News

LITERARY UNIVERSALS WORKSHOP

Held at The University of Connecticut, Storrs, on 24 May 2019

From the Organizers (Pat Hogan, Severi Luoto, and Arnab Roy): Many thanks to all the participants in this memorable event!

Literary universals include properties and structures ranging, for example, from genre patterns through metaphor and imagery, and from ethical or political themes through formal features of prosody. Technically, literary universals are features of literary works that recur across unrelated literary traditions with greater frequency than would be predicted by chance. Traditions are unrelated if they are distinct in their sources and have not influenced each other through interaction, at least not with respect to the feature under consideration. Thus, early Chinese and early European poetry count as unrelated by this definition, but Latin New Comedy and English Renaissance comedy would not count as unrelated. (For further discussion, see “What Are Literary Universals?“)

Though the study of literary universals was dormant for some time, developments in cognitive and affective science have revived the study of cross-cultural literary patterns, enabling new insights into their nature and origins. Moreover, the study of such patterns holds promise for contributing to our understanding of human cognition and emotion, thus cognitive and affective science themselves.

This one-day workshop will explore topics in the study of literary universals. For information on speakers and topics, please consult the program.

There is no fee to register for the conference. However, since lunch will be provided, we are asking that participants complete the brief registration form before 6 May 2019. (If you don’t register by 6 May, you are still welcome to attend, but we may not have lunch for you.) (Registration is now closed.)

Please note: The on-campus hotel (The Nathan Hale Inn) is by far the most conveniently located for the workshop. However, it will be undergoing renovations during that time and rooms may not be available for all out-of-town participants. It may therefore be necessary for some participants to take a hotel room at some distance from the university. Those staying at hotels other than the Nathan Hale Inn should plan on having their own transportation between the hotel and campus, since public transportation and taxi service are both very limited in the area. Accommodations in the area of UConn include Spring Hill Inn (Storrs), Best Western (Storrs), Rodeway Inn (Willington), and The Tolland Inn.

Directions to the University of Connecticut-Storrs and information on visitor parking may be found at our page on directions and parking. Information on parking is also available at the university’s Parking Services website.

LITERARY UNIVERSALS PROJECT: DIRECTIONS AND PARKING

Literary Universals Workshop

University of Connecticut – Storrs Campus

Directions to the South Parking Garage

and

Walking Directions to Oak Hall

 

Directions and Parking

View the interactive UConn campus map here.

Parking is available in the South Parking Garage (SPRK on the interactive map). Walking directions from the South Parking Garage to Oak Hall (OAK on the interactive map) are listed below.

Please note that there will be significant construction happening on the Storrs Campus during the Summer of 2019. Please continue to watch the Summer Construction Update website for the most up-to-date information. If anything significant changes, Pat Hogan or Lauren Schaller will alert you.

DRIVING DIRECTIONS TO THE SOUTH PARKING GARAGE (SPRK):

FROM INTERSTATE 84:

I-84 East/West to Exit 68.  Take Route 195 South approximately 7 miles (crossing over Route 32). At the intersection of Route 195 and Route 44, turn right onto Route 44 West. Proceed to first set of lights and turn left onto Discovery Drive. Proceed straight ahead on Discovery Drive. At first set of lights, continue straight ahead, crossing over North Eagleville Road. (The road name changes to North Hillside Road). Continue on North Hillside Road to the third stop sign and turn right onto Jim Calhoun Way.  The entrance to the South Parking Garage is on the left.

 

FROM SOUTHEASTERN CONNECTICUT:

I-95 to Route 395 North.  Take Exit 81 to Route 32 North.  Follow Route 32 North to Willimantic. Turn right onto South Street and go over the Frog Bridge.  At the end of the bridge, continue straight through the light onto Jackson Street.  Jackson Street runs directly into Route 195 North.  Continue on Route 195 North through Mansfield and into Storrs (approximately 8 miles).  Proceed past E.O. Smith High School on the left and Downtown Storrs on the right.  Proceed to the first set lights and turn left onto Mansfield Road.  Take the first left onto Gilbert Road and follow to the stop sign.  Turn right at the stop sign and proceed until the next stop sign in front of the UConn Bookstore.  Turn left onto Jim Calhoun Way. The entrance to the South Parking Garage is on the left.

