne’s day, but the very minuteness of it. McEwan leaves his readers with Perowne as he urinates, sits in a quotidian daze of traffic, and as his gaze wanders toward the various dramas of the neighborhood square.

Interestingly, it’s this very attention to detail that seems to bore Perowne. After reading Anna Kerenina and Madame Bovary, he finds that “the details were apt and convincing enough, but surely not so difficult to marshal if you were halfway observant and had the patient to write them all down” (66). Though Perowne finds such novels to be “the products of steady, workmanlike accumulation, he also seems to relish in the quotidian and the minuteness of everyday life. He finds peace in his son’s “big lashes [and] dark velvety eyes with their faint oriental pitch” (30). His mother’s still well-shaped legs remind him of a proud moment at the pool as a young child. And even in love, Perowne yearns not for the exotic, but the everyday, the routine. Perowne’s very familiar world–his encounters with his family and colleagues and the material objects by which he is surrounded–allow us, as readers, to enter into Perowne’s consciousness, gaining a sense of not only his immediate present, but his past and future.

So why the disdain for the minuteness of the nineteenth century novel? Perowne claims to want the world “explained,” not “reinvented.” Though the novel does not exactly respond to this question, I would like to point out that, in a way, as Perowne fixates on the details of his surroundings, he attempts to explain his affective responses, analyzing why, for example, he feels a sudden sense of nostalgia while examining the objects in his mother’s room. This said, explanation and reinvention seem to go hand in hand here. Perowne, in his moments of self analysis, does not reinvent his material world exactly, yet he creates a perhaps thicker world for his readers. His mother’s room in a nursing home is not limited to its here and now, but becomes a 1950’s swimming pool and a widow’s suburban home. McEwan seems to suggest that explanation, particularly of the quotidian, allows for this kind of reinvention– a way we may understand not only a character’s material world, but the way that world affects and perhaps reinvents a past, present, and future.

Next Week’s Class (Our Last!)

1.Come in prepared to discuss your seminar project .

2.How will establish motive (see Harvey)? What critical or intellectual conversations or contexts will you engage?

3.How would you describe your stance (Harvey again), in relation to some of the following: neurocogntive approaches to literature; cognitive science, neuroscience, psychology, or psychoanalysis; particular trends or strains in the literary representation of consciousness; the philosophy of mind; contemporary “neuro-novels” or “brain memoirs.”

4.What are some of your goals? What challenges do you anticipate? What do you have questions or want advice about?

5. Finally, we should have a celebration during our last meeting. Who wants to volunteer to bring some delicious snacks, drinks, etc. etc.?

English Department’s Conference: Deadline for CFP this Monday!

Hey Everyone,
Just a friendly reminder that the deadline for this CFP is this Monday. I just thought I’d send this out, as our course and course discussions are really ripe for this conference!


Cripples, Idiots, Lepers, and Freaks:
Extraordinary Bodies / Extraordinary Minds

Thursday, March 22 – Friday, March 23, 2012
The Graduate Center of the City University of New York

250- to 500-word abstracts due December 5 to ESAConference2012@gmail.com

Could disability be, as Susan Wendell writes, “valued for itself, or for the different knowledge, perspective, and experience of life” it gives rise to?  This conference seeks to continue—and to expand—conversations about the cultural meanings and possibilities of impairment, as well as the ways that the disabled body becomes a locus for uneasy collaborations and tensions between the social and the scientific. What critical and theoretical perspectives can be brought to bear on human variations that are, or have been, subject to medical authority or understood as requiring intervention?  Emphasizing an interdisciplinary approach to “disability,” we seek papers from graduate students across the humanities (English, art history, music, etc.), social sciences (history, sociology, political science, etc.), and applied fields (law, education, medicine, etc.).  We welcome papers on topics ranging from the aesthetics of illness in medieval literature to the politics of disability in South Park, from the cultural fascination with autistic savants to race, impairment, and spectatorship in freak shows.

Possible paper topics include:
Genre, Aesthetics, and Disability: poetics; visual art, photography, and spectatorship; life writing and illness narratives; metaphors and representations of disability; disability and performance; “outsider art”; impairment and artistic production; comedy and disability

Pedagogy and Disability: teaching disabled authors; writing the body; student embodiments, teacher embodiments; “coming out” and “passing”; disability and composition studies; “special” education

Sexuality, Desire, and Disability: pleasure and the extraordinary body; voyeurism; fetishism; freak shows; sexual practices; queering disability

Epistemology, Subjectivity, and Disability: genius and savantism; the body in pain; affect; “terminal” illnesses; acquired impairments, congenital impairments; stigma and otherness; autistic minds; mental “illness” / mental “health”; trauma, violence, and disability

Intersections of Identity: masculinity and disability; femininity and disability; pregnancy, motherhood, and impairment; race and disability; class and disability; queer identities and disability

History of/and Disability: historicizing disability; historically specific impairments (e.g. hysteria); period-specific studies of disability (e.g. early modern); eugenics; race and/as impairment; evolution and “degeneration”; taxonomy and natural history

Medicine, Science, and Impairment: medicalizations of race, class, sex, body size; addiction and disability; medical and scientific discourse; doctor / patient interactions; concepts and problems of the “cure”; diagnostic manuals and other taxonomies; the human / animal divide

Disability Activism / (Bio)politics: rhetorics of “disability”; activist art; reproductive rights; genetics and eugenics; euthanasia; healthcare; war, disability, and the making of populations; impairment-specific campaigns and organizations

Technology and the Impaired Body: technologies of reproduction; cyborgs; prosthesis; body augmentation / body modification

Please submit 250- to 500-word abstracts to ESAConference2012@gmail.com by December 5, 2011.

 * * *

The conference, sponsored by the English Student Association of the CUNY Graduate Center, will feature concurrent graduate panels on the afternoon of Thursday, March 22, and all day on Friday, March 23.

The keynote address on Friday evening will be delivered by Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, and Jasbir Puar will serve as respondent.  On Thursday evening a plenary panel will discuss the present and future of Disability Studies; plenary panel members include CUNY scholars Sarah Chinn (English, Hunter College), Ruth O’Brien (political science, the Graduate Center), Victoria Pitts-Taylor (sociology, Queens College and the Graduate Center), Talia Schaffer (English, Queens College and the Graduate Center), and Joseph Straus (music, the Graduate Center).

All conference events will take place at the CUNY Graduate Center in midtown Manhattan.

If you have any questions, please email the conference co-chairs, Marissa Brostoff, Andrew Lucchesi, and Emily B. Stanback at ESAConference2012@gmail.com.

In Lieu of Alva Noe

I wasn’t able to get into the Alva Noe talk because it was full so I went to see Peter Brooks speak instead and thought that his talk actually also spoke to our class discussions in interesting ways. He spoke about late (last?) work–in particular Freud’s and Cezanne’s–and made the argument that artists and thinkers often take something like a “radical turn” at the end of their lives. Below are two of the slides of Cezanne’s late work he showed. What struck me about these paintings is the way in which they seem to deconstruct the work that we now know our eyes undertake in composing a scene and I’m wondering if perhaps Cezanne’s late work could be understood as having achieved insight into the work of composition–not just artistic, but perceptual/ cognitive as well. Anyway, they are also just beautiful so enjoy!