4.02.2010

But I don't really know.

I'm sort of hoping that today's article about "the next big thing" in literary studies isn't prophetic. I've known about this stuff for about two or three years, and there's something about it that just seems superficial. But I am happy to know that literary studies is "on the radar" in 2010, even if only for the two or three thousand "elites" who still read the New York Times. For the record, the reason I don't love this stuff is that it seems to turn literature into a simple exercise-joint for the brain, something like those little "memory games" that old people are supposed to play to keep themselves from getting Alzheimer's.

2 comments:

Wishydig said...

ick. what's bound to happen here is that a bunch of literature folks are going to have to trust what the science folks tell them is happening according to the MRI, and the literature group will come up with some sort of theory for the "type" of literature that is the stimulus for a response that they really really don't understand.

c'mon nytimes. this is ridiculous:

"the proposition “Peter said that Paul believed that Mary liked chocolate” is not too hard to follow. Add a fourth level, though, and it’s suddenly more difficult."

what does "not too hard to follow" mean? and what's so surprising about the "sudden" difficulty of a 4th level. you know, there's a "sudden" difficulty when you add the second level too. "peter likes chocolate" is not too hard to follow. but when you add another level! "peter thinks paul likes chocolate" WOW. it's instantaneously more difficult! but not too difficult of course. because we know what levels of difficulty are worth noting, of course.

"And experiments have shown that at the fifth level understanding drops off by 60 percent, Ms. Zunshine said."

60 percent of what? it takes 60% more time to process it? only 60% of readers have any hope of understanding the statement no matter how long they spend on it? readers will come away from that statement only knowing 60% of the data compared to a statement with fewer levels?

science reporting makes me want to throw up.

Casey said...

Well, this was really arts & humanities reporting... but yes, I have all of the same objections that you have, and then some.

I object because, even if it is good science, do we really need a Henry James novel to do this kind of a study? Or is there something missing in looking at a Henry James novel like a "mind-reading" experiment?

It seems like the MRI is going to be too shiny a toy for humanities people to ignore forever, though...

Oh, and I love how it immediately separates the kind of research that people in literature at MIT or Berkeley or Harvard can do from the kind that the rest of us scrubs can do (non-quantitative, non-technological, etc.).