Pragmatist Realism: The Cognitive Paradigm in American Realist Texts

by Sämi Ludwig (University of Berne, Switzerland)

University of Wisconsin Press, forthcoming.


Literary realists have often been dismissed by later writers of the modernist and post-structuralist schools for their lack of aesthetic sophistication and etymological naivete. In Pragmatist Realism, Sämi Ludwig argues that the artistic quality of realist texts is better appreciated by approaching them from a cognitive perspective, rather than from a linguistic or formalist one.

Ludwig notes that literary realism arose from the same cultural scene as the pragmatist philosophy of William James and Charles Sanders Peirce, and that cognitive psychology built upon pragmatist philosophy. He argues that the aim of realist writers, like that of cognitive scientists, is to track the arc of learning from experiences. Ludwig contends that this cognitive perspective is a useful corrective to other approaches to literary criticism that focus on textual hermeneutics. He argues further that the cognitive paradigm can enhance our understanding of literary representation, not only in realist works by Mark Twain, William Dean Howells, Henry James, Charles Chesnutt, and others, but in literature generally.