 

WALKING DIRECTIONS TO OAK HALL (OAK):

At the UConn Bookstore, walk across Jim Calhoun Way and continue to walk North (Gampel on your left – School of Business across the street on your right). Follow the sidewalk to the end of Gampel and cross using the crosswalk at the first opportunity. This will put you onto Fairfield Way. Walk straight ahead into the core of campus – you are now heading East. Pass by three buildings on your right (School of Business, ITE Building, and Homer Babbidge Library). The next building straight ahead is Oak Hall. Directly in front of Oak Hall is a fork in Fairfield Way. Follow the path to the right and proceed approximately 200 feet along the exterior of Oak Hall. Enter through the set of doors at the far end of the building (closest to the next building – the Psychology Building). The registration area will be set-up directly outside of Oak 112.

LITERARY UNIVERSALS WORKSHOP PROGRAM AND ABSTRACTS

LITERARY UNIVERSALS WORKSHOP

24 May 2019

This workshop is made possible by a generous grant from the University of Connecticut Office of the Vice President for Research, as well as funding from the Department of English and the Department of Literatures, Cultures and Languages at the University of Connecticut, and the Emil Aaltonen Foundation. The organizers (Patrick Colm Hogan, Severi Luoto, and Arnab Dutta Roy) would also like to thank Robert Hasenfratz, Melanie Hepburn, Juliet Kapsis, Gustavo Nanclares, Lauren Schaller, and Chris Vials for their help.

 

PROGRAM

(All events will take place in room 112 of Oak Hall, University of Connecticut, Storrs, except dinner, which will take place in room 236 of Oak Hall.)

8:30-9:00         Refreshments, collect registration materials, check computer.

9:00-9:05         Welcome.

                                    Arnab Dutta Roy, University of Connecticut

9:05-9:30         “On the Very Idea of a Research Program Treating Literary Universals”

                                    Patrick Colm Hogan, University of Connecticut

9:40-10:35      “A Universalist Account of Prominence Distinctions among Unstressed Syllables

                                    Geoffrey Russom, Brown University

                        Chair, Robert Hasenfratz, University of Connecticut

10:45-12:00

                        “Literary Spatial Patterning”

                                    Liz Finnigan, Southern Regional College, N. Ireland ,

                        “Literary Canons as Universals:

                                                Or, Essential Criteria for a New Philosophy of Literature”

                                    Christopher Kuipers, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

                        “Literary Universals, the Spanish Atlantic, and the Question of Modernity:

                                                From Cabeza de Vaca to Castro

                                    Soren Triff, Bristol Community College and University of Connecticut.

                        Chair, Yohei Igarashi, University of Connecticut

12:00-1:00    Lunch                                                                                                                                                                  

    12:30   Video: “Etiological Animal Tales as a Typological Universal”

                                    Michelle Scalise Sugiyama, University of Oregon

1:00-1:55      “Universals of Literary Meaning”

                                    Joseph Carroll, University of Missouri-St. Louis

                        Chair, Severi Luoto, University of Auckland

2:05-3:20         

                        “Metaphors of Sexuality across the Atlantic: La Celestina and the Popol Vuh

                                    Oswaldo Chinchilla Mazariegos, Yale University

                        “Psycholinguistic Sex Differences in Literary Fiction:

                                                A Computerised Text Analysis of 300 Novels”

                                    Severi Luoto, University of Auckland

                        “Politics of ‘Primal Androgyny’:

                                                Some Specific Cultural Implications of this Statistical Universal”

                                    Arnab Dutta Roy, University of Connecticut

                        Chair, Rosa Helena Chinchilla, University of Connecticut

3:30-4:45

                        “Narrative Empathy Is Everywhere:

                                                The Ability to Empathize with Literature is a Literary Universal”

                                    Kelly Mahaffy, University of Connecticut

                        “Traveling Through Theatre: Cultural Universals: Some Journeys

                                    Sonjoy Dutta-Roy, University of Allahabad

                        “‘Imaginal’ Shapes: Waking, Dreaming, Sleeping in Cross-Cultural Storytelling”

                                    Neela Bhattacharya Saxena, Nassau Community College

                        Chair, Evelyn Tribble, University of Connecticut

4:55-5:45

                        “Counterintuitive Imagery as a Literary Universal”

                                    Tom Dolack, Wheaton College

                        “Ministering to Power:

                                                Fiction in Court Settings, from Halicarnassus to Heian Japan”

                                    Sara R. Johnson, University of Connecticut

                        Chair, Shailen Mishra, University of Delaware 

5:45-6:15         

                         General Discussion:

                                    Questions for any panelists,

                                    ideas for fostering research on cross-cultural literary patterns,

                                    and anything else anyone would like to bring up.

