Literature as Experiment
The novel, says Emile Zola, is a "provoked observation". It presents its readers with an arrangement of characters, events and language that leads them to observe things about themselves through their conceptual and emotional responses. Zola takes up a definition from the sciences here, and argues that the novel works along the logic of the experiment, with its artificial set-ups and new insights.
I will pursue this suggestion in my project and investigate how readers and writers engage in experimentation through literature. Writers play through their word choices and the rhythm of their language, entwining the speech of characters and narrators. I will trace how this process moves between a design for the novel and an improvisation of linguistic and narrative solutions through the study of literary manuscripts and the different versions of published texts, where authors have made revisions. Literary texts themselves have often been understood as thought experiments, as they posit "what if"-scenarios in their fictional worlds. The experiment as "provoked observation", however, goes deeper. From this perspective, texts lead readers to moments of minute recognition about their own thoughts and feelings. I will investigate this phenomenon through research on cognitive approaches to literature, which provides models for how literary texts are entwined with readers' thoughts and feelings. In particular the temporal dimension of novel reading will be important here, as the "provoked observation" unfolds over a longer period of reading and repeated engagement with the text and as the material substrates on which we read change from printed books to screens.
Literature as Experiment understands the novel as a cultural technology that enables us to think in ways which would not be possible without it. The project sketches out a place for literature in the discussions around how human cognitive capacities and cultural achievements develop in tandem, and it argues for the continuing relevance of the novel's "provoked observations" in the digital age.
Kukkonen, Karin. A Prehistory of Cognitive Poetics: Neoclassicism and the Novel. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.
-. "Fantastic Cognition." In Cognitive Literary Science: Dialogues Between Literature and Cognition, edited by Michael Burke and Emily Troscianko, 151-167. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.
-. Contemporary Comics Storytelling. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013.
Publications from the Fellows' Library
Kukkonen, Karin (
Kukkonen, Karin (
Presence and prediction : the embodied reader's cascades of cognition