Recommended Reading

JJC@ITMM reminded me this morning of the existence of “Neuro Lit Crit” and subsequently of how much I despise it, and that had me furiously typing a response to the Times piece about it–until I remembered I’d already read somebody two years ago who said all I wanted to say. So go read Raymond Tallis’s “The Neuroscience Delusion” and imagine for yourself how I would’ve made those same points, but less aptly and with more footnotes.  Here’s my favorite bit:

That is, by adopting a neurophysiological approach, Byatt loses a rather large number of important distinctions: between reading one poem by John Donne and another; between successive readings of a particular poem; between reading Donne and other Metaphysical poets; between reading the Metaphysicals and reading William Carlos Williams; between reading great literature and trash; between reading and a vast number of other activities – such as getting cross over missing toilet paper. That is an impressive number of distinctions for a literary critic to lose. But that is the price of overstanding.

And while I’m on the subject of things to read, go check out “Constantine’s Bible” at a blog that I recently stumbled across, From the Scriptorium. Ever wondered what the Bible might look like if it were written by Constantine? Or, to put it differently, what it might look like if were written by the powerful organized establishment instead of powerless disparate outsiders? I think Morfudd, the blog’s bloggist, is pretty spot on in suggesting it might be a lot like a medieval saint’s life.  My favorite bit:

Peter would not deny Christ. He would bravely admit his association with him, convert 10 people who happened to be standing around at the time, get on a boat, and sail around looking for 10,990 other people to convert, after which they would all be martyred together.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jeffrey J. Cohen

    You're right, there is a tediousness and predictability about much of it. Some, though, is better … but I've not found any so far that would alter my own critical practices.

  • Fencing Bear

    Thanks for the reference to Tallis's review–a very telling critique. Should be "required" not just "recommended" reading.

  • Christopher

    Over at Language Log they sometimes talk about explanatory neurophillia, and there seems to be a lot of that going on, at least with regards to Byatt. Fer example:

    Philip Davis, at Liverpool University, has been working with scientists on responses to Shakespeare’s syntax, and has found that the connecting links between neurones stay “live” – lit up for longer – after responding to Shakespeare’s words, especially his novel formations of verbs from nouns, than they do in the case of “ordinary” sentences.

    Meaning what, exactly? That Shakespeare's writing is more memorable then everyday writing? Or more pleasurable?

    I think that was clear long before brain imaging was invented.

    It seems like a lot of this neuro lit crit would be just as compelling and sensical even if we had no understanding of underlying brain mechanisms. That seems like a problem.

    I'll also say thanks for linking that Tallis piece; it was very interesting and thoughtful.

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