Fiction and Other Minds: Embodied Cognition in Poetry and Dance

This term’s Fiction and Other Minds seminar welcomed Dr Charlotte Lee and Dr Meindert Peters, who presented on the topic of Embodied Cognition in Poetry and Dance.

‘On the relationship between poetry and movement’
Dr Charlotte Lee, University of Cambridge

It is not uncommon in literary criticism to read of the ‘movement’ of a poem, or that a piece generates ‘a sense of movement’; and the relationship is sealed by that old cliché, ‘poetry in motion’. The reasons for this association are seldom investigated, however. The notion of movement in relation to poetry has tended to hover between a metaphor and an impression, powerful in effect but vague in description. In my current research project, which I shall introduce in this talk, I take the term ‘movement’ literally. I ask why poetry might be perceived as mobile or in motion, why it might make us feel as though we want to move our bodies, and how these effects are induced and entrained by language. How, in short, do poems, these delicate fictions, move other minds?  

‘Two Bodies of Poetic Communication: León & Lightfoot’s Dance Adaptation of Gertrude Stein’s “If I Told Him…”’
Dr Meindert Peters, University of Oxford

Shutters Shut (2003) is a 10-minute dance piece set to Gertrude Stein reading her poem “If I Told Him, a Completed Portrait of Picasso.” Choreographed by Sol Léon and Paul Lightfoot, the two dancers of the piece give bodily shapes – sharp, speedy, fractured – to the sounds, rhythm, and repetition of Stein’s work. The piece opens up important avenues for thinking about the relationship between movement and language. My talk will bring this work in dialogue with contemporary cognitive sciences to explore further the ways in which linguistic communication is supported, sustained and/or negotiated through the body and its movement. 


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.