Fiction and Other Minds: The Lyric I as Other Mind

This term’s Fiction and Other Minds seminar welcomed Prof Felix Budelmann and Prof Ellen Spolsky, who presented on the topic of The Lyric I as Other Mind—a comparative, cognitive approach to poetry.

‘Lyric Minds in Early Greece’
Prof Felix Budelmann, University of Oxford

Felix Budelmann asked how the sung lyric of early Greece may have constituted encounters with other minds. Lyric performances, both solo and choral, confront their audiences with a person at three levels: the speaker(s) inscribed in the text, the performer(s), and the promise of an author. The genre derives some of its most interesting effects from the blend of reality and artifices at each of these levels. The paper sought to work towards an alternative to a dominant model in scholarship on Greek lyric, which keeps the author out of sight and studies lyric as a cultural form that serves to encode and communicate values shared by the community.  It drew on cognitive approaches, in particular Theory of Mind.

‘Toggling in Arcadia: Once you get there, you’re sent back’
Prof Ellen Spolsky, Bar Ilan University

Ellen Spolsky’s talk focused on 17th-century English pastoral poetry. Lyric poems are prototypically literary not only because of their form and their language but also because the activities of composing and understanding lyrical poems openly enact one of the central cognitive tasks of the imagination. By recruiting our ability to toggle between concrete details (tokens, sense data) and generalizations (types, abstractions), lyrics allow our minds to make the most of our own experience and the experience of others. Their openness, however, would be overwhelming and debilitating if not bounded by culturally imposed frames. Reading Andrew Marvell’s “The Garden” (c. 1650-52) provides an example of how the poet’s mind toggles between the sensuous pleasure of the garden and the moral abstractions he can’t help finding in it, as he and we are guided by the framing genre of pastoral.  

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.