Apr 26 2013

Letter to Editors of The New York Times in Response Article “Can ‘Neuro Lit Crit’ Save the Humanities?”

Published by at 8:34 pm under Uncategorized

To the Editors,

The experts who responded on your blog site to the question of whether  neuroscience and cognitive science will “energize literature departments, and, more broadly, generate excitement for the humanities” generally talk about the ways in which “neuro lit” is or is not the “Next Big Thing” to hit the world of literature. They seem to explain scientific research as outside the realm of literature. But who says that was ever the case?

We can all find an article of scientific research in a haystack of novels. And we all know the difference between the English and neuroscience departments in universities. But who is to say that science and literature are fundamentally different academic disciplines? The term literature, in my view, includes any text. The main distinction between a scientific article and a short story is not so much the words on the page but the way we understand those words–the way we read those words.

Siri Hustvedt has been criticized for blurring the lines between fact–which is a presupposition in itself–and fiction in her own memoir, The Shaking Woman. But maybe she was on to something.

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3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Letter to Editors of The New York Times in Response Article “Can ‘Neuro Lit Crit’ Save the Humanities?””

  1.   Ariel Shapiroon 05 May 2013 at 1:43 pm

    Interesting point of view. I don’t think scientists would take to kindle to this perspective and I imagine some authors would also protest. The idea that it isn’t the words on the page that are fundamentally different, but how the audience reads them and perceives them is a great point. There is no inherent difference between the fictional short story or the scientific report except that when I read one I hope to be entertained and when I read the other I hope to learn facts. How the reader approaches the text makes all the difference.

  2.   shahanaon 15 May 2013 at 8:12 pm

    Interesting, I didn’t actually ever think to think of science or scientific research was within the realm of literature. I always looked at it as two different fields. But now that you mention that literature can mean any text, I can see why you might say there was never a dichotomy between the two to begin with.

  3.   Christopher Vitaleon 19 May 2013 at 5:55 pm

    I would say the distinction you challenge above is a product of the for-profit institution. Funding is the motivating force behind the departments at institutions. After all, all these commentaries come from the struggle to survive at institutions because people may see one or the other to be more profitable. The for-profit education system determines whether one discipline or another is worth keeping.

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