Rethinking the Brain Novel: Towards Experimental Representations of Fictional Consciousness (Panel)
Since the origins of the English novel, and the rise of philosophical materialism in the wake of Rene Descartes, David Hume, and John Locke, English fiction writers have been interested in capturing the neural activity of the brain through narrative style, form, and genre. In the same vain, in The Feeling of What Happens (1999), Antonio Damasio, having cited Hume and Descartes as precedents for contemporary neuroscience, contends that “consciousness may be produced within the three pounds of flesh we call brain” (28). Damasio’s comment translates a reductionism whereby the immaterial experience is reduced to the function of the neurons. As far as fiction is concerned, that pithy statement has presumably accelerated a radical shift from the psychological novel where self is mind to the brain novel where self becomes brain. Although the contemporary neuro-novel has a long literary-historical legacy, there is increasing pessimism in millenial neuro-fiction. In other words, cognitive fiction translates a new contemporary pessimism, in the sense that every aspect of the self is pre-programmed. Neurofiction thus is synonymous with nihilism a la Nietzsche or Darwin. These queries will be investigated in light of a selection of philosophical, neurobiological, and critical texts, and literary texts.
The panel will investigate the extent to which pessimism is linked to studies of mental and neural pathologies at the turn of the millennium. We welcome close readings of neuronovels or memoirs that focus on medical pathologies of the brain.