Texture: A Cognitive Aesthetics of Reading

Texture: A Cognitive Aesthetics of Reading

Texture: A Cognitive Aesthetics of Reading

Texture: A Cognitive Aesthetics of Reading


Texture is the latest advance in cognitive poetics. The book grafts feeling and embodied experience onto insights concerning meaningfulness, which the cognitive approach to literature has put forward. Through the key concepts of characterization, tone, empathy, and identification, among others, this book describes the natural experience of literary reading in a thorough and principled way. Accessible and informatively written, Texture combines stylistics, psycholinguistics, critical theory, and neurology to explore the nature of reading as a verbal art, pioneering a new cognitive aesthetics of literature.


This is a work of literary criticism, and literature is defined by its texture.

The proper business of literary criticism is the description of readings. Readings consist of the interaction of texts and humans. Humans are comprised of minds, bodies and shared experiences. Texts are the objects produced by people drawing on these resources. Textuality is the outcome of the workings of shared cognitive mechanics, evident in texts and readings. Texture is the experienced quality of textuality.

Literary criticism has settled recently into a paradigm which is improper and marginalising. Across most of the higher education institutions of the world, and in the pages of the scholarly and quality press, literary scholarship has become an arid landscape of cultural history. Contexts and biographies, influences and allusions, multiple edited textual variants of literary works and their place in social history have become the focus of concern. Interpretation is offered to illuminate critical theory, or to validate a historiography. Aside from a few oases of enlightenment, engagement with text, textuality and texture has largely disappeared from the profession. There are those who call themselves literary scholars who have lost the skills of textual analysis, and who know little or nothing of their basic crafts: linguistics, psychology, sociology, and their inter-disciplines. While cultural and social and political history has its place in literary criticism, the mass migration of thinkers away from the heart of their discipline has rendered the field vacuous. Rational thought, discipline, systematicity, clarity of expression, transparency of argument, evidentiality and analytical knowledge have become the preserve of the few. Meanwhile, discussions of literature become ever more abstruse, further distant from the works themselves, divorced from the concerns of natural readers outside the academy, self-aggrandising, pretentious, ill-disciplined and, in the precise sense, illiterate.

There is of course another way, with origins in the practices of ancient rhetoric – a tradition that has never abandoned the core concern with texts and textuality. Under evolving names and projects, there has always been a thread of literary scholarship which has tried to understand systematically and in principle how language – the essence of literary art – works. Over . . .

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