                        Chair, Lalita Pandit Hogan, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

6:30-8:00

   Buffet dinner in Oak 236 for workshop registrants.

 

ABSTRACTS AND BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

INTRODUCTORY COMMENTS

“On the Very Idea of a Research Program Treating Literary Universals”

Patrick Colm Hogan, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor, University of Connecticut

Modeled on the research program in linguistic universals, the Literary Universals Project seeks to establish a platform for the study of cross-cultural patterns in literature and orature. This opening workshop presentation sets out a basic definition of literary universals, responding to some common misconceptions about universals. It goes on to sketch what it involved in describing and explaining literary universals. It considers some common problems encountered in interdisciplinary research programs, and distinguishes the methodological orientation of the Literary Universals Project from that of non-cognitive approaches, such as Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots. In conclusion, it sets out what intellectual goals might be pursued through the study of literary universals.

Patrick Colm Hoganis a Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor in the English Department, the Program in Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies, and the Program in Cognitive Science. He is the author of over twenty books, including The Mind and Its Stories: Narrative Universals and Human Emotion (Cambridge University Press, 2003) and the forthcoming Personal Identity and Literature (Routledge, 2019). He is a co-editor and co-founder of The Literary Universals Project.

 

PLENARY TALKS

“Universals of Literary Meaning”

Joseph Carroll, Curators’ Distinguished Professor of English, University of Missouri-St. Louis

Literature consists in aesthetically modeled verbal constructs that depict or evoke subjective experience. “Meaning” in literature consists in the communication of imaginative effects. I identify four levels for the organization of meaning in literary texts: the pan-human level, the culturally specific level, the level of individual persons (authors and readers), and the level of individual literary works. The term “Pan-human” is synonymous with the term “universal.” When applied to literary texts, those terms signify universal subjects, themes, emotions, and forms of organization. The forms of organization range from large-scale structural features of narrative, drama, and verse to micro-structures of style. By definition, universal features of literary texts appear in all texts, including texts distinguished by differences of culture, by differences of individual authorial identity, and by particularities of subject, theme, tone, and form in any given literary work, each of which is unique in some respect. Literary meaning varies by culture, authorial identity, and individual text, but those categories are themselves literary universals. That is, all texts are embedded in some particular culture, are imbued with characteristics that derive from the minds of the authors who create them, and display unique individual ways of combining subjects, themes, emotions, and formal structures. Universal elements of human experience combine differently in different texts to produce the specific forms of meaning in those texts. I’ll illustrate these propositions with examples from world literature.

JosephCarroll is Curators’ Distinguished Professor in the English department at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. Since the early 1990s, he has been working to integrate evolutionary research and literary study. He has developed an evolutionary theory of literature, produced interpretive essays on literary works ranging from plays of Shakespeare to modern novels, written essays in intellectual history, and conducted empirical research on protagonists and antagonists in Victorian fiction.

 

“A Universalist Account of Prominence Distinctions among Unstressed Syllables” 

Geoffrey Russom, Emeritus Professor of English, Brown University; Nicholas Brown 

Professor of Oratory and Belles Lettres (Emeritus).

