The Neural Secrets of Narration
Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Chapter 1 The fundamentals: Adaptivity, predictivity, counterfactuality
- 1. The neurocognitive grammar of narration
- 2. “Literary Darwinism”
- 3. The adaptive function of storytelling
- 4. The cognitive potential of counterfactuality
- 5. Synaptic highways and lateral deviations
- Chapter 2 Because the brain is made to tell
- 1. The brain circuit responsible for narration
- 2. “Plot formation” and Default Mode Network
- 3. Endocrinology and narration
- 4. Narratives as a cognitive activator
- 5. Reading and predicting intentions: “Mindreading”
- Chapter 3 The neurocognitive function of events
- 1. To segment = to understand
- 2. The “Event Segmentation Theory” (EST)
- 3. The case of Stendhal: Segmenting love
- 4. The fictionalisation of reality
- Chapter 4 Cortisol and literature: Suspense!
- 1. A training ground for predicting
- 2. Emotional suspense and cognitive suspense
- 3. The 3 types of suspense
- 4. A neurocognitive laboratory
- 5. Suspense according to neuroscience
- Chapter 5 On the therapeutic function of narratives
- 1. In praise of vicarious passions
- 2. What is PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)
- 3. Visualization and habituation: Towards narrative therapy
- 4. “Strong Narrativism”
- Chapter 6 Two noble parvenues: Neurocognitive and computational criticism
- 1. Bad passions
- 2. Are emotions hereditary?
- 3. Gender from a cognitive perspective
- 4. Gender from a computational perspective
- 5. Towards the marriage bed
This book is the result of the reflections I have made over the last ten years on a variety of diversified texts, from literature to autobiographical accounts, from advertising to visual storytelling, etc., with a particular focus on transmedia processes and transdisciplinary methodologies (the term inter-disciplinary has in fact become an outdated tool that is not up to the changes taking place today). In so doing, however, I have always been aware that in order to free the studia humanitatis from the confines of “close reading” I would have to draw on the unlimited experimental arsenals of neuro-cognitivism. Always à la recherche of permanent and transcultural elements (the prefix trans-, as you can see, seems indispensable to me), I have discovered scenarios I had never imagined by drawing on the research of social psychologists on the manner in which we construct narrative formats from infancy, on the studies conducted by evolutionary psychologists with “eye-tracking” to understand the crucial role of visual perceptions in childhood and the equally dominant role of visual storytelling; above all, for years I have consulted the results of multiple experiments through neuroimaging carried out in universities all over the world, collecting evidence of what the brain does when it reads War and Peace, savours a spoonful of Nutella, is an eye-witness to a bloody car accident, listens to someone’s account of what happened to them as children, or reacts to a sudden slap in the face… Everything. Today we know not only the operations performed by neural networks, but the circulatory secrets of neurotransmitters and hormones, propellants without which nothing would happen. The study of narratives – from novels to “life-stories”, which relate more to interstitial topics – has thus become more rigorous, as an unparalleled panorama of constants cemented since the Upper Palaeolithic (e.g. the patterns of action in which a predator studies the tracks of prey in order to overpower it: an original “plot”) has been added to an unprecedented awareness of how each cultural habitat shapes the narratives of its inhabitants according to a particular neuro-cognitive style, thus limiting the so-called ‘authorial’ freedom. Narratives – whether they originate from the Muses or from the voice of a completely illiterate individual – are like compressors that can zip together all the most crucial elements in our existence: time, space, intentions, purposes, agents and instrumental actions. For this reason, they represent an inexhaustible object of research.
A series of joint phenomena led first to the decline, then to the vigorous rebirth of a second-generation narratology, capable from the outset of overcoming the dichotomy between structure and story, text and context, permanence and variability. It is worth recalling the success of a study on narrativity observed from the point of view of the individual endosphere, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds (1986), in which the American psychologist Jerome Bruner formulated a distinction between paradigmatic thinking (characteristic of the scientific sphere, hinged on the definition of abstract concepts) and sequential narrative thinking, in which the logical-temporal correlations between different elements allow us to photograph reality: according to Bruner, narratives only rely on the second cognitive mode, just as the ability to give an account of oneself with life stories would be based on four types of coherence – temporal, biographical, causal (the only one capable of explaining the difference between continuity and change), and thematic (where organised nuclei of arguments attract each other) – which are acquired only in adolescence.
This binary arrangement of thought according to a semantic or sequential structuring – which among other things has the drawback of increasing the distance between humanities and scientific disciplines – would soon be disproved, but Bruner has the undoubted merit of favouring a repositioning of narratology. Moreover, the shift in contextualist focus generated by the decline of structuralism led scholars to take an interest in everything that had remained outside the scientific community prior to the 1990s. At a time when the thresholds of literary narratives were becoming permeable to the context, favouring a free circulation of the contents of those texts, what regained vigour was thematology or Toposforschung, which had initially limited its interest to the identification of minimal textual units (known as themes or motifs), to the naming of themes (étiquetage), to the distinction between recurring elements (isotopies) and variable components (semantemes) in the certainty that an integrated semantics of literature could be achieved. Once that hope had collapsed, thematology turns its interest more to indexing the guiding ideas and logical-semantic nuclei formed in the longues durées, but less on the model indicated by Curtius (for the German Romanist, the topos was an indefinable cliché, which could contain micro-narratives, allocutive formulae, figurative relics of the past) and more on the model of Warburg’s Pathosformeln, linguistic representations of codified social practices and permanent traces of states of mind revealed by intensified mimicry, in the awareness that literary texts favour the sedimentation of human perceptive models.
Indeed, it was precisely on this terrain that narratology would soon afterwards encounter cognitivism and neuroscience (Bamberg, 2007). When we began to think of “themes” as processes of thematisation, structured and dynamic units of content capable of exerting a structuring action on the spatio-temporal dimensions and grammar of man’s communicative actions, the mind became the leading protagonist and ultimate guarantor of narrativity. The beginning of this new trend can be traced back to the publication of David Herman’s volume Story Logic (2002), in which for the first time neurocognitive sciences encountered problems and aspects that until then had been the domain of literary scholars and linguists. Herman marked an epistemological turning point in narratology by replacing Bruner’s erroneous dichotomy between scientific and narrative thinking with a unified vision of the cognitive processes underlying each story, and this thanks to the use of the concepts of schema and script.
- ISBN (PDF)
- ISBN (ePUB)
- ISBN (Hardcover)
- Publication date
- 2023 (June)
- Study of narratives Neuro-cognitivism Impact of cultural habitat on narratives
- Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2023. 124 pp., 1 fig. b/w, 3 tables.