Affording Innerscapes: Dreams, Introspective Imagery and the Narrative Exploration of Personal Geographies

Thursday 7 March 2019, 6.00PM to 7.30pm

Speaker(s): Marco Bernini (University of Durham)

Our brain is airtight, and yet we seem to hear sounds and voices propagating in our head when we talk to ourselves, mentally rehearse a melody, read literary dialogues between characters on a page or perceive presences addressing us internally, as in auditory-verbal hallucinations. Our mind is neither a physical location nor does it have inner sensory organs of perception such as an inner eye or an inner ear, and yet we experience multimodal imagery with perspectival qualities, as protagonists in, or bystanders in front of, flickering scenes of a movie.

How can narrative help us introspecting and exploring these inner states, emotions and events, most of which are in their pristine condition eminently non-narrative? This talk will suggest that narrative can function as a tool for sculpting affordances into inner experience by turning the mind into a quasi-perceptual world, thus transforming the landscape of consciousness into a landscape of action. The paper will present an interdisciplinary theory of what it will call “innerscapes”: artefactual representations of the mind as a spatially extended world.

By bringing examples of innerscapes from literature (Kafka’s short story The Bridge), radio plays (Samuel Beckett’s Embers), and a creative documentary about auditory-verbal hallucinations (a voice-hearer’s short film, Adam + 1), it suggests that these spatial renditions of the mind are constructed by transforming the quasi-perceptual elements of inner experience into affording ecologies. In so doing, they enable an enactive exploration of inner worlds as navigable environments. The resulting storyworlds display features that resemble the logic and ontology of dreams. Cognitive research on dreams and cartographical studies of the personal geographies of dreamscapes will thus inform the understanding of what innerscapes are, do and can do if used, as the essay argues they should be, as enhancing devices for what Jesse Butler has called ‘extended introspection” (2013: 95).

Bionote: Marco Bernini is an Assistant Professor of Cognitive Literary Studies in the Department of English and a core member of the interdisciplinary project on auditory-verbal hallucinations ‘Hearing the Voice' at Durham University. He is also a member of a project on 'Narrative and Complex Systems' at the University of York (Interdisciplinary Centre for Narrative Studies) and of the 'History of Distributed Cognition' project (University of Edinburgh). His research focuses on narrative theory (in particular cognitive narratology), modernist fiction, and cognitive science. He has also worked on the relationship between fictional writing, distributed cognition (the Extended Mind theory), and literary intentionality. He is now working on a monograph for Oxford University Press (forthcoming 2019) on Samuel Beckett and cognition titled Beckett and the Cognitive Method: Mind, Models and Exploratory Narratives.

“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