In a recent paper (Swedish Academy, 2018), Paul Kiparsky has identified differences in metrical prominence among unstressed constituents. Inflectional endings, for example, are less prominent than independent unstressed words and can be added more freely to a verse as extrametrical syllables. In this respect as in others, Germanic alliterative meters provide evidence not easily obtained from the meters most thoroughly studied by Western scholars. This paper identifies gradations of prominence within Old English verse patterns, as analyzed in Russom (2017), and isolates prominence differences among unstressed syllables due to differences in frequency, syllable count, and syntactic constituency. For practical reasons, metrists have attended primarily to metrical rules that apply without exception. This was understandable in 19th century, when linguists interested in poetic form used index cards and had to put just one feature of interest at the top for indexing. Today, however, relational databases like Excel provide a much more efficient research tool. When the metrical features of each verse are notated in an electronic entry, a researcher can instantly obtain a list of all and only those verses in the same poem that have any of the notated features –– or any desired combination of the notated features. There is no longer any excuse for overemphasizing the ‘always / never’ contrast and neglecting the ‘often / seldom’ contrast, which may sometimes provide better insight into universal principles of verse construction. The presentation will conclude with a demonstration of Excel scansions that provide the evidence for claims made in the paper.

Geoffrey Russomis Emeritus Professor of English at Brown University and Nicholas Brown Professor of Oratory and Belles Lettres (Emeritus). Hiss research interests include Old English, Middle English, Old Norse, and Old Irish literary cultures; linguistic theory; and theory of poetic meter. He is best known for arguments showing that rules of poetic meter are abstracted from rules of ordinary language and, once abstracted, operate like new linguistic rules, interacting with other rules of the linguistic system to yield a varied yet well-defined array of acceptable verse patterns. Russom is author of three books published by Cambridge University Press: Old English Meter and Linguistic Theory (1987), Beowulf and Old Germanic Metre (1998), and The Evolution of Verse Structure in Old and Middle English Poetry: From the Earliest Alliterative Poems to Iambic Pentameter (2017). His 2017 book traces poetic use of English and some cognate languages from about 300 BCE to the present, presenting a theory of evolutionary metrics within Chomsky’s universalist framework. The theory relating linguistic systems to metrical systems is further developed in “Optimality Theory, Language Typology, and Universalist Metrics,” Studia Metrica et Poetica 5.1 (2018), 7–27. In addition to work on poetic form, Russom has published articles on the linguistic history of English, the multicultural backgrounds of Beowulf, and the artistic excellence of preliterate verse traditions.

 

PANEL PRESENTATIONS

“Counterintuitive Imagery as a Literary Universal”

            Tom Dolack, Wheaton College

A productive strain of research in the cognitive study of religion has focused on the prevalence of “counterintuitive imagery,” or images that violate our expectations of ontological categories (animals that talk, people without bodies). I propose that such a religious universal is better viewed as a literary universal, and can be regarded as a fundamental element of narrative, not just religion. Making this connection would allow us to apply a wealth of research on the origins of religion to the origins of narrative and literature, enabling at least the formulation of hypotheses about the beginnings of the narrative arts.  

But first some quantitative work is necessary. Is counterintuitive imagery as universal in literary texts as in religious? Is there a difference in rates between written and oral traditions? Has it decreased over time? As an attempt to begin answering these questions, a team of undergraduates and I began to quantify rates of counterintuitive imagery in the Hebrew Bible and the Harry Potter novels. Ultimately, far more texts will need to be analyzed in as many genres as possible, but these texts served as a proof of concept.

What we found was that the Potter novels in fact had higher levels of counterintuitive imagery than the Bible, even more than the older books that were initially composed orally. Based on informal counts of other works, this does not appear to be an exception, either. Counterintuitive imagery clearly permeates literary texts, not just oral or religious works. In other words, it can be viewed as a universal. Assuming the findings hold up after additional research, this would indicate a need to rethink the purpose of counterintuitive imagery, and the possibility of uniting research on the origins of religion and literature.

 

“Traveling Through Theatre: Cultural Universals: Some Journeys”

            Sonjoy Dutta-Roy, University of Allahabad

In this presentation, I will explore the deep moorings of fertility myths and rituals in a range of literary and performative works including Eliot’s The Wasteland, Chandrashekhar Kambar’s Jokumaraswamy, and Arun Mukherjee’s Mareech: The Legend.  Among the various sources that feed the cultural universal of fertility rites in Eliot’s poem is the Brihadaranyika Upanishad. I will pick up the encrypted narrative in the Upanishad story and explore the psychological dimensions of sexuality in the gender relationships that trouble Eliot’s poem. I will connect this to the fertility rites in rural Karnataka and Bengal that give birth to Kambar’s and Mukherjee’s plays. All these works encase certain propagandistic political elements that I will try to highlight.  It is at this level that universalisms are often constructed and mobilized for creating power hierarchies in their particular social contexts. But even in such projects, the stories by themselves have bristling indicators that might constantly run against the manipulation of ideas. This often happens as subtext and a much more emancipatory universalism might challenge the canon-creating or political motivated agendas that might be there. I will show this through a reading and sharing of performative experiences from these sources. Through this study, I place the importance of some cultural universals (in this case fertility rites) and their corresponding universalizations in different story-telling and performative traditions for Humanities and its pedagogy.

