About This Blog

This ‘About’ page was first written in November 2013; a one-year-in update can be found here, a two-year-in update here, a three-year update here, the fourth here, and the fifth here. But a Closedown, temporary I hope, was announced here. There is reasonably up-to-date information on my research here.

What Literature Knows About Your Brain was started by me, . I teach English at the University of Cambridge and I’m a Fellow of Murray Edwards College. I specialise in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century literature. Shakespeare is the focus of a lot of my teaching and, recently, most of my research.
           I began reading the work of cognitive scientists in order to refresh my thinking about literature. I think it had a positive effect: I was picking up new ways of understanding recognition, memory, time, perception, and more, all of which were opening up the nuances of literature. However, I felt that many of the works I was studying seemed to be full of insight already. I saw ways in which these literary works already had answers to the questions behind the science.
           I have written , and two articles (one on , and the other on ). I have ongoing and forthcoming work (which I’ll mention in a blog post when it comes out) on perception and attention in drama, on spatial form in poetry, and (one day) a book on memory and . In all this work, at some level, I am interested in what literature knows about your brain.

For several reasons, I have decided to pursue this interest in a blog. First, I don’t think I have enough of the answers, but every bit of I have done has added a great deal to my thinking. I hope that others will post here, and comment here, and I would like this to involve people from a variety of disciplines.
           Second, I keep seeing opportunities to put literature and cognitive science into conversation. I don’t have the time or the intellect to pursue them all properly in the form of full-length articles. Blog posts of about 1000 words give me the chance to start a conversation. I will add them from time to time, but there is a real chance here for people to add their own. Sceptics are welcome, but I hope it’ll be obvious from the way I am doing things that this is meant to be a good-humoured endeavour.

People who want to contribute should just get in touch with me. I am open to suggestions and to different sorts of post. For my part, I’ll be fairly consistent. I plan to use the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences as a way into the problems that cognitive scientists are tackling. I will see if I think literature can help. At times there will be cross-purposes, but I hope that ‘we wouldn’t start from here so…’ can be adjusted to ‘we wouldn’t start from here but…’, and a truly interdisciplinary conversation can result.

E-mail me on rtrl100[AT]cam.ac.uk.
Shakespeare, Rhetoric and Cognition (Cambridge University Press, 2011)
’Recognition in Cymbeline’, in Late Shakespeare 1608-1613, ed. Power and Loughnane (Cambridge University Press, 2012)
’The Shakespearean Grasp’, Cambridge Quarterly, 2013
I am using this as a catch-all term to describe moments where literature works connect with one another, by imitating or alluding or just, without evident intention, evoking.
I would like to acknowledge Greg Davis and Zoe Svendsen; everyone involved in the Balzan-funded project ‘Literature as an Object of Knowledge’, and especially its director Terence Cave; Felix Budelmann, Mary Crane, Emma Firestone, Laurie Maguire, and Evelyn Tribble.
E-mail me on rtrl100[AT]cam.ac.uk.

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