Fiction and Other Minds: Cognitive Ecology in Literature

For this term’s Fiction and Other Minds seminar, we were joined by Prof Jennifer Gosetti-Ferencei (Johns Hopkins), who lead a discussion on the topic of Cognitive Ecology in Literature: Ecocritical Thinking in the Poetics of Modernism.

While ecological literary studies began with environmentally sensitive studies of realist nature writing and has tended voluminously to romantic evocations of landscape, the ecological turn to modernist works is still emerging. Prof Gosetti-Ferencei’s paper outlined an ecologically relevant critique of human cognition within modern poetic though—grounded in Hölderlin and Nietzsche but expressed in Rilke and other modernist writers—focusing not primarily the depiction of non-human nature but on the critique of human cognition of it. Informed by recent and phenomenological approaches to cognition, this interpretation presented modernist poetics as contributing to a cultural ecology, initiating alternative ways of thinking in our relation to the non-human world.

Jennifer Gosetti-Ferencei is Professor and Kurrelmeyer Chair in German at Johns Hopkins and holds a secondary appointment as Professor in Philosophy. Her research interests include Continental philosophy, particularly phenomenology, aesthetics and the philosophy of literature, cognitive literary theory, poetics, philosophy of imagination, and modernism, especially modern German literature. Gosetti-Ferencei’s most recent book, The Life of Imagination: Revealing and Making the World (Columbia University Press, 2018), is grounded in research in philosophy and a range of other disciplines, including cognitive theory, evolutionary anthropology, aesthetics and literary theory, and offers a new theory of imagination as both grounded in the wider cognitive ecology of our embodied life and engagement with the world, and affording its transformation and transcendence.


The seminar is convened by Professor Ben Morgan ( Dr Naomi Rokotnitz (
As always, the talk will be followed by drinks for all attendees.


About the Seminar: The Fiction and Other Minds seminar series, convened by Ben Morgan and Naomi Rokotnitz, has been running since 2013, hosting a range of speakers working at the interface between literary studies, cognitive science and phenomenology. The seminar explores the field that opens when features investigated by the cognitive sciences are tested and expanded across different cultural contexts. In particular, we are interested in the ways by which literary texts often challenge and differentiate theoretical insights especially through their attention to the culturally situated aspects of cognition, and how cognitively informed approaches to literature can deepen our understanding of the embodied and affective processes that underpin meaning-making, including literary reading.