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Edited by Grzegorz Maziarczyk and Joanna Klara Teske

Explorations of Consciousness in Contemporary Fiction is a collection of essays examining the potential of the contemporary English-language novel to represent and inquire into various aspects of the human mind. Grounded in contemporary literary theory as well as consciousness studies, the essays consider both narrative techniques by means of which writers attempt to render various states of consciousness (such as multimodality in digital fiction or experimental typography in post-traumatic narratives), and novelistic interpretations of issues currently being investigated by neurobiologists, cognitive scientists and philosophers of the mind (such as the adaptive value of consciousness or the process of self-integration by means of self-narration). The volume thus offers critical reflection upon the novel’s cognitive accomplishment in this challenging area.

Contributors are: Nathan D. Frank, Judit Friedrich, Justyna Galant, Marta Komsta, Péter Kristóf Makai, Ajitpaul Mangat, Grzegorz Maziarczyk, James McAdams, Daniel Panka, Barbara Puschmann-Nalenz, Joanna Klara Teske, Lloyd Issac Vayo, Dóra Vecsernyés, Sylwia Wilczewska

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Judit Friedrich

Keri Hulme’s 1984 Booker Prize winning novel, the bone people, tells the story of the formation of a biologically unrelated nuclear family in the cultural context of New Zealand with its mixture of Maori heritage, English settlers and recent immigrants. The story is presented through the juxtaposition of dialogues and inner monologues of the main characters, demonstrating how the self negotiates its progress towards integration. On the individual level, the characters are battling their own pasts on their way towards growing into responsible persons. Taken together, they also represent the process of integrative development of a national self for New Zealand. In even more abstract terms, the novel presents the narrative development of a Self that will be able to contain, recognize and coordinate its animus, its shadow and its inner child, along with its conscious part. An interpretation relying on these Jungian concepts is justifiable not only because the novel, reportedly, originated in a dream, but also because it applies diverse mythical elements and strategies. The article aims to add another psychological dimension to the discussion of a novel that has continued to impress with the flexibility of its language, ranging from the poetic to the profane, and with its polyphonic exploration of the many voices in which the self addresses itself.

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Sylwia Wilczewska

The main character of The Medusa Frequency by Russell Hoban, fighting his writer’s block with the help of a mind-altering machine, experiences what can be interpreted as a hallucination or an encounter with the supernatural. I argue that four supernatural beings he meets – the head of Orpheus, Eurydice, the Kraken, and Medusa – correspond to the artist, inspiration, the set of unrealized possibilities from which inspiration is derived, and the artist’s consciousness. The allegorical meaning of the supernatural characters adds to the metafictional layer of the novel, serving as a core of its philosophical message and explaining the references to Plato and Kant reappearing throughout the text. The ambiguity between hallucination and the miraculous, in connection with the allegorical element of the novel, allows for interpreting The Medusa Frequency as presenting a philosophical position on the nature of art and, indirectly, religion: artistic creation is made possible by the cognition of the reality behind the natural world, conveyed by the artist’s experience. At the same time, the novel approves of art’s escapist function, presenting it as answering an important existential need and cooperating with the mimetic function in depicting reality.

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Péter Kristóf Makai

Novels about autism have become popular in middlebrow fiction in the early 21st century. With the rise of autism diagnoses and the end of the Decade of the Brain, a once unknown condition has gripped the minds of novelists as well. In this chapter, I analyse several “autism novels,” which explore what it is like to live with an atypically developing brain and mind. I argue that autism is a fundamental part of these works, and the depiction of mental functioning on the spectrum constitutes a unique experiment in the literary display of mind-reading, an essential skill of social cognition.

With the examination of Elizabeth Moon’s Speed of Dark, Claire Morrall’s The Language of Others and Jodi Picoult’s House Rules, I outline how the complexity of consciousness representation creates the illusion of a disabled mind for the reader. I focus on the social interactions between characters to show that autism is constructed in the text as a cross-neurotype biosemiotic underreporting and misreporting of mental dispositions and content. I examine the meticulously and irrelevantly detailed descriptions that issue from the autistic narrators to claim that these demonstrate a different grade of cognitive granularity from those of typically developing minds. I conclude that these techniques represent a less person-oriented mindset that aligns well with Ian Bogost’s concept of “alien phenomenology,” but affirm the inalienable humanity of the autistic community.

