Academic journal article Style

Introduction: What Is the "Second Generation?"

Academic journal article Style

Introduction: What Is the "Second Generation?"

Article excerpt

1. Preliminary Moves

What does it mean to take a "second-generation" approach to the cognitive study of literature? Since this label can easily lend itself to misunderstandings, we want to make clear that "second-generation" refers to a specific strand in contemporary cognitive science, one foregrounding the embodiment of mental processes and their extension into the world through material artifacts and socio-cultural practices.

"First-generation" theories in the cognitive sciences conceive of the mind as based on abstract, propositional representations. Like a computer, the first-generation mind would process information as largely independent from specific brains, bodies, and sensory modalities. By contrast, "second-generation" approaches--a term coined by Lakoff and Johnson (Philosophy 77-78)--reject previous models of the mind as unduly limited to information processing, placing mental processes instead on a continuum with bioevolutionary phenomena and cultural practices. We treat "second-generation cognitive science" as interchangeable with another, more technical-sounding label used by cognitive scientists--that of "e-approaches" to cognition (Menary; Hutto). Here the e's stand for theories bringing to the fore the enactive, embedded, embodied, and extended qualities of the mind. To this list we may add "experiential" and "emotional," since this new paradigm gives experience and emotional responses a much more important role in cognition than first-wave, computational cognitivism. Bringing these e-approaches together under a common tag is at some level problematic, as Menary points out (459-461), because the theories and methodologies that it encompasses often prove distinct on closer examination. We will have to keep in mind this caveat as we explore the potential of these cognitive models for literary interpretation and theorization. The diversity of the second-generation framework is, in itself, a reminder that--again in Menary's words--"our cognitive lives are rich and varied and that simple homogenous explanations do not do justice to the complexity of cognitive phenomena" (461). At the same time, second-generation approaches also show some remarkable continuities: they converge on a view of the human mind as shaped by our evolutionary history, bodily make-up, and sensorimotor possibilities, and as arising out of close dialogue with other minds, in intersubjective interactions and cultural practices.

These are the shared tenets of a second-generation account of cognition, and the complexity of the resulting framework is, as we will show, perfectly suited to match the complexity of literary (and, more generally, artistic) practices. Hence, this special issue attempts to map out the continuities among e-approaches and bring them to bear on longstanding narrative, literary, and aesthetic questions. In this process of interdisciplinary bridge-building, the essays touch on all the e's of e-approaches, exploring how perception and mental imagery are enacted through sensorimotor patterns (Kuzmicova; Muller), how creativity is extended through material artifacts (Bernini), how the reading process is shaped by embodied schemata and lived experiences (Caracciolo; Kukkonen; Troscianko), and how characters' fictional minds are in themselves embodied and embedded in socio-cultural contexts (Bernaerts). Though our main focus will be on literature, by including Muller's essay on the embodiment of film viewing we would like to underscore the connections between literary scholarship and the neighboring field of film studies, where cognitive approaches have gained explicit recognition, often by drawing on what we are calling "second-generation" cognitivism here.

Contrasting first-generation and second-generation cognitive science does, of course, raise the question of whether a similar split exists, or can be identified, within cognitive approaches to literary narrative. Lakoff and Johnson themselves point out that their distinction "has nothing to do with the age of any individual or when one happened to enter the field. …

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