 

“Literary Spatial Patterning”

            Liz Finnigan, Southern Regional College, N. Ireland 

In this paper I propose a statistical universal (Hogan 2016) about visual spatial pattering within verbal narrative. The universal states that unique patterns of representation can be found in the literary descriptions for three categories of space: Setting, Place and Person. These patterns are found in particular spatial frames, which I term topological frames, and are a set of schemas for describing setting, places or people. I call these frames topological because they describe the location of objects within a space and their inter-related arrangements. In literary texts, we should expect individual writers to produce spatial representations that are based on stylistic choices which create difference and this also includes the possibility of randomness. Yet, in topological frames the same patterns of spatial relations occur consistently demonstrating a statistical probability in their favour.

 

“Ministering to Power: Fiction in Court Settings, from Halicarnassus to Heian Japan” 

            Sara R. Johnson, University of Connecticut

It was once a common perception that the novel was a creation of Renaissance and early modern Europe (Cervantes in Spain, Rabelais in France, Richardson or Defoe in England), but today there is growing understanding that novels have emerged more widely in both geographical space and time, from the Greek and Latin novels of the second century CE in the Greco-Roman Mediterranean, to the eleventh-century Tale of Genji in Japan, to the classic form of the novel that began to emerge in fourteenth-century China. In each of these cultural settings, long-form prose was also used to narrate “true” stories of the nation’s past. It is not surprising, then, that one commonly finds alongside “novel” and “history” many narrative texts that mingle perceived “truth” and “fiction” in surprising ways.

In “Embodiment and Universals,” Vittorio Gallese remarks: “It is fair to say that virtually all human beings share the same impulse to narrate – and listen to – stories.” As students of narratology understand, the genres of history and novel both tell “stories” in their own way, and historical and fictional narrative shares many common features. Yet the emergence of both long-form prose fiction and prose narrative history, while widespread, has not been entirely universal. Rather, each has tended to appear in specific cultural and historical contexts, often being associated with one or more “founders” (e.g. Herodotus for Greek history, Cervantes for the Spanish novel, Lady Murasaki for the Genji Monogatari). Likewise, narratives that mingle fiction and fact do not appear universally but along particular fault lines in time and space.

My talk will reflect upon the emergence of narrative texts of an ambivalent nature (those which are difficult to classify neatly as either “history” or “fiction,” “true” or “false”) at two specific points: in eleventh century Japan, shortly after the appearance of the Tale of Genji, and in fourth century BCE Asia Minor, along the boundary between Greek and Persian imperial spheres.

 

“Literary Canons as Universals; Or, Essential Criteria for a New Philosophy of Literature”

            Christopher Kuipers, Indiana University of Pennsylvania

This presentation will explore two things: first, how literary canons are formed universally, as essential expressions of valuation across all literate cultures; and, second, what this universality of canonization implies for reviving the philosophy of literature.

Despite the culture wars of the 1980s and 90s, “the canon” (as a demarcated set of selections) is still alive and well, as university courses, dissertations, and monographs throughout today’s literary profession blithely attest. But is canonicity truly universal, particularly given the global influence of this avowedly Western concept? There are at least five reasons why canons do seem to be universals in the strict sense. Selection, or valuation of certain things, is unavoidable in culture. Secondly, the other interlinked literary ideas we associate with “canons” (rules, corpuses, lists) likewise form a coherent conceptual-metaphorical complex across cultures, despite varying terminologies. Third, there were a wide variety of such terms in Greco-Roman culture, where “canon” eventually emerged as the, ahem, canonical term. Fourth, in ideological situations where canonicity is specifically declined, all the conceptual usages of “canon” remain fully in play. Fifth, perhaps most interestingly, the selective concept of “canon” exerts profound influence even where there is no positive corresponding keyword, as in the case of the Hebrew Bible (there are only terms to designate works “excluded,” etc. from the canonized Tanakh).

