Fiction and Other Minds: Embodied Spaces, Embodied Minds

This term’s Fiction and Other Minds seminar explored the rich interplay between the rhetorical details of literary texts and the way they draw on and appeal to our embodied experience beyond literature. Texts discussed ranged from Rabelais and Robbe-Grillet to Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows.

‘Beyond Fictional Worlds: Narrative and Spatial Cognition in Robbe-Grillet’s Jealousy
Prof Richard Walsh, University of York

This paper argued that the reading of fiction does not involve the inference of a fictional world. The fictive text primarily cues our narrative sense-making, which functions interdependently with other modes of cognition, including spatial modelling, within the bounds of interpretative criteria of relevance. The argument was pursued in relation to Alain Robbe-Grillet’s La Jalousie (1957), which invites spatial interpretation in great detail, but also shows that accepting the invitation, far from supplying a basis for imaginative engagement with the novel, obscures its fictive rhetoric.

‘Skittling and Scrooging: Perspectives on Embodied Cognition’
Prof Tim Chesters, University of Cambridge

This paper discussed mindreading and embodiment in two literary episodes: the celebrated storm scene in Rabelais’s Fourth Book (1552), and the opening chapter of Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows (1908). Both appear initially to stage mindreading as a phenomenologically immediate experience: I grasp the intentionality of others as a prey animal might a predator’s next move - instantaneously, unreflectively, embodiedly, as an immanent feature of my ecology. Examined most closely, however, this picture becomes more complex: linguistic features such as tense, mood, phonetic patterning, and neologism serve to remind us that the minds of others are often far from self-evident.

The seminar was convened by Professor Ben Morgan (

As always, the talk was 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.