Fiction and Other Minds: Gestalt Psychology and Cognitive Literary Studies

In Trinity Term’s Fiction and Others Minds seminar, cognitive psychologist Prof Joseph Glicksohn of Bar Ilan University, and literary scholar Prof Chanita Goodblatt of Ben Gurion University in the Negev presented their collaborative research on ‘Gestalt Psychology and Cognitive Literary Studies’.

This talk traced the intellectual history underlying the predominance of Gestalt Psychology for Cognitive Literary studies. The speakers considered the relationship between the Gestalts of Mind and Text: the poetic text has structure (the Gestalt of the Text), and readers will uncover structure in their respective readings of the text (the Gestalt of the Mind). This tradition also inspires a study of metaphor: a poetic metaphor is conceived as a gestalt appearing within a poetic text, and will have to be comprehended as part of that text. In the process of metaphor comprehension, the reader strives to integrate two unidirectional readings to result in an emergent gestalt—such as that characterized by blending. There is, however, the distinct possibility that an integration of the readings of a metaphor will not be attained, especially if it is an emergent, grotesque hybrid image that would be constructed.

The speakers presented the poetic text using a microgenetic technique, namely in a series of segments. As each segment appears, the reader was asked to think aloud. Evidence for bidirectionality in metaphor comprehension should be clearly seen in the verbal protocol. Furthermore, the verbal protocol will reveal to what extent a problem is solved by the reader, such as that of reconciling between the various readings; and most importantly, how grotesque imagery in the poetic text should heighten the tension between the two subjects of a poetic metaphor and thus prevent blending.


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.