Theoretical issues / Evolution

Hanauer, D. (2001). What we know about reading poetry: Theoretical positions and empirical research. In D. Schram & G. Steen (Eds.), The Psychology and Sociology of Literature: In Honor of Elrud Ibsch (pp. 107-128). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Literary research in 20th C dominated by interpretation, and schools of interpretation (107)
Empirical study based on systematic elicitation of data, combines literary and reading research (107)
Chapter to be on how poetry is read (107)

Reading appears determined by rules of genre; then cognitive control processes (108)
Hence discourse specific cognitive processing (108-9)
Literary reading goes beyond the textbase, Zwaan (109)
Few studies of how poetry is read (109)

Schools of interpretation: focus either on language or on reader
New Criticism: focus on structure and relationships within text (110)
-- needs trained reader (110)
Formalism: poetic function within linguistic system, presence of language; foregrounding (111)
Stylistics: devices indicate interpetation [Fish's complaint] (112)
Reader response: Fish's top down interpretive strategies, poem "experiment" (112)
Culler: conventions for reading: distance, unity, significance, resistance (113)
Deconstruction: against logocentrism; regression and conflict, infinity of signifiers (114)

Literary theory and empirical approaches (115)
Language-driven vs. reader-driven approaches (115)
Reading of poetry, driven by genre specific knowledge, etc. (116)
Empirical studies of poetry categorization (116)
[previously reviewed in Miall & Kuiken, 1998]
Hoffstaedter; Hanauer; poeticity ratings driven by textual features, although experts give more confident ratings than novices (116-7)
Novices recognize poem but less able on literary values (118)
Attention during poetry reading: remembering surface features (119)
Van Peer: better recall of surface features (120)
Van Peer on metre: metrical lines better recognized (121)
Hoorn: semantic and phonetic deviations elicit N400 (121-2)
Hanauer: graphic form enhanced recall of surface features (122)
-- external genre categorization in itself did not enhance recall (123)
Whether language-driven or convention-driven not clear (124)
Meaning construction while reading poetry (124-5)
-- young readers not involved in interpretation, Harker (124-5)
Martindale & Dailey: high levels of agreement in response to poetry (125)
Novice readers: normalize and paraphrase (125)

Initial response determined by textual features (125)
But novice reader less able to turn response into interpretation (126)

Questions, comments

What literary theory approaches need adding?
-- New Historicism; Post-Colonial, add:
      Poetry reading within specific horizon of expectations, ideas
      Class position of reader
      Language, status of English for reader
      Reading as a woman
Account for place and role of feeling in poetry response (all cognitive so far)
What are (novice) readers doing if not interpreting (and beyond paraphrase)?
What poetry-hearing skills may be innate?
What distinguishes textbase comprehension from poetic response?

Hogan, Patrick Colm. "Literary Universals." Poetics Today 18 (1997): 223-249.

Priority of current study in humanities is to link literature to history and ideology (223-4). Insistence of American Comparative Literature Association on historical and cultural specifics (224) [cf. Cognitive, 1].

Irrational treatment of universals (224); hegemonic vs. empathic universalism (225); hegemonic "are claims of group difference made to appear as universals" (226).

Study of universals is not "against the study of culture and history"; compatible with particularist research (226), even necessary to understand cultural particularity (226-7). Anti-universalism "manifests and fosters patriarchal, colonial, and other oppressive ideologies" (227).

Theory of universals. Properties found in several bodies of literature unrelated by a common ancestor with a frequency greater than chance. Absolute universal (occurs in all traditions) vs. statistical universal (frequency less than one) (228).

Universals: a repertoire of techniques available to authors and nontechnical correlations comprising principles that constrain the making of literature (such as line lengths) (229). Examples: symbolism and imagery; assonance; alliteration; verbal parallelism; plot aspects (229).

