A neurocognitive study of literary genres: The case of the "novela dialogada"

Julien Simon, Purdue University


The purpose of this study is to investigate literary genres from a cognitive standpoint. What is happening in our brains when we read? What are the cognitive processes that underlie our literary knowledge? How do we cognitively construct a genre? These are some of the questions that guided my research. In order to answer them, I relied on two psychological paradigms, namely Schema Theory and Prototype Theory, which helped me design a putative cognitive model of how literary genres are structured and constructed in the brain. The basic tenets of this model are: (1) Genres are the literary correlates of schemata (or categories). In that sense, they are cognitive entities that we, the readers, create and constantly modify, and not mere textual artifacts imposed upon us. (2) Genres are "radial" cognitive structures. In a given genre, some texts will be more prototypical than others; there is a degree of membership. (3) Genres are dynamic. They evolve because we evolve. That is the reason why different historical periods bring new critical tools that help us look at the body of texts from different perspectives (e.g., Feminism, Marxism). (4) Genres are individual, for no two people can claim to have had the exact same literary experience, and no two people can have the exact same mindset or neural organization. A corollary of the last two implications is that genres are therefore fuzzy. ^ Making use of the model that I had designed earlier, I set out to diachronically and sequentially describe my own personal experience with the novela dialogada; how my concept of the novela dialogada arose and evolved as I was reading a selection of books in the genre: Celestina, La lozana andaluza, La comedia Serafina, Lysandro y Roselia, and La comedia Hipólita, and as I was reading secondary sources. My ultimate aim was to propose a dynamic view of the novela dialogada (a Spanish Golden Age genre) as a non-prototypical instance of both the novelistic and theatrical traditions, in between these two traditions.^




Howard Mancing, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Literature, Romance|Psychology, Cognitive

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