This disruptively anti-ideological, rigorously terministic analysis of canonicity directs us to reconsider the philosophy of literature, which has emerged from scholarly dormancy in the last decade. A philosophy of literature worth the name will entail the following canonical criteria: 1) Literature must be considered as a human instinct, like language and consciousness itself. Anthropologically, literature is likely a human exaptation of music, and certainly a coded expression of ancient patterns of human wisdom. 2) There must be formulated a philosophically satisfactory definition of literature, one free from the pervasive mythology of modern print culture, a definition embracing drama, orality, and visual forms we intuitively recognize as literature, such as film and comics. 3) There must be delineated the values, plural, of literature. The values to be articulated must range well beyond the contingency paradigm of critique, and encompass the full range of literary pleasure and utility, recognition and discovery, that continually engage creators and audiences in any language. 4) There must be acknowledged, so it can be counteracted, the modernizing conceptual impulse to de-mythologize and de-pluralize literature, as epitomized by the singularizing “the” of “the canon” and “the Bible” (< ta biblia “books”). 5) Criticism must be recognized to have a fourth, moral dimension as ethos, in addition to its other three dynamic spheres: grammatica (genitive interpretation alongside generative textuality); mythos (truth-telling alongside fictivity); and logos (gray theory alongside green networks). Increasingly neglected among the canons of criticism since the Enlightenment, ethos is critically keyed to educative value: interest and practice, andragogy and axiology.

 

“Psycholinguistic Sex Differences in Literary Fiction: A Computerised Text Analysis of 300 Novels”

            Severi Luoto, University of Auckland

Sex is a fundamental biological variable that influences almost all traits in humans. The study of psychological sex differences has been an intensely researched area for decades, if not centuries. Although psychological sex differences have been reported in a variety of domains, linguists still debate about the magnitude of such differences in language use. Using machine learning to find contrasting features of male and female writing, Argamon and colleagues (2009) found significant sexual dimorphism in French texts from the 12th–20th centuries. Female authors used more personal pronouns and negative polarity items than males, while male-authored texts had a higher frequency of determiners and numerical quantifiers. Studying Dutch novels published in the 21st century, Koolen (2018) found large to very large sex differences in the frequencies of pronouns, articles, numbers, and positive emotions, among other categories. I present findings from a corpus linguistic study on 150 male-authored and 150 female-authored British, Irish, and American novels. Sex differences were examined in contemporary prizewinning novels as well as canonical works published between 1800–2017. The novels were analysed with the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count program. Very large (Cohen’s d > 1) sex differences were found for personal pronoun use, positive emotion words, social words—all more frequent in female-authored novels—as well as article use and words reflecting analytical thinking, both more frequent in male-authored novels. Other psycholinguistic categories showed sex differences ranging from negligible to large (0 < d < 1). The findings are consistent with existing psychological and linguistic research on sex differences, preliminarily suggesting that literary texts may contain universal sexual dimorphism that arises from fundamental sex differences in psychological traits. These findings on 300 novels provide further challenges to the gender similarities hypothesis while supporting the sex differences hypothesis arising from and supported by evolutionary science.

 

“Narrative Empathy Is Everywhere: The Ability to Empathize with Literature is a Literary Universal” 

            Kelly Mahaffy, University of Connecticut

Empathy has been one of the most frequently studied concepts of the last decade, yet literary scholars are still unsettled over whether empathy can be considered truly universal or not. If empathy is considered a literary universals, it would mean proving that more often than chance readers can empathize with stories, a feat that has proven difficult. In this presentation, I will consider Suzanne Keen’s “Narrative Empathy: A Universal Response to Literature?” in which she argues against considering empathy as a literary universal and extend the position of Patrick Colm Hogan’s “Comments on Keen: Universal Principles versus Uniformity” to argue that, not only is narrative empathy a literary universal, but that we can universally predict which characters, scenes, and moments of a work of literature will provoke the most empathic responses from readers.

