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Archive for 'reading'

new book – ’7 Modes of Uncertainty’ by C. Namwali Serpell

April 1, 2014

7 Modes of Uncertainty

Seven Modes of Uncertainty by C. Namwali Serpell (Harvard University Press, 2014)

(amazon.co.uk)

Book description from the publisher:

Literature is rife with uncertainty. Literature is good for us. These two ideas about reading literature are often taken for granted. But what is the relationship between literature’s capacity to unsettle, perplex, and bewilder us, and literature’s ethical value? To revive this question, C. Namwali Serpell proposes a return to William Empson’s groundbreaking work, Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930), which contends that literary uncertainty is crucial to ethics because it pushes us beyond the limits of our own experience.

Taking as case studies experimental novels by Thomas Pynchon, Toni Morrison, Bret Easton Ellis, Ian McEwan, Elliot Perlman, Tom McCarthy, and Jonathan Safran Foer, Serpell suggests that literary uncertainty emerges from the reader’s shifting responses to structures of conflicting information. A number of these novels employ a structure of mutual exclusion, which presents opposed explanations for the same events. Some use a structure of multiplicity, which presents different perspectives regarding events or characters. The structure of repetition in other texts destabilizes the continuity of events and frustrates our ability to follow the story.

To explain how these structures produce uncertainty, Serpell borrows from cognitive psychology the concept of affordance, which describes an object’s or environment’s potential uses. Moving through these narrative structures affords various ongoing modes of uncertainty, which in turn afford ethical experiences both positive and negative. At the crossroads of recent critical turns to literary form, reading practices, and ethics, Seven Modes of Uncertainty offers a new phenomenology of how we read uncertainty now.

Comments (0) - cognitive science,culture,new books,reading

new book – ‘The Traveler, the Tower, and the Worm: The Reader as Metaphor’ by Alberto Manguel

July 25, 2013

The Traveler, the Tower and the Worm

The Traveler, the Tower, and the Worm: The Reader as Metaphor (Material Texts) by Alberto Manguel (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013)
 
(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk)

 

As far as one can tell, human beings are the only species for which the world seems made up of stories, Alberto Manguel writes. We read the book of the world in many guises: we may be travelers, advancing through its pages like pilgrims heading toward enlightenment. We may be recluses, withdrawing through our reading into our own ivory towers. Or we may devour our books like burrowing worms, not to benefit from the wisdom they contain but merely to stuff ourselves with countless words.

With consummate grace and extraordinary breadth, the best-selling author of A History of Reading and The Library at Night considers the chain of metaphors that have described readers and their relationships to the text-that-is-the-world over a span of four millennia. In figures as familiar and diverse as the book-addled Don Quixote and the pilgrim Dante who carries us through the depths of hell up to the brilliance of heaven, as well as Prince Hamlet paralyzed by his learning, and Emma Bovary who mistakes what she has read for the life she might one day lead, Manguel charts the ways in which literary characters and their interpretations reflect both shifting attitudes toward readers and reading, and certain recurrent notions on the role of the intellectual: “We are reading creatures. We ingest words, we are made of words. . . . It is through words that we identify our reality and by means of words that we ourselves are identified.”

See also: Author’s website

Comments (0) - new books,reading

new book – ‘How Literature Saved My Life’ by David Shields

February 5, 2013

How Literature Saved My Life

How Literature Saved My Life by David Shields (Knopf, 2013)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk)

Book description from the publisher:

In this wonderfully intelligent, stunningly honest, and painfully funny book, acclaimed writer David Shields uses himself as a representative for all readers and writers who seek to find salvation in literature.

Blending confessional criticism and anthropological autobiography, Shields explores the power of literature (from Blaise Pascal’s Pensées to Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, Renata Adler’s Speedboat to Proust’s A Remembrance of Things Past) to make life survivable, maybe even endurable. Shields evokes his deeply divided personality (his “ridiculous” ambivalence), his character flaws, his woes, his serious despairs. Books are his life, but when they come to feel unlifelike and archaic, he revels in a new kind of art that is based heavily on quotation and consciousness and self-consciousness–perfect, since so much of what ails him is acute self-consciousness. And he shares with us a final irony: he wants “literature to assuage human loneliness, but nothing can assuage human loneliness. Literature doesn’t lie about this–which is what makes it essential.”

