Norman N. Holland

    The full syllabus for the seminar is available at

Head and Brain

    This is an exploratory seminar in a new field: the relation between what we are finding out about the brain--cognitive science--and what we think we know about literature. In the last two decades we have seen an explosion of knowledge about the brain. I'm interested in how the new discoveries about the brain and the processes of perception, memory, word recognition, speech and reading, cognitive development, metaphor, and personal identity, might bear on some of our ideas in literary criticism and theory. In 1998, there was a large, multi-session, big-audience Forum at the MLA devoted to this topic, and I suspect it will be a growing area of interest in the literary world.

    These are some of the issues I plan to open up. How are language capabilities embodied in the brain and how do they function? How do we acquire a persistent personality and with it a literary style? What is a possible brain basis for shared audience responses? How does metaphor enter into cognition? How do cultural materials have an evolutionary effect? What in the brain makes trouble for reader-response critics? What is the "willing suspension of disbelief"? What goes on when we read? What are some Chomskyan and post-Chomskyan ideas of language? What are the relative roles of the mammalian and neo-mammalian brain; kinds of memory? Did language ability evolve? How does culture become inscribed in the child's growing brain? In this seminar, we shall explore ways in which these new discoveries bear on our understanding of literature and the literary processes of creation and response. We shall be reading such people as: Noam Chomsky, George Lakoff, Mark Johnson, Hanna and Antonio Damasio, Jerry Fodor, Heinz Lichtenstein, Steven Pinker, Terrence Deacon, Gerald Edelman, some psychologists of reading, and some people who have begun to apply these ideas to literary questions: Richard Ohmann, Mark Turner, Ellen Winner, and myself. There will be little or no literary reading, but much discussion of literary questions. Virtually all of the reading will be in neuroscience.

    Because it is an exploratory seminar, I hope for a good deal of improvisation as we find this or that author or topic fruitful. I hope to cover a wide range of material by having students write reports of books for the other members of the seminar. Because a term paper is not appropriate for this level of this subject, there will be a final exam (50%), and grades will be based on that plus reports on outside reading (30%) plus participation in online and class discussion (20%). If you wish to write a term paper, we can arrange that, but the final exam is obligatory. You can contact the instructor at, and my home page is: . The syllabus for the course is at:

ENG 4936 The Brain and the Book
Meets in: Matherly 251

My office is Turlington 4221---
My secretary, Mrs. Moreno: Turlington 4730
on Wednesdays at 4:05-7:05 p.m., periods W9-11

But please use the telephone
392-7332 (O) or 377-0096 (HO)
or, best of all, e-mail: