Academic journal article Style

Interpretation for the Bodies: Bridging the Gap

Academic journal article Style

Interpretation for the Bodies: Bridging the Gap

Article excerpt

Introduction

Narratologists and literary scholars have often drawn attention to the problematic role of interpretation within cognitive approaches to narrative and literature (see Jackson; Easterlin 20-27; Ryan). How is it possible to reconcile literary interpretation as a specifically cultural form of meaning-making with the generalizing aims and reductionist methods of the cognitive sciences? This discussion on the scientific status of interpretation goes back at least to Wilhelm Dilthey's distinction between "Erklarung" (causal explanation, the goal of scientific investigation) and "Verstehen" (interpretive understanding as practiced in the human sciences; see Gallagher). "Erklarung" attempts to explain phenomena through scientific methods, in terms of their underlying causes, while "Verstehen" makes sense of human agency and cultural practices by referring to their subjective significance. Focusing on the integration of knowledge across disciplinary boundaries, today's theories of "consilience" (Wilson) and "vertical" or "conceptual integration" (Barkow, Cosmides, and Tooby; Slingerland 9-11) have put the relationship between scientific knowledge and interpretation--"Erklarung" and "Verstehen"--back on the agenda of interdisciplinary research. As Wilson himself suggests, "[!Interpretation is the logical channel of consilient explanation between science and the arts" (230). Interpretation is where the divergences between scientific and humanistic methods are at their most evident, thus representing a crucial test bed for any cognitive approach to cultural artifacts.

Evolutionary critics such as Joseph Carroll, Brian Boyd, and Jonathan Gottschall have made a step towards a fully consilient literary criticism,2 but as Nancy Easterlin notes their (and especially Carroll's) "strong appeal for scientific study ultimately [points] in the direction of a very different kind of discipline, one that perhaps locates human nature rather than literature as it primary object of study" (18). As Easterlin puts it, restating Dilthey's opposition, there is no obvious way in which the "unimaginable complexity of interpretation" (20; see also Nordlund) can be subjected to scientific procedures of hypothesis testing and validation. My article takes on board the difficulty of closing the gap between literary interpretation and scientific knowledge and responds to this difficulty by sidestepping it: if the gap cannot be closed, it can at least be bridged--or so I will suggest. Rather than attempting to reduce interpretation to scientific methods or even theories, I would like to explore how these two domains of inquiry are or could be related across the gap: literary interpretation may not sit comfortably with the goals or methods of scientific inquiry, but it still addresses, and can interact with, processes that fall under the purview of the hard sciences. Perhaps zooming in on these processes will reveal something about the structures that underlie the sheer diversity and complexity of interpretation.

This article proposes that the notion of embodiment--which lies at the core of the second-generation cognitive sciences (Lakoff and Johnson)--can provide a link between hermeneutics and bio-evolutionary and cognitive levels of analysis. Embodiment is an existential condition, our being tied to biologically finite and phenomenologically conscious bodies. As such, embodiment is an object of constant cultural reinterpretation. But human embodiment is also the result of an evolutionary history and fundamentally shapes any psychological process, from emotional responses to higher-order meaning constructions (Anderson; Gibbs). All in all, embodiment provides an integrative framework in which different levels of analysis can coexist and constrain one another while remaining distinct in their respective aims and methodological tools. I call this framework "embodiment spectrum," and I stress that this spectrum is respectful of epistemological divides as well as of what we may regard as the autonomy of interpretation--its value for its own sake, regardless of its compatibility or commensurability with scientific knowledge. …

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