A captivating, thought-provoking, utterly original way of thinking about the essential acts of reading and writing.

Google Books preview:

See also: Author’s website

Comments (0) - culture,new books,reading

new book – ‘How to Do Things with Fictions’ by Joshua Landy

July 6, 2012

How to Do Things with Fictions

How to Do Things with Fictions by Joshua Landy (Oxford University Press, USA, 2012)

(amazon.co.uk – July 2012)

Book description from the publisher:

Why does Mark’s Jesus speak in parables? Why does Plato’s Socrates make bad arguments? Why are Beckett’s novels so inscrutable? And why don’t stage magicians even pretend to summon spirits anymore? In a series of captivating chapters on Mark, Plato, Beckett, Mallarmé, and Chaucer, Joshua Landy not only answers these questions but explains why they are worth asking in the first place.

Witty and approachable, How to Do Things with Fictions challenges the widespread assumption that literary texts must be informative or morally improving in order to be of any real benefit. It reveals that authors are sometimes best thought of not as entertainers or as educators but as personal trainers of the brain, putting their willing readers through exercises designed to fortify specific mental capacities, from form-giving to equanimity, from reason to faith.

Delivering plenty of surprises along the way-that moral readings of literature can be positively dangerous; that the parables were deliberately designed to be misunderstood; that Plato knowingly sets his main character up for a fall; that metaphor is powerfully connected to religious faith; that we can sustain our beliefs even when we suspect them to be illusions-How to Do Things with Fictions convincingly shows that our best allies in the struggle for more rigorous thinking, deeper faith, richer experience, and greater peace of mind may well be the imaginative writings sitting on our shelves.

See also: article “Fiction books give a boost to the brain, says Stanford professor”

Comments (0) - fiction,new books,psychology,reading

new book – ‘Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction’

July 26, 2011

Such Stuff as Dreams

Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction by Keith Oatley (Wiley 2011)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk)

Product description from the publisher:

Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction explores how fiction works in the brains and imagination of both readers and writers.

    Demonstrates how reading fiction can contribute to a greater understanding of, and the ability to change, ourselves
    Informed by the latest psychological research which focuses on, for example, how identification with fictional characters occurs, and how literature can improve social abilities
    Explores traditional aspects of fiction, including character, plot, setting, and theme, as well as a number of classic techniques, such as metaphor, metonymy, defamiliarization, and cues
    Includes extensive end-notes, which ground the work in psychological studies
    Features excerpts from fiction which are discussed throughout the text, including works by William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Kate Chopin, Anton Chekhov, James Baldwin, and others

From the back cover:

When we read fiction, we mentally create events and scenes from the words offered on the page by the author. Why is this such a pleasurable experience?

Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction explores how fiction works in the brains and imagination of both readers and writers. Drawing on an idea originally developed by a variety of historical literary figures including William Shakespeare, in this ground–breaking work Oatley richly illustrates how fiction is not simply a slice of life, pure entertainment, or an escape from everyday reality. While it does indeed incorporate many of these elements, at its core fiction represents a guided dream, a model that readers construct in collaboration with the writer. This waking dream not only enables us to see ourselves and others more clearly, but offers us revealing glimpses beneath the surface of the everyday world.

The book considers topics such as fiction’s ability to create vividly emotive experiences; issues of empathy and identification; creativity and externalizations of the mind utilized by writers of prose fiction; and the various effects of fiction on individual readers. Throughout the book, excerpts from fiction are also featured and discussed, including works by William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Kate Chopin, Anton Chekhov, and James Baldwin. Informed by deep scholarly rigor, Such Stuff as Dreams is an illuminating and thought–provoking analysis of the transformative power of fiction to enter and engage the mind into revealing profound insights about ourselves and those around us.

See also: New Scientist review, Author’s Psychology Today blog

Comments (0) - fiction,new books,psychology,reading