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A 'Narrative and the Senses' seminar

Thursday 31 January 2019, 6.00PM to 7.30pm

Speaker(s): Dr Claire Chambers and Dr Richard Walsh (Department of English and Related Literature, University of York)

Claire Chambers: “Fiction of Olfaction: Nadeem Aslam’s Maps for Lost Lovers and Monica Ali’s Brick Lane”

The air that we breathe is axiomatic for something taken for granted. But smells are potent and important, affecting us more than we realize. This paper explores how Nadeem Aslam and Monica Ali pour odours into their novels of the 2000s. After brief consideration of the most well-known mainstream odoriferous fiction, Patrick Süskind’s Perfume, I argue that Aslam’s Maps for Lost Lovers (2004) is saturated with heady fragrances. These waft over even the most difficult subjects, such as violent racist abuse in northern England. In Ali’s Brick Lane (2003), a campaign by the extremist group Bengal Tigers is bound up with smell diction, the greedy moneylender Mrs Islam is olfactorily othered, and part of protagonist Nazneen’s attraction for Karim stems from his refreshing lime smell. Both novelists are alert to the key role smell plays in sexual attraction, racist discourse, migrant encapsulation, and religious practice. Particular smells, such as jasmine, roses, cologne, fried food, medicines, and garbage have very precise connotations in these osmatic texts. In this paper, I hope to ‘make scents’ of these two Muslim-identified British novels from the early 2000s. The sense of smell is not to be sniffed at; as Ali and Aslam intimate, the nose knows.

Richard Walsh: “Narrative Cognition, the Senses and Embodiment”

This paper addresses the idea of narrative cognition in a way that inverts the usual priorities of cognitive narratology. Work in that field has generally imported ideas from cognitive science into narrative theory and literary narrative studies, whereas my interest runs the other way, and concerns the significance of narrative theory for the study of cognition. This approach requires a more defined concept of narrative cognition, previously invoked by various theorists in more or less inflationary ways. It draws upon research in embodied cognition to scrutinize the threshold between meaning and phenomenal experience - the interface between active cognition and receptive sensation (including the traditional five senses and some of the more recondite senses recognised by research in the field). My discussion considers why narrative, in its most elemental cognitive form, might have a privileged role at this interface, and explores the operation at this level of two antithetical principles of meaning familiar from more literary kinds of narrative theory: the implicit and the reflexive.

“Narrative and the Senses” is a strand of the 2019 ICNS programme, Limit Narratology: Cognition and Culture, which juxtaposes the most basic form of narrative sense-making as a cognitive faculty with the cultural role of highly elaborate fictional narratives. The seminars are organised around two centres of interest: “Narrative and the Senses” considers the evocation of the senses in narrative texts as a figure or mediation of narrative sense, and the grounding of narrative cognition in embodiment and sensory experience; “Historicising Fictionality” concerns fiction as an evolving communicative and rhetorical resource, with a traceable cultural history and a principle of development located in the recursively reflexive logic of narrative discourse.


Location: Seminar Room BS/007, Berrick Saul Building, University of York Heslington West Campus