Novels and TOM/What Poems Should Get Canonized?/Freedom of Expression?

June 13, 2006

Novels and TOM (Theory of Mind)
For several years, cognitive scientists and philosophers have been pushing around what they call the Theory of the Mind, a fascinating explanation of why and how we perceive “reality”, solve problems, and emote. In overly simplified explanation, human being have evolve with a mental paradigm, which some argue is hard-wired into us, that allows us to identify states of mind in ourselves as well as others, as in the phrase, “I know what she's thinking,” when in reality, no one can know what anyone is thinking. In a short but wonderful essay for reasononline,
Nick Gillespie asks the question why do we read novels. He discovered through the work We Read Fiction: Theory of Mind and the Novel by Lisa Zunshine (professor of English Literature at the University of Kentucky who studied with evolutionary psychologists John Tooby and Leda Cosmides at the University of California in Santa Barbara), that human beings—because of the impact of TOM—are “drawn to both the creation and consumption of narrative texts.” He quotes Zunshine as writing, “Theory of Mind is a cluster of cognitive adaptations that allows us to navigate our social world and also structures that world. Intensely social species that we are, we thus read fiction because it engages, in a variety of particularly focused way, our Theory of Mind.” I'm getting that book.

What Poems Should Get 'Canonized'?
I always thought time determined what stays and goes in the literary canon, but in a recent essay for PoetryFoundation.org, Susan Stewart offers have chosen some poems for the canon as she imagines it. Gnomic verses from Exeter Book, “Since There's No Help” by Michael Drayton, “The Ballad of Sally in Our Alley” by Henry Carey, “Work without Hope” by Samuel Coleridge, “Who Has Seen the Wind?” by Christina Rossetti, “Alone” by Edgar Allan Poe, “How She Went to Ireland” by Thomas Hardy, “Love and wisdom have no home” by Malcolm Lowery, “The Nonconformist's Memorial” by Susan Howe, “Rain Gauge” by John Kinsella, and “The Girl with Bees in Her Hair” by Eleanor Wilner. She provides at an explanation of her choices. Click here to read them.

On Trial for Blasphemous Statements?
I was surprised to learn in Barbara McMahon's Guardian article that Italian law forbids “defamatory statements about a religion acknowledged” by the state. Therefore Oriana Fallaci is standing trial for her book The Strength of Reason. In it, she states that Islam is “a pool that never purifies.” Ironically I don't find the statement blasphemous. Stupid, yes. Narrow-minded, yes. Prejudicial, of course. Any number of individuals could argue and probably have argued such about any number of the world's religions. But there comes a time when writers must stand for free expression because there could come a time when the “state” finds any number of ideas blasphemous. Heck, only seven decades ago, the U.S. Government would prohibited the importation of Ulysses by James Joyce because of one word.

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