Catalogue


Why do we care about literary characters? /
Blakey Vermeule.
imprint
Baltimore : The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010.
description
xvi, 273 p. : ill.
ISBN
0801893607 (hardcover : alk. paper), 9780801893605 (hardcover : alk. paper)
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
Baltimore : The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010.
isbn
0801893607 (hardcover : alk. paper)
9780801893605 (hardcover : alk. paper)
contents note
The fictional among us -- The cognitive dimension -- What hails us? -- The literary endowment: five mind-reading turns; four openings; free indirect discourse; Machiavellian narratives; attention; the drama of differential access to social information -- The fantasy of exposure and narrative development in eighteenth-century Britain -- God novels -- Gossip and literary narratives -- What's the matter with Miss Bates? -- Mind blindness -- Postmodernism reflects: J.M. Coetzee and the eighteenth-century novel.
catalogue key
7018923
 
Includes bibliographical references (p. [255]-263) and index.
A Look Inside
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Choice on 2010-08-01:
Many readers love or loathe fictional characters as though they exist, notes Vermeule (Stanford); why, she wonders, do academics dismiss this phenomenon? To redress such critical scorn, the author turns to cognitive science and evolutionary psychology. After devoting some 50 pages to scientific theory and terminology, she theorizes that the most "famous" fictional characters "help [one] reason about the social contract under conditions of imperfect access to relevant information." That is, interpreting fictional characters helps one safely think about one's place the world; as a reward for reading, Vermeule claims, readers get "social information." Much of this learning process depends on "mind reading," which novelists provoke through literary strategies like free indirect discourse. Vermeule traces these strategies in authors such as Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Ian McEwan, and J. M. Coetzee. But unfortunately, none of what she has to say explains a fictional character's emotional pull. Vermeule's approach--applied readings instead of scientific experiments--often yields results similar to reader-response theory or narratology. And Johns Hopkins' copy editors did Vermeule no favors, for example, consistently misspelling "McEwan" as "McEwen." Summing Up: Optional. Graduate students and researchers. M. E. Burstein SUNY College at Brockport
Reviews
Review Quotes
"The book reads as a tour through literary evocations of mindedness, written by someone with a keen sense of texts and a sharp interest in the contemporary intellectual scene. It will be of interest to anyone who cares about what literature can teach us about the way our minds work." -- Jonathan Brody Kramnick, Rutgers University
Mind reading, a term oft-circulated within cognitive quarters, refers to the human capacity to infer and keep track of the intentional states of others... Vermule's main contention is that literature refines this skill and helps readers cultivate 'Machiavellian intelligence' -- her name for the cognitive advantages that may have evolved in the context of an increasingly complex social order.
Wide-ranging and jaunty... Vermeule is a major voice in the effort to bring the insights of cognitive science (especially evolutionary psychology) to bear on topics in eighteenth-century literary studies... We arrive at a new and exciting take on the familiar terrain of the eighteenth-century novel.
The book reads as a tour through literary evocations of mindedness, written by someone with a keen sense of texts and a sharp interest in the contemporary intellectual scene. It will be of interest to anyone who cares about what literature can teach us about the way our minds work.
This item was reviewed in:
Choice, August 2010
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Main Description
Blakey Vermeule wonders how readers become involved in the lives of fictional characters, people they know do not exist.Vermeule examines the ways in which readers' experiences of literature are affected by the emotional attachments they form to fictional characters and how those experiences then influence their social relationships in real life. She focuses on a range of topics, from intimate articulations of sexual desire, gender identity, ambition, and rivalry to larger issues brought on by rapid historical and economic change. Vermeule discusses the phenomenon of emotional attachment to literary characters primarily in terms of 18th-century British fiction but also considers the postmodern work of Thomas Mann, J. M. Coetzee, Ian McEwan, and Chinua Achebe.From the perspective of cognitive science, Vermeule finds that caring about literary characters is not all that different from caring about other people, especially strangers. The tools used by literary authors to sharpen and focus reader interest tap into evolved neural mechanisms that trigger a caring response.This book contributes to the emerging field of evolutionary literary criticism. Vermeule draws upon recent research in cognitive science to understand the mental processes underlying human social interactions without sacrificing solid literary criticism. People interested in literary theory, in cognitive analyses of the arts, and in Darwinian approaches to human culture will find much to ponder in Why Do We Care about Literary Characters?
Main Description
