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“It can never be satisfied, the mind, never”: American Studies and the Question of Cognition

Peter Schneck, University of Osnabrück

The study of literature and culture from a cognitive perspective has become increasingly prominent over the last decades and has spawned new interdisciplinary fields of research, e.g. cognitive literary studies, cognitive poetics and cognitive cultural studies. As far as they are perceived at all from the perspective of cultural studies in general, and American Studies in particular, these new approaches are often looked at merely as a throwback to outdated models of formalism and naturalism in literary and cultural analysis, with a somewhat naive trust in empirical data (and brain scans!) and unabashedly universalist notions of the biological foundations of literature and culture in general. Whether or not these sentiments form an adequate assessment of all the various (and rather diverse) approaches which focus on the cognitive in literature and culture, the more significant challenge - or even opportunity - connected to the ‘cognitive turn’ may be the debate about the concept of cognition itself. The question which interests me here, is what potential stakes American Studies might have (or even claim) in such a debate, especially since as a concept cognition appears largely undertheorized, while as a process cognition is constantly assumed or implied - for instance in regard to the general cultural impact and influence of texts, images, films etc.

The Osnabrück research cluster “Cognition and Poetics” is an interdisciplinary effort to form smaller core research groups of established scholars developing and focusing on specific questions, concepts and issues within a larger network of scholars and institutions all interested in the question of cognition in relation to literature and culture. Its immediate aim is to connect interests and scholars from different disciplines in order to work on specific problems or research questions which they deem relevant for all disciplines involved.  The longterm goal is to establish an international network for younger researchers within the humanities and cognitive science. Some of these activities and their specific interests will be presented in brief, including both local workshops and seminars as well as international networking activities.