Literature and Psychology

Undergraduate course, The University of Texas at Austin, Department of English, 2011

Why do we read literature? What, if anything, do we get out of literature that makes it important? What cognitive faculties to we use when we read and how do those faculties effect or even determine our interpretations? In this course, we will explore these and related questions in order to introduce students to the study of English literature through criticism focused on how the mind works. We will emphasize, in particular, the rapidly growing field of cognitive literary studies, which applies the findings of contemporary cognitive science and neuroscience to traditional humanities questions about the nature of literature, the practice of reading, and the possibilities of interpretation.

We will read selections from some of the leading cognitive scientists and cognitive literary theorists and test their theories and methods through our own interpretations of primary literary texts. We will also discuss the history and practice of psychoanalytic critical approaches like Freudian, Lacanian, and feminist theories. We will read an eclectic mixture of literary works including contemporary science fiction, classic novels and short stories, and medieval and Renaissance poetry.