Blakey Vermeule wonders how readers become involved in the lives of fictional characters, people they know do not exist. Vermeule examines the ways in which readers' experiences of literature are affected by the emotional attachments they form to fictional characters and how those experiences then influence their social relationships in real life. She focuses on a range of topics, from intimate articulations of sexual desire, gender identity, ambition, and rivalry to larger issues brought on by rapid historical and economic change. Vermeule discusses the phenomenon of emotional attachment to literary characters primarily in terms of 18th-century British fiction but also considers the postmodern work of Thomas Mann, J. M. Coetzee, Ian McEwan, and Chinua Achebe. From the perspective of cognitive science, Vermeule finds that caring about literary characters is not all that different from caring about other people, especially strangers. The tools used by literary authors to sharpen and focus reader interest tap into evolved neural mechanisms that trigger a caring response. This book contributes to the emerging field of evolutionary literary criticism. Vermeule draws upon recent research in cognitive science to understand the mental processes underlying human social interactions without sacrificing solid literary criticism. People interested in literary theory, in cognitive analyses of the arts, and in Darwinian approaches to human culture will find much to ponder in Why Do We Care about Literary Characters?
Main Description
Blakey Vermeule wonders how readers become involved in the lives of fictional characters, people they know do not exist.Vermeule examines the ways in which readers' experiences of literature are affected by the emotional attachments they form to fictional characters and how these experiences then influence their social relationships in real life. She focuses on a range of topics, from intimate articulations of sexual desire, gender identity, ambition, and rivalry to larger issues brought on by rapid historical and economic change. Vermeule discusses the phenomenon of emotional attachment to literary characters primarily in terms of 18th-century British fiction but also considers the postmodern work of Thomas Mann, J. M. Coetzee, Ian McEwan, and Chinua Achebe.From the perspective of cognitive science, Vermeule finds that caring about literary characters is not all that different from caring about other people, especially strangers. The tools used by literary authors to sharpen and focus reader interest tap into evolved neural mechanisms that trigger a caring response.This book contributes to the emerging field of evolutionary literary criticism. Vermeule draws upon recent research in cognitive science to understand the mental processes underlying human social interactions without sacrificing solid literary criticism. People interested in literary theory, in cognitive analyses of the arts, and in Darwinian approaches to human culture will find much to ponder in Why Do We Care about Literary Characters?
Main Description
Blakey Vermeule wonders how readers become involved in the lives of fictional characters, people they know do not exist.Vermeule examines the ways in which readers' experience of literature is affected by the emotional attachments they form to fictional characters and how that experience then influences their social relationships in real life. She focuses on a range of problems, from intimate articulations of sexual desire, gender identity, ambition, and rivalry to larger issues brought on by rapid historical and economic change. Vermeule discusses this phenomenon primarily in terms of 18th-century British fiction but also considers the postmodern work of Thomas Mann, J. M. Coetzee, Ian McEwan, and Chinua Achebe.From the perspective of cognitive science, Vermeule finds that caring about literary characters is not all that different from caring about other people, especially strangers. The tools used by literary authors to sharpen and focus reader interest tap into ancient brain processes to trigger a caring response.This book speaks to the emerging field of evolutionary literary criticism. Vermeule draws upon recent research in cognitive science to understand the mental processes underlying human social interactions but not by sacrificing solid literary criticism. People interested in literary theory, in cognitive methods to the arts, and in Darwinian approaches to human culture will find much to ponder in Why Do We Care about Literary Characters.
Back Cover Copy
Blakey Vermeule wonders how readers become involved in the lives of fictional characters, people they know do not exist. This book contributes to the emerging field of evolutionary literary criticism. Vermeule draws upon recent research in cognitive science to understand the mental processes underlying human social interactions without sacrificing solid literary criticism. People interested in literary theory, in cognitive analyses of the arts, and in Darwinian approaches to human culture will find much to ponder in Why Do We Care about Literary Characters? "Wide-ranging and jaunty... Vermeule is a major voice in the effort to bring the insights of cognitive science (especially evolutionary psychology) to bear on topics in eighteenth-century literary studies... We arrive at a new and exciting take on the familiar terrain of the eighteenth-century novel." -- Studies in English Literature "Mind reading, a term oft-circulated within cognitive quarters, refers to the human capacity to infer and keep track of the intentional states of others... Vermule's main contention is that literature refines this skill and helps readers cultivate 'Machiavellian intelligence' -- her name for the cognitive advantages that may have evolved in the context of an increasingly complex social order." -- Qui Parle "The book reads as a tour through literary evocations of mindedness, written by someone with a keen sense of texts and a sharp interest in the contemporary intellectual scene. It will be of interest to anyone who cares about what literature can teach us about the way our minds work." -- Jonathan Brody Kramnick, Rutgers University
Table of Contents
Prefacep. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xv
The Fictional among Usp. 1
The Cognitive Dimensionp. 21
What Hails Us?p. 49
The Literary Endowment: Five Mind-Reading Turnsp. 62
Four Openingsp. 62
Free Indirect Discoursep. 71
Machiavellian Narrativesp. 81
Attentionp. 95
The Drama of Differential Access to Social Informationp. 103
The Fantasy of Exposure and Narrative Development in Eighteenth-Century Britainp. 107
God Novelsp. 128
Gossip and Literary Narrativesp. 150
What's the Matter with Miss Bates?p. 171
Mind Blindnessp. 193
Postmodernism Reflects: J. M. Coetzee and the Eighteenth-Century Novelp. 215
Epiloguep. 244
Notesp. 251
Bibliographyp. 255
Indexp. 265
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

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