Some genres, such as picaresque novels, detective stories, and comedies of manners, are built around characters intentionally deceiving each other. I have argued elsewhere that fiction exploits our readiness to intuit mental states behind behavior: we make sense of what we read by attributing thoughts and feelings to characters, narrators, authors, and implied readers. If we want to use a cognitive-literary perspective to take a closer look at what lying can do for a writer in a particular genre in addition, that is, to merely reflecting and magnifying our real-life mindreading uncertainties , we would do well to turn to an early paradigm-setting specimen of that genre. Among those familial pastimes, lying occupies a pride of place.
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Some genres, such as picaresque novels, detective stories, and comedies of manners, are built around characters intentionally deceiving each other. I have argued elsewhere that fiction exploits our readiness to intuit mental states behind behavior: we make sense of what we read by attributing thoughts and feelings to characters, narrators, authors, and implied readers.
If we want to use a cognitive-literary perspective to take a closer look at what lying can do for a writer in a particular genre in addition, that is, to merely reflecting and magnifying our real-life mindreading uncertainties , we would do well to turn to an early paradigm-setting specimen of that genre.
Among those familial pastimes, lying occupies a pride of place. Every couple of chapters, a new intrigue blossoms, often starting with a sexual transgression and snowballing as characters keep eavesdropping on each other and framing each other.
Let us consider one such episode in some detail and then see what we gain by viewing it through a cognitive lens. He frames him and has him imprisoned. What follows is a long series of lies aimed at making Sung Hui- lien believe that her husband is doing fine, when, in fact, he is being severely beaten in jail. Sung Hui-lien eventually learns the truth and kills herself. What are we to make of this swarm of lies? Embedded Mental States in Fiction To see how a cognitive perspective may complement these insights, consider the role of deception in generating complex embedments of mental states.
As I have argued elsewhere, fiction as we know it today, as well as some literary nonfiction, constantly embed mental states on at least the third level i. This is in direct contrast both to expository nonfiction— which may contain complex embedments now and then, but can also wholly subsist on just the first and second level—and to our routine social interactions.
For, occasional drama and intrigue notwithstanding e. In fiction, we make sense of what we read by processing a steady stream of third- and fourth-level embedments, associated with characters, narrators, implied authors, and implied readers, in a vast variety of combinations. Xue, Lin Dai-yu scolds a maid who brings her a hand-warmer, because she imagines that someone may think that she thinks that her hosts are not taking good care of her.
As she explains it to the surprised Mrs. Instead of saying how thoughtful the maid was, they would put it down to my arrogance and lack of breeding. That is, he thinks that they know that he has seen through their plot to fatten him up and eat him. Or, to put it differently, the implied author wants the readers to realize that the mad protagonist misinterprets the body language of his visitors.
While we do not explicitly articulate them to ourselves when we read, something in us must keep track of those complex intentionalities, because, otherwise, we would miss the ironic effect of this scene. One finds them as far back as in The Epic of Gilgamesh c. Moreover, it appears that the further back one goes in time, the likelier it is that third-level embedments in fiction are created chiefly by portraying characters who intentionally deceive other characters.
For instance, in Gilgamesh, Ea wants dwellers of Shuruppak to think that they are beloved by a god and hence should expect abundance to rain on them, when, in fact, they are about to be wiped out by a flood . Given that The Plum in the Golden Vase marks an important threshold in Chinese literary history, its pattern of complex embedment may deserve special attention.
Later in this essay, I will consider several different strategies used by its anonymous author to 7 embed mental states on a high level, but, at this point, I will focus specifically on deception.
At every turn of the plot, another one 8 springs to life. Once we notice this pattern, we can speak of various ways in which it is put to use by the novel. Cognition and History To speak of deception as a long-traveled road to complex embedment begs the larger question of why embedded mental states have become so integral to representation of fictional consciousness.
To answer this question is to consider an interplay of cognitive and historical factors. On the one hand, given the centrality of mindreading and misreading to human communication, it may not be not terribly surprising that writers 9 would intensify this aspect of human sociality to render their narratives more engaging.
As Patrick Colm Hogan puts it, Successful authors are unusually proficient at simulating and communicating simulations. Such simulation and communication are largely unself-conscious processes, a matter of implicitly understanding patterns in human relations and conveying that implicit understanding representationally, which is to say, through the depiction of situations that manifest the patterns—usually in a heightened or more salient form than we would encounter them in ordinary life As Webb Keane explains 10 It is not that inner thoughts are inherently unknowable but that they ought to be unspeakable, or at least, it matters greatly who gets to speak these thoughts.