Empathy is no longer a strange pseudo-science constructed solely of self-reported feelings and emotional responses. Now, empathy is often viewed through changes in neuronal activation via neuroimaging, a technique that not only allows for a confirmation of empathizing but also allows comparative analysis of empathic responses across many social strata. Relying on this work on empathy from cognitive science, focusing on the work of Anezka  Kuzmičová, I will prove that it is more likely than chance for readers to empathize with speaking characters featuring ingroup characteristics in emotionally salient situations within literature. This distinction is important, for predicting the times that a reader will empathize while reading a literary text can help to suggest what characters or scenes will be most memorable, why literature is important, and some of the ways evolution makes humans predisposed to enjoying art.

 

“Metaphors of Sexuality across the Atlantic: La Celestina and the Popol Vuh

            Oswaldo Chinchilla Mazariegos, Yale University 

Students of the Popol Vuh and other sixteenth-century indigenous texts from Guatemala and Mexico have long noted the presence of motifs and passages that parallel European texts. The parallels are commonly explained as the result of Spanish religious teachings and other forms of influence on native authors, and the possibilities of parallel but independent origins are rarely considered. In this talk, I explore sexual metaphors involving toothache, which are present in two major literary works produced within decades of each other across the Atlantic: the late fifteenth-century Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea, and the mid-sixteenth century Popol Vuh. While there are good probabilities that the authors of the Popol Vuh incorporated elements of Christianity in their work, I argue that their treatment of toothache as a sexual metaphor did not derive from Spanish teachings. In support of this argument, I explore the meanings associated with toothache in European literature and oral literature from indigenous communities in Guatemala and Mexico.

 

“Politics of ‘Primal Androgyny’: Some Specific Cultural Implications of this Statistical Universal”

            Arnab Dutta Roy, University of Connecticut

Motifs of “primal androgyny” appear across many mythic and folk traditions around the world dating back thousands of years. Such motifs broadly reveal two interconnected myths (that are evoked either individually or collectively). One, the first humans incorporated both male and female sexual attributes (spiritual, physical, or both). Two, the divinity that created humans was a primal androgyny (mainly on account of its ability to self-procreate). Variations of these myths can be found in a range of pre-colonial traditions from Africa or African diasporic regions (Dogon, Kemetic, Santeria, Haitian), Americas (Navaho, Zuni, Crow, Aztec), Australian tribes, Europe (Greek and Roman), Middle East (Babylonian, Abrahamic), Asia (Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist), and others. A comprehensive study on the topic has not been done so far. As such, this project, in the first part, offers a systematic research program that relates primal androgyny as a prime candidate for statistical universals specific to oral and written mythic traditions.

Building on this comparative frame, the second half of the presentation will examine questions of sexuality and tradition through a reading of androgyny in certain South Asian scriptural and folk traditions (for instance, the mythical Hindu figure of ‘Ardhanarishvara’ or the myths of androgyny in the Tibetan folklore: Uncle Tompa). These readings will explore questions such as how the universal tropes of androgyny have appeared in these traditions, how have they been culturally codified, and what are the broader moral underpinnings of the stories which encase such myths. Thus, my basic aim will be to evaluate the extent to which such readings can complicate and become subversive of existing dogmatic prescriptions of religious patriarchy and unreflective heteronormativity.

 

“‘Imaginal’ Shapes: Waking, Dreaming, Sleeping in Cross-Cultural Storytelling”

            Neela Bhattacharya Saxena, Nassau Community College

Human experience of wakefulness, dream and sleep have something remarkably common across all cultural borders although how we make sense of them depends upon a culture’s theories of self-perception.  Haruki Murakami’s narrator in his story “Sleep” communicates her experience of one fateful night: “I remember with perfect clarity that first night I lost the ability to sleep. I was having a repulsive dream—a dark, slimy dream….I woke at the climactic moment–came fully awake with a start, as if something had dragged me back at the last moment from a fatal turning point.”  She is transformed as a result of that night and at the end of the story, we are not quite sure about her reality, sanity or our own.

