Trisha Urmi Banerjee recently received her doctorate from Harvard University. Her working book project, Back Stories: Human Embodiment and the Novel, considers the relation between narrative form and the phenomenological features of the human body’s back surface. She has presented widely on aspects of nineteenth-century British novels, including their rhythm, economics, and feminism. “Austen Equilibrium, the Quantitative, Political, Formal, and Temporal Economy of Emma,” an article that constructs a game theoretical model as a basis for considering the unexpected embrace of capitalism in Jane Austen’s philosophy and style, is forthcoming in Representations.
The theory of embodied cognition – the idea that our bodily experiences shape our mental constructs – spans an array of disciplines, from philosophy and linguistics to neurobiology and artificial intelligence. This seminar will ask whether narrative, in its broad sense, which continually articulates and determines how human beings make sense of experiences, is an embodied mental phenomenon. We will, in other words, consider embodied cognition through the lens of narrative practice, and we will use as a case study the nineteenth-century realist novel, which features some of the most familiar and universal of narrative structures alongside a (supposed) commitment to faithfully representing life. How can the form of a narrative be embodied within that narrative such that an association between structure and body becomes materialized? Can novels act as data for or against embodied cognition, and if so, does this data need or supplement that from other disciplines? Discussing these questions may lead us to wonder why sustained attention to the formal features of an object to the exclusion of its historical context so often leads to universalist conclusions.