To reiterate, if Theory of Mind and intention-seeking are common to all humans, how these get played down or emphasized can contribute to quite divergent ethical worlds. Elaborated in some communities, suppressed in others, these cognitive capacities appear as both sources of difficulties in their own right and affordances for ethical work.
At the time I disagreed with her. I was convinced that no culture is exempt from this obsession, and that the presence of works of fiction characterized by intensified mindreading patterns is only one of several cultural forms that this obsession may take. Today, however, I am more open to her argument. To this broadly-conceived set of historical circumstances congenial to sustained representation of embedded mental states in fiction, we can add others, more specific.
A critical inquiry into complex embedment generated by lies is thus not just a cognitive but also a historicist project. In recognizing the steady stream of lies that runs through this novel as a cognitive-literary innovation, we open a conversation about historical circumstances both long-term and immediate that made this form of experimentation with our daily mind-reading patterns acceptable and possible. It seems to be so, given how often appeals to face are adjacent to lies in The Plum.
If it got around, not only would your neighbors and relatives laugh at you, but even the members of your own household, high and low, would not be able to take you seriously. Then she goes to Sung Hui-lien. Her she wants to believe that people in the compound think that she has never cared about her husband. Options for Teaching Approaching The Plum in the Golden Vase from a cognitive perspective opens it up for inclusion in a relatively wide spectrum of courses, albeit not in its entirety.
Particularly if the instructor has comparativist inclinations and does not want to limit herself to just one national literary tradition, chapters of The Plum can be used as a focal point of exploration of complex embedment in literature. Another option would be to follow it up with texts illustrating the evolution of lying in literature i. On the whole, a cognitive take on The Plum in the Golden Vase contributes to an ongoing project of situating this novel in the context of the millennia-long experimentation with representation of fictional consciousness.
Works Cited: 19 Anonymous. The Epic of Gilgamesh. Translated and Edited by Benjamin R. New York: Norton, Volume Two: The Rival. Translated by David Tod Roy. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, The Story of the Stone. David Hawkes. London: Penguin, Roy; Additional Annotation by David L. How To Read the Chinese Novel. David L. Princeton: Princeton University Press, Hogan, Patrick Colm. Sexual Identities. New York: Oxford UP, Keane, Webb.
Lee, Haiyan. The Stranger and the Chinese Moral Imagination. Stanford: Stanford University Press, Lu Xun. Yunte Huang. Miller, Patricia H. Kessel and John H. DOI: The Four Masterworks of the Ming Novel. Robbins, Joel and Alan Rumsey. Schonebaum, Andrew. Andrew Schonebaum and Tina Lu. Scott, Mary.
Slingerland, Edward. Dimitris Xygalatas and Lee McCorkle. Zunshine, Lisa. Lisa Zunshine. For instance, Utnapishtim does not judge Gilgamesh for attempting to deceive him: he sees that behavior as only too human.
Written for a general audience, this study provides a jargon-free introduction to the rapidly growing interdisciplinary field known as cognitive approaches to literature and culture. File Name: zunshine why we read fiction. The title of this book, however, offers an even more extensive claim. The reason why we read fiction, she contends, is because it exercises our mind-reading ability:.
Böcker av Lisa Zunshine
In this interdisciplinary study, literary critic Zunshine, the founder of a large discussion group on cognitive approaches to literature approved by the Modern Language Association, draws upon the works of cognitive evolutionary anthropologists and psychologists, notably Scott Atran, Paul Bloom, Pascal Boyer, Susan A. Gelman, to examine a wide and strikingly diversified corpus of texts including drama, novels, science fiction, nonsense poetry and surrealist art. In three unequal parts, Zunshine demonstrates how these strange concepts, whose uncanniness derives from our incapacity to categorize them, maintain our attention and excite our imagination. After examining works such as Frankenstein, R. Zunshine uncovers the cognitive method in some forms of surrealism as she analyzes paintings by Man Ray, Victor Brauner or Meret Oppenheim. This anti-essentialist militant discourse could alienate some readers who may feel that the argument is cogent and horizon-opening as long as it shows how our cognitive equipment guides us through texts; yet when it bears a sweeping judgment on this equipment, it goes beyond the scope of literary criticism and may sound arbitrary.
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