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Lloyd Isaac Vayo

For an event that is omnipresent to this day, it is difficult to understand how the notion of consciousness in relation to the 9/11 attacks is so elusive. Constructing this consciousness is a delicate task, and within the field of contemporary literature, no novel comes closer to accomplishing that construction than Jess Walter’s 2006 novel The Zero. Centered on Brian Remy, a police officer who narrowly survives the attacks and is roped into a strange tributary of the ensuing investigation, the novel offers an ultra-black comedy, turning its scorn on misguided patriotism, the problematic scope of the criminal dragnets of the usa PATRIOT Act, and anything else that crosses Remy’s path. As the novel begins, Remy has just attempted suicide by shooting himself in the head; thereafter, his consciousness is altered, and the world around him comes in and out of focus, events passing without notice and large sections of time being claimed by blackouts. Remy is involved in a doubled reconstruction: as he attempts to reassemble the shards of his psyche, so too is he tasked with assembling endless sheaves of office paper into a trail leading to suspects with foreknowledge of the attacks. Through his reconstructive efforts, Remy strives to regain his own consciousness, both in the form of a literal day-to-day lucidity, as well as in the form of a reality squared with the changed nature of the world in the wake of 9/11, and is led to question the very foundations of mainstream post-9/11 identity (patriotism and an unflinching quest for justice), arriving at a conscience of sorts in the process.

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Grzegorz Maziarczyk and Joanna Klara Teske

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Justyna Galant

Peter Watts’s 2006 hard science fiction novel Blindsight explores the process of cognition with reference to self, other and alien, addressing the question of boundary, dealing with the crises of interpersonal and interspecies encounters, which result in the significant changes in self- and other-perception, a re-evaluation of one’s epistemological capacities and, eventually, a re-shaping of the self.

With consciousness defined in the novel as a parasite and a mistake in the evolutionary process, we are encouraged to separate cognition from consciousness and concentrate on the processes presented in the text rather than on character construction.

The premise of radical constructivism that knowledge cannot be judged on how it represents ontological reality becomes an assumption crucial for exploring the depictions of consciousness in the novel as a text concerned with the creations of the post-human minds, their representational inadequacy and ambiguous relationships with their creators.

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Ajitpaul Mangat

This paper argues that the autistic condition necessitates a reimagining of consciousness. Consciousness has been understood to be dependent on language. In so far as autism involves deficits in verbal communication, the individual with autism could, according to the classical model of consciousness put forward by the cognitive sciences, be understood to be impaired in or even lack consciousness. Far from showing any deficiency in their authors’ consciousness, autistic life writing – from case studies by Oliver Sacks to Robert Hughes’s caregiver narrative Running with Walker to the personal narratives of Amanda Baggs, Temple Grandin, and Daniel Tammet – provides a very different idea about consciousness, an idea only recently taken up in the study of consciousness. What autism emphasizes, this paper proposes, is the important and necessary role of the body in the formation, production, and maintenance of conscious experience. Beginning with a consideration of the absence of the body in cognitive scientific thought, this chapter then shows how autistic life writing represents not a lack of consciousness, as found in cognitive scientific thought, but rather the embodiment of consciousness, with the different sensory experiences resulting from autistic forms of embodiment allowing for a more comprehensive mode of relating to the material and social world.

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Marta Komsta

The article explores the notion of open consciousness in Patrick Ness’s acclaimed ya trilogy Chaos Walking (2008–2010) by juxtaposing two opposing modes of telepathic communication – the Noise and the Voice – as instances of dystopian and utopian consciousness respectively. Set in the extra-terrestrial reality of New World, the narrative examines the influence of the Noise, a male-only condition of exposed consciousness, which severely incapacitates the social relations amongst the human population. The dystopian impact of the Noise is made evident by its far-reaching implications engendered by the unrestrained access to one’s thoughts which renders one susceptible to external infiltration and manipulation.

In contrast to the Noise, the Voice, the telepathic language of the indigenous population of New World, functions in Ness’s trilogy as eupsychia sensu Frank E. Manuel, a utopian pan-consciousness that fosters communality and openness amongst its participants. Thus, by foregrounding shared purpose and cooperation, the Voice enables the warring inhabitants of New World – both the colonists and autochthones – to develop alternative ways of negotiating communal and individual relations in what ultimately becomes the realisation of hope for the better future.

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Grzegorz Maziarczyk

This contribution seeks to extend the scope of cognitive narratological studies into consciousness by discussing two multimodal digital narratives: The Breathing Wall by Kate Pullinger, Stefan Schemat and babel, and Pry by Samantha Gorman and Danny Cannizzaro. Both narratives go beyond the standard, verbal strategies for representing consciousness in literature in their employment of the multimodal integration of verbal, visual and auditory semiotic resources as means whereby different levels and types of mental processes can be simultaneously presented. They also use the reader’s embodied interaction with the digital medium to encourage his or her identification with the protagonist and create the illusion of the fictional mind being experienced/explored from within. These two narratives thus demonstrate the semiotic potential of multimodal digital narratives for innovative, multisensory representation of consciousness.