Cognitive narratology needs a neuroscientifically sound understanding of language. This essay lays out a neurobiological model of narrative that explains how stories arise from and set in motion fundamental neuronal and cortical processes, and it then asks how the aims and methods of narratology should be aligned with what we know about language and the brain. The formalist goal of identifying orderly, universal structures of mind, language, and narrative does not match up well with the probabilistic, reciprocal interactions in the brain through which cognitive patterns emerge from our embodied experiences of the world. Cognitive narratology needs to break with the structuralist legacy still evident in the terminology of frames, scripts, and preference rules and to embrace the paradigm shift proposed by various pragmatically oriented, phenomenological theories of narrative that have contested the formalist program.
Neuroscience, Narrative, and Narratology
Paul B. Armstrong is professor of English at Brown University. His most recent books are How Literature Plays with the Brain: The Neuroscience of Reading and Art (2013) and a Norton Critical Edition of Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness (5th ed., 2017). His book Stories and the Brain: The Neuroscience of Narrative is forthcoming (2020).
Paul B. Armstrong; Neuroscience, Narrative, and Narratology. Poetics Today 1 September 2019; 40 (3): 395–428. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-7558052
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