"Cognitive Studies and the Ontology of Literary Texts"

Lisa Zunshine


Some recent attempts to wed evolutionary psychology to literary studies have demonstrated how troubled such a union could be. Indiscriminate application of domain-specificity theory to the literary analysis often results in the following scenario: one, loosely defined psychological adaptation is framed as the driving cognitive force behind the literary impulse. Instead of hypothesizing the ways in which one particular adaptation or a cluster of functionally related adaptations might have given rise to the earliest forms of fictional narrative, I suggest that the initial elaboration of literary fields (to borrow S. Atran's formulation) was constrained and made possible by the cognitive structures of multiple conceptual domains. Thus the emergence of the literary text is enabled by a convergence of a large number of cognitive propensities of varying architecture and function grounded in their respective core domains. At any given point in our search for the cognitive underpinnings of literature, we should strive toward a triple goal: to account for as many of these propensities as possible; to develop a careful analysis of each of them; to continually increase the level of complexity of our modeling of interactions among them. In my presentation, I will discuss some examples of such an approach, using as a case study a short story by a modern Indian writer Akhil Sharma.


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