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  • Conversations on Cognitive Cultural Studies: Literature, Language, and Aesthetics by Frederick Luis Aldama and Patrick Colm Hogan
  • Jan Baetens (bio)
by Frederick Luis Aldama and Patrick Colm Hogan. Ohio State University Press, Columbus, OH, U.S.A., 2014. 203 pp. Trade. ISBN: 978-0-8142-1243-1.

Cognitive studies and cultural studies are neither natural allies nor sister disciplines. To a certain extent, one could even say that the debate between these fields is one of the many contemporary forms of the “two cultures debate” launched by C.P. Snow in the 1950s. The following claim by Patrick Colm Hogan is almost a literal repetition of Snow’s famous regret that scientists are expected to know all about Shakespeare whereas no literary scholar is supposed to know the second law of thermodynamics:

The crucial point is that discursive and institutional constraints inhibit the degree to which criticism from any theoretical orientation can ignore history or culture. In contrast, there seem to be no constraints whatsoever on the degree to which criticism can ignore neuroscience, cognitive and affective research, developmental studies, group dynamics, or any other forms of understanding that contribute to our sense of cross-cultural and trans-historical commonality. In other words, it is simply not the case that cognitivists grossly ignore culture and history. But it is commonly the case that culturalists grossly ignore cognitivist and related research

(p. 163).

Things have changed a lot, however, since the 1950s, the most important change being of course the dramatic decrease of influence and prestige of literary and cultural studies. The continuing lack of a common terminology, a badly understood notion of democracy in the field of interpretation (where anything continues to go), the futility of many scholarly debates, the narcissism of some of those working in the profession—I am paraphrasing here the words of the authors, but these are issues that they do not invent—bring Frederick Luis Aldama to the following, both logical and shockingly polemic, claim: “I would say that truth is what motivates the work of most scientists and some scholars in the humanities as well” (p. 185) [emphasis by the authors]. [End Page 93]

These “conversations” may be an attack against the flaws of some humanists, yet they are not at all a war-machine against the humanities. What Aldama and Hogan are looking for is a new way to start doing new forms of research that brings the best of both worlds together, while also fostering new insights within each of the respective disciplines. Despite their common passion for general, if not universal laws, Aldama and Hogan are not making a plea for the integration of the humanities in the newer cognitive studies (and therefore the vanishing of the former and the sole promotion of the latter), but for the humanist enhancing of cognitive research on the one hand and the cognitive deepening of humanist studies, currently in great need of a new and more solid basis, on the other hand.

It should be stressed that this book is not to be seen as the encounter between a cognitivist voice and a humanist voice, for both authors are committed cognitivist humanists. In this sense, the unity of the book is very strong. There are, however, also divergences between Aldama and Hogan, who frequently take different stances and positions on key matters in the field. For example: Aldama tends to put a stronger emphasis on narratology than Hogan; he also feels more sympathetic to the quest for a “unified” general science, whereas Hogan is more eager to open his theoretical work to history and context. Finally Aldama sees the (artistic) work as a “blueprint” that establishes a relationship between author, work and reader (listener, spectator) while Hogan’s approach underlines more the idea of simulation and the use of the work as a “building.”

However, these (important) differences do not involve fundamental tension or opposition between the two researchers. Hence, the perfectly well-chosen term of “conversations.” This book, indeed, is not a “dialogue” in the Socratic sense of the word: Such a project would suppose a certain dissymmetry between a person who...


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pp. 93-94
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