Irving’s celebrated story “Rip Van Winkle”, whose roots go back to a Greek tale of Epimenides who slept for 57 years, presents a perplexed character who finds freedom through his prolonged sleep. In a Pancharatrastory from India a Brahmin’s dream is apparently told as a cautionary tale against castles in the air.  In Robert Sawyer’s trilogy WWW: Wake, Watch, Wonder, we encounter the spontaneous “waking” of Webmind, an emergent AI in a computer. All these stories bring us face to face with the nature of consciousness and human creative imagination’s ability to give “airy nothing, a local habitation and a name.”

Utilizing the articulations of Andalusian Sufi master Ibn al Arabi whose word KhayalHenry Corbin translates as “imaginal” and Indic understanding of the word Kalpana, this paper will observe some of these tales to assert what Thomas Cheetham states in an essay on Corbin and Hillman: “To live a life in tune with imaginal realities requires abandoning the desire for what postmodernists call master narratives.”

 

“Etiological Animal Tales as a Typological Universal”

            Michelle Scalise Sugiyama, University of Oregon

Hunting demands extensive knowledge of animal behavior, characteristics, and habitat, raising the question of how foragers acquire this knowledge. One potential source is etiological animal tales (EAT), which are pervasive in forager oral tradition and explain the origin of a species’ distinctive physical and/or behavioral traits. If these stories serve as a repository for traditional zoological knowledge, we would expect them to contain information about traits that are useful for identifying, predicting availability of, locating, killing, processing, and/or avoiding dangerous encounters with the animal. These predictions were tested in an earlier study that used story collections from 64 diverse hunter-gatherer societies (Scalise Sugiyama 2017). For each collection, one EAT was chosen at random for content analysis; all 64 stories evinced the predicted information, showing a strong cross-cultural trend. Here I present the results of a follow-up study that examines whether this pattern holds across all EAT within a given culture. For this analysis, ten cultures were selected from the original sample (two from each of five world geographic regions). All EAT from each culture were analyzed for the presence of information about the animal’s availability, behavior, diet, habitat, interspecies relationships, physical traits, sign, techniques used to hunt/process the animal, and hazards associated with the animal. Results suggest that EAT are an important vector of zoological knowledge transmission across forager groups.

 

“Literary Universals, the Spanish Atlantic, and the Question of Modernity: From Cabeza de Vaca to Castro 

            Soren Triff, Bristol Community College and University of Connecticut 

Literary universals, like story prototypes, can be useful to make “visible” ideologies and discourses that otherwise would remain difficult or impossible to observe in Spanish Atlantic texts. The purpose of my presentation is not to demonstrate the validity of literary universals, that has been already demonstrated, nor their presence in the texts selected, they were chosen because of their presence, but to investigate underlying ideologies and discourses and see what they can tell us about modernity in the Spanish Atlantic. 

In order to put literary universals to the test, I have chosen one narrative structure that Patrick Hogan calls heroic tragicomedy (The Mind and Its Stories [2003] and Affective Narratology [2011]) and apply it to two non-fiction prose pieces. One document is a foundational text of U.S. literature, that happens to be written in Spanish—La relación or Naufragios [Shipwreck], by Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, and the other is a foundational text of castroism, Palabras a los intelectuales [Words to the Intellectuals], by Fidel Castro. 

In the first part of the presentation, I establish the theoretical foundation, mentioning the relationship between systems of emotion and narratives, and the latter with ideology. Ideology is presented as a connector between universal narratives and particular historically grounded discourses. The theoretical frame for literary discourses is based on Michel Foucault’s “race war” which he sees as the “genealogy” of revolutionary discourse, particularly as he presented it in ‘Society Must Be Defended’ (2003). I rely on Ulf Hannerz’s Cultural Complexity (1992) for a final look at the modernity of the texts. 

In the second part of the presentation, I briefly mention in each case the theme, initial social conflict of the narrative, analyze the body of the narrative including the usurpation sequence and the threat-defense sequence, and the end of the story in which a happiness goal is reached and a new idealized normality is achieved. The heroic tragicomedy contributes to identifying not only explicit and implicit ideologies, but also discursive regularities in very dissimilar non-fiction prose texts like a sixteenth century exploration account by a Spanish author and a twentieth century speech by a Caribbean political leader. The presentation concludes with a reflection on the contribution of the heroic tragicomedy to interrogating texts deeper ideologically, and evaluating to what extent they support or hinder modern worldviews in the Spanish Atlantic.