Schemata organizes techniques for specific literary types and subtypes, e.g., "sonnet," that are either obligatory or optional. Overarching entry would be "poem" which makes available such resources (optional) as alliteration (230). Overall schema, that of verbal art itself, an absolute universal - present in all cultures (230-1).

Presence of poetry, narrative, and drama in all cultures in some form. Typicality of stories of love and political power, tragedy and comedy (231).

Universality of image patterns; more abstract perhaps an absolute universal -- suggests what may be at the origin of the development of literature (233).

Conditional universals, if p, then q; implicational universals that may be absolute (234). Example of alliteration (234-5); of oral vs. literate (235). Cultural variation and indexical universals, e.g., identification with character dependent on one's own gender, race, etc. (236).

Literary universals: research program. Not considering aesthetic vs. evaluative universals. Will involve a collaborative research program [unlike current mainstream]; should be both descriptive and explanatory (236).


1. Formal features [foregrounding], imagery: what functions and patterns they form in the service of literature (237). Sound patterns and imagery are encoded [given meaning?] to maximize relevance, up to a certain ceiling (239-40); degree of salience, formed by unexpectedness, frequency, up to the point where it forces itself on the attention [i.e., distracts from wider attention to text] (240-1).

2. Line lengths in poetry comparable across a wide range of cultures, five to nine words (241). Explanation in terms of rehearsal [or working] memory (243). Problem of shorter lines: compound to make one line for purposes of memory, as with haiku (243). [prior study: Frederick Turner, Natural Classicism, 1992.]

Value of a universalist research program that is unrelated to race or culture (245).


So why do all cultures have verbal art? [dehabituation theory…]
Does a theory of universals constrain or enable the writer?
Can descriptive universals avoid normative status?
What other types of universals should such research consider?

Miall, D. S. (2006). Literary Reading: Empirical and Theoretical Studies. New York: Peter Lang. Chapter 12. An evolutionary framework for literary reading

That "literature" emerged in the 18th C in response to needs of middle class (189)
Canon also said to emerge recently (189)
Whether evolutionary significance: literature as adaptive over 50 generations or more? (190)
Dehabituation hypothesis; Dissanayake's making special (190-1)
Carroll's approach leads back to interpretation (191)
Literary system a guidance system for reader, who doesn't know goal (191-2)
Foregrounding and defamiliarization: evolutionary approach (192)
Foregrounding as special to literature: arguments against (192)
-- arguments for from empirical studies, defended (193)
-- literary education appears to play little role (193)
-- genetic evidence from babytalk, Weir's study (194)
-- foregrounding in oral literature, Finnegan (195)
-- relation to "ordinary" language (196)
Dehabituation: adaptive context (197)
-- offline tuning of schemata, questioning stereotypic concepts (197-8)
Argument that with culture an evolutionary approach is irrelevant (198)
Literature as a domain-specific module (199)
Interaction of literary response with negative emotion, social constraints, etc. (199-200)
Evolutionary context to generate predictions, examples and a diagram (200-1)
Study of literary reception in populations of readers (201)
Empirical study potentially paradigmatic and unifying (202)

Hogan, P. C. (2003). Cognitive Science, Literature, and the Arts. New York & London: Routledge. Chapter 8. The evolutionary turn

[Chapter mainly on why accounts of evolutionary psychology are problematic]
Why is the mind the way it is? -- Evolutionary issues (191)
Whether literature as whole is adaptive: mistaken question (194)
-- if we have an adaptive account of some components, don't ask about the whole (195)
Again, don't ask about literature as a whole (210)
Pleasure and instruction: adaptive? (211)
Account as offline practice, seems unlikely (211)
[and see p. 212 examples: Hogan too specific here; it is prototype emotions that are educative]
attention to beauty: suffers from same specificity (212)
Need a good account of literature, cognitively specified, to explain evolution (213)
Story schemas from emotion prototypes (215)
Vividness and proximity as causes of emotion (216-7)

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Document prepared April 11th 2007