Experimental Form, Experimental Thought? ACLA 2022 Seminar

deadline for submissions: 
October 31, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Aili Pettersson Peeker / University of California, Santa Barbara

Today, experiments about how humans think usually take place in a lab, allowing researchers to locate thought processes in the brain with unprecedented precision. However, writers have experimented with thinking for much longer. For instance, Virginia Woolf argued in her essay “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid" (1940) that a new form of (women's) writing can cause a shift in how British men think and bring about peace. Between the Acts (1941) demonstrates how tone, rhythm, and diction can produce different cognitive registers—Elizabethan, Enlightenment, and Victorian—thus connecting form and cognition. Just as for Woolf, the relationship between cognition and form is intimately connected to questions of gender, and of race, for Toni Morrison. For example, she explained that in order to render the “stereotypically male narrative” of Song of Solomon (1977), she had to pause her experimentation with sequence and time from earlier novels. But why does a “male narrative” require a different form?

This panel seeks to explore if literary experiments with form can also experiment with how we think. Our question draws on existing research in neurocognitive science, neuroaesthetics, cognitive narratology, and 4E cognition that suggests that thought can be driven by formal properties of writing. For example, entrainment through rhythm or repetition (the “when”) can determine selective perception and cognition (the “what”). Topics could include mnemonics; deixis; affordance; narrative structure; and other formal elements that might influence emotions, empathy, and attention. We also invite papers that examine the relationship between script and cognition, such as the capacity of language to communicate through both phonological and lexical routes, as well as issues of translation. We invite a broad range of interdisciplinary papers from any period, genre, and language that speak to how form might experiment with thought.

Link to ACLA webpage for abstract submission: https://www.acla.org/experimental-form-experimental-thought