The Secret Life of Literature
- Liza Zunshine, Visiting Professor
Scientific coordinator: Emanuele Castano'
Lisa Zunshine is a Bush-Holbrook professor of English at the University of Kentucky, Lexington. She is the most prominent scholar in the field of cognitive literary studies, and her work is both informed by and informs cognitive science.
She is the recipient of a 2007 Guggenheim Fellowship and she has authored and edited eleven books, including Why We Read Fiction: Theory of Mind and the Novel (2006), ; Strange Concepts and the Stories They Make Possible: Cognition, Culture, Narrative (2008); Introduction to Cognitive Cultural Studies (2010), Getting Inside Your Head: What Cognitive Science Can Tell Us About Popular Culture (2012), and The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Literary Studies (2015). Her latest book, The Secret Life of Literature, came out in 2022 and was published by MIT press
Being a writer requires experimenting with what cognitive scientists call “mindreading”: constantly devising new social contexts for making their audiences imagine complex mental states of characters and narrators. In this seminar, Lisa Zunshine will discuss her decade-long work devoted to uncovering these mindreading patterns, which culminated in her most recent book, The Secret Life of Literature (MIT Press, 2022: open access). Central to Zunshine's argument is the exploration of mental states “embedded” within each other: “I think that she thinks that he believes…” She compares literary representations of this dynamic with real-life patterns typically studied by cognitive and social psychologists, asking in particular if writers themselves are aware of the process of generating complex mental states in their narratives.