Volume 47, Number 3                                                                                       Fall 2013

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English Department at NIU

Northern Illinois University

Reuven Tsur
Where Do Conventions Come from? Constraints or Plasticity of the Human Brain Follow-up Note

Frederick Luis Aldama
What the Brain Sciences Might Tell Us About Our Making of and Engaging with Strange Fictions

Emelie Jonsson
The Human Species and the Good Gripping Dreams of H. G. Wells

Ronald Carpenter and Courtney Caudle Travers 
When “Surge” Signifies Rapid Increases of American Combatants sent to Foreign Warfare: Classical Enargia for Contemporary Metaphor

Jeffrey Meyers
Coetzee’s Disgrace

Roslyn Jolly
Henry James in Mid-Career: “Georgina’s Reasons” and the Possibilities of Style

Alexander Hollenberg
Smooth Structures: Narrative Form as Ethical Contact in Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop

Anna Neill
Developing Nonsense in Alice Tales

Reuven Tsur. “Where Do Conventions Come from? Constraints or Plasticity of the Human Brain Follow-up Note.” / 275
This is a follow-up note to an old article of mine, published in Style (Tsur “Poetic Conventions”). That article asks the question where do poetic conventions come from, arguing against a “migration” or “influence-hunting” approach. My answer is based on a conception of cognitive constraints; ultimately, on the natural constraints of the human brain. In that paper I quote experimental evidence regarding the general principles of repeated social transmission by which cultural programs assume good fit to the constraints of the human cognitive system, but not specifically to the constraints of the brain. The present paper fills in that gap by extensively quoting Dehaene’s paper in neuroscience, that a well-defined area in the brain constrains the graphic primitives of the characters in all known writing systems. “Even in the macaque monkey, the inferotemporal visual cortex already contains neurons sensitive to letter-like combinations of lines such as T, L, X, and *.” 
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Frederick Luis Aldama. “What the Brain Sciences Might Tell Us About Our Making of and Engaging with Strange Fictions.” / 283
This review essay uses Lisa Zunshine’s Strange Concepts and The Stories they Make Possible as the gravitational center for a larger discussion about scholarship that uses in cognitive approaches to study cultural phenomena. Moreover, the review essay considers whether the early cognitive development research of Paul Bloom and Susan A. Gelman offer an adequate platform for considering how authors, artists, and filmmakers confuse the mentally distinct and fixed categories of function and essence. The review essay proposes an alternative approach that uses the insights from Alison Gopnik and the early development of our causal, counterfactual, and probabilistic mechanisms that are grown to create and consume fiction—strange or otherwise. The review essay ends by asking if perhaps our interest in strange fictions and strange art is less the exercise of the (belief in) essence vs. function mechanisms (as per Bloom and Gelman) and more likely the playful engagement with our causal and counterfactual processes.
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Emelie Jonsson. “The Human Species and the Good Gripping Dreams of H. G. Wells.” / 295
H.G. Wells was one of the first literary authors to depict human beings from an explicitly Darwinian perspective. The enduring appeal of his fiction testifies to his artistic intuition and imaginative understanding of evolution. However, Wells drew a sharp line between nature and culture, trusting culture to work against nature toward his ideal social state. From a modern evolutionary perspective, that split gave him an inadequate view of two important parts of human nature: imaginative culture and dispositions toward cooperative group behavior. In this article, I put Wells back on the Darwinian ground from which literary scholars have detached him. Taking The Time Machine and The Island of Dr. Moreau as examples, I use historical, biographical sources and modern evolutionary science to explain the psychological functions, imaginative effect and ambiguous canonical status of Wells’s early fiction.
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Ronald Carpenter and Courtney Caudle Travers. “When ‘Surge’ Signifies Rapid Increases of American Combatants sent to Foreign Warfare: Classical Enargia for Contemporary Metaphor.” / 315
When American Presidents say“ surge” to signify sending more American combat troops to warring in Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere, the metaphor merits inquiry about its capability to achieve rhetorical effect and affect in contemporary public discourse. Augmenting Michael Osborn’s most recent observations about persuasiveness of metaphor, findings in linguistics and neuroscience are conjoined herein with a Classical concept from Aristotelian rhetorical theory: enargeia. The resultant view of metaphor may be relevant for rhetoric seeking unity from diverse, contemporaneous audiences. 
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Jeffrey Meyers. “Coetzee’s Disgrace.” / 333
Like Kafka’s The Trial and Camus’ The Stranger, J. M. Coetzee’s concise, austere masterpiece Disgrace (1999) is densely allusive, thematically rich and subtly suggestive. This personal and political novel explores two kinds of disgrace and takes us on a complex moral journey. David Lurie, a white South African who seduces his student, loses his job and status as a professor. He’s then shamed in a different way when his daughter, Lucy, is raped. Like the heroes of Kafka and Camus, Lurie is alienated from his colleagues and social milieu. A self-described slave to Eros, torn between reason and desire, he’s even alienated from himself. He has, at first, no real understanding of why he’s been disgraced. But when Lucy is dispossessed by the blacks, he finally discovers the core of his own integrity.
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Roslyn Jolly. “Henry James in Mid-Career: ‘Georgina’s Reasons’ and the Possibilities of Style.” / 342
Henry James’s 1884 tale “Georgina’s Reasons” presents readers with an insoluble hermeneutic problem regarding its heroine’s motivation. This essay applies four interpretative frameworks — theological, political, scientific and geographical — to the question of the heroine’s “reasons.” Each way of interpreting the story aligns with a genre of nineteenth-century fiction: sensation novel, New Woman novel, naturalism and the international tale. The problem of the heroine’s motivation thus provides an occasion for consideration of the stylistic choices available to James in the mid-1880s, and of the capacities and limitations of each style for developing his chosen subject — a woman whose unconventional and destructive behaviour defies rational understanding. Although — or because — Georgina’s reasons consistently elude the reader’s interpretative grasp, their pursuit prompts critical reflection on the kinds of knowledge that different fictional styles facilitate or occlude. Such reflection, I argue, is the critical profit yielded by James’s decision to situate his enigmatic heroine within a multi-generic narrative.
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Alexander Hollenberg. “Smooth Structures: Narrative Form as Ethical Contact in Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop.” / 366
This article investigates the hermeneutic ethics implied by Cather’s characterization of Death Comes for the Archbishop as a “light touch.” By paying particular attention to the parallels between the smooth objects within the text and Cather’s “smooth” narrative form—a mode of structural parataxis—the analysis considers the ways Cather interrogates the power and potential of the reader to mark the other and inscribe him or herself upon the text through interpretation. This rhetorical frame is then employed in order to contemplate how Cather dramatizes ethical intercultural contact between her Catholic protagonist and the Indigenous peoples that populate the novel’s nineteenth-century Southwestern setting.
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Anna Neill. “Developing Nonsense in Alice Tales.” / 382 
Beyond either its indulgence in sheer verbal play or its potential for serious social satire, nonsense literature has been said to have an adaptive function because it encourages both cultural and mental flexibility: even as it enables children to challenge social norms, nonsense also exercises their cognitive muscles in unfamiliar ways. This essay argues instead that nonsense stores up representations of the world that the maturing brain rejects as “useless.” It does not therefore constitute an evolutionary “crane,” enhancing the capacity for shared meaning that has enabled humans to enjoy such enormous evolutionary strides. Rather, in the sharing of nonsensical stories, images rejected in neural development are saved and stored in material forms that in turn impact the affective lives of future generations of readers. Shadowing the images that produce more successful versions of reality, the “half beliefs” that nonsense-reading makes possible suggest that imaginative literary culture does something other than accelerate human adaptive success.
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