Manifesto

The Myrifield Institute for Cognition and the Arts is a think tank for the formal and informal discussion of literature and the arts.

1. We share a growing dissatisfaction with the way literature and the arts have been presented as university subjects over the past decades. In response, we call for a new emphasis, based on our contention that predominant approaches to the study of the arts ignore what we consider to be fundamental issues.

2. We discern a need to shift focus from the interpretative preoccupation of current approaches to the experience of literature and the arts, which includes the need to study their emotional aspects.

3. We propose a new interdisciplinary approach that integrates the social and biological sciences with the humanities. This proposed integration implies the readiness to become actively involved with the methodology of non-humanistic disciplines, including the development of philosophical and empirical research methodologies.

4. Of great promise, we believe, is the emergent cognitive approach to the study of the arts, specifically recent new developments such as embodied cognition and cognitive linguistics that have special relevance for research in literature and the arts.

5. At this stage we propose two central topics: empathy (and related concepts) and literariness (which includes, more broadly “artifying”). In these domains we aim to show what the underlying structures and functions of the arts may have in common, a topic that has been unsatisfactorily covered by current and most past approaches in the humanities.

6. We propose to reopen and reexamine theories of the fundamental nature of the various arts. For that endeavour, we welcome the active participation of scholars in disciplines other than the humanities, such as evolutionary psychology, gestalt theory, linguistics, cognitive science, neuropsychology, philosophy, anthropology, and related disciplines.

• To this end, the Myrifield Institute for Cognition and the Arts invites proposals for retreats, symposia, colloquia, or workshops. Please address enquiries to Margaret H. Freeman at freemamh@lavc.edu.

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2 thoughts on “Manifesto

  1. Hi Margaret. Here’s what I’d like to know more about: “We discern a need to shift focus from the interpretative preoccupation of current approaches to the experience of literature and the arts, which includes the need to study their emotional aspects.”

    best, lois

  2. Dear Lois:

    Your question makes me look more closely at the wording of the statement in the manifesto. What I think it’s saying is that “current approaches” to the arts (including literature) focus on interpretation or meaning rather than on the emotions aroused in experiencing.

    I think that criticism is valid, especially when one looks at ideological readings of literary texts (Dickinson in particular). In our Emily Dickinson Reading Circle, although the natural first response is to ask what does she mean, we have been trying to focus rather on poetic effects, so that “meaning” becomes a more complex understanding than merely communication of a message.

    “meaning” is one of those slippery terms that we have been using all along without fully exploring its ontology – what it means, if you like. Recently in my work and in my readings I am coming to see that aesthetic experience of the arts perhaps provides the clue to meaning in the sense of experiential significance. This is all rather obtuse, but I hope you see what I am getting at.

    Margaret

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