Natalie Phillips, Attention and Distraction: A Cognitive Approach to Literary Focus
Natalie Phillips, Assistant Professor of English at Michigan State University, specializes in distraction in 18th-century British literature and culture, and in cognitive approaches to literature. Her first book project, Distraction: Problems of Attention in Eighteenth-Century Literature, explores how changing Enlightenment ideas about the unfocused mind reshaped literary form, arguing that descriptions of distraction in fiction advanced—and often complicated—scientific theories of concentration. She is also developing and conducting an fMRI study at the Stanford Center for Cognitive and Neurobiological Imaging on neural differences between different levels of attention in the reading of fiction.
Her talk, “Attention and Distraction: A Cognitive Approach to Literary Focus,” brings together two crucial impulses in cognitive cultural studies—the history of cognition and the neuroscience of reading—to discuss a central problem in literary studies: the nature of attention. Tracing points of connection, conflict and inspiration in two ongoing research projects on eighteenth-century concentration, she makes an argument for the methodological benefits of integrating cognitive cultural studies and eighteenth-century criticism, and explore the role of scientific methodologies in the humanities.
This lecture is presented by the Neurohumanities Research Group (NRG). The NRG is jointly sponsored by the FHI and the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS).