The Neuronovel: American Fiction in the Age of the Brain
Kauffman, Linda S
MetadataShow full item record
The last few decades have witnessed the growth of the “neuro-industry,” as neuroscientific discourse has thoroughly saturated public and academic culture. While many have eagerly embraced the latest findings about the brain, however, contemporary novelists have resisted the imperial march of neuroscience. My dissertation explores the varieties of novelists’ concerns. I argue that some fiction writers, such as Octavia Butler and Monique Truong, challenge neuroscience’s fundamental positivism—its claim that complex psychological processes can be objectively observed. Others, like Richard Powers, take issue with neuroscience’s over-simplification of narrative terms (i.e. “the brain is the ultimate storytelling machine”). Whereas many neuroscientists and cognitive philosophers describe narrative as a defense mechanism, which upholds the integrity of the self-image, Powers sees narrative as a bridge to more ethical engagement. From his perspective, narrative is not always self-serving; neither is it always a defect, a matter of bad faith. On the contrary, narrative is a means to make the world strange again. My dissertation offers an important counterpoint to the rapidly-growing discipline of Cognitive Literary Studies (CLS). CLS primarily imports concepts from cognitive science to enrich literary studies; for instance, it draws on scientific understandings of the mirror-neuron system to explain the cognitive processes at work during reading. However, by illuminating how contemporary fiction complicates scientific claims, my dissertation reveals ways in which fiction and literary studies can, in turn, inform cognitive science.