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Wesleyan University | Center for the Humanities


Weird Science: The Return to Empiricism in Literary Studies

Weird Science: The Return to Empiricism in Literary Studies

LILY SAINT • Wesleyan University

NOVEMBER 21 @ 6 P.M. | Daniel Family Commons, Usdan University Center

Philosophers, cultural theorists, and public intellectuals have long argued that art promotes ethical consciousness, even guiding moral praxis. While the precise way this occurs has been regularly debated, consensus continues to suggest that certain aesthetic works are able to foster fruitful intersubjective relations. This is particularly true in literary studies in which textual encounters are seen to expand the affective and intellectual psychic capacity of readers, and by so doing, aid in the development of hopeful ethical modes of relationality referred to interchangeably as fellow-feeling, compassion, or empathy. In the latest iteration of literary studies’ ethical turn, scholars enlist neuroscientific findings to buttress these longstanding claims about literature with more empirical, materialist forms of evidence. In my talk, I will examine some motivations and assumptions behind this turn to “cognitive cultural studies.” I trouble, particularly, the way that such work reifies certain kinds of literary production, resuscitating curricular emphases and models of canonization previously demoted by the rise of cultural studies.

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