The third issue of the journal L’Età del Ferro has just been released. In it I published the following text, responding to the harsh criticisms opposed to the assumption of neurocognitive perspectives in the study of literature, and more in general to the most recent development in the field of humanities, contained in the journal’s previous issue. The complete title of my intervention sounds Doctor Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Humanities.
“Siamo fatti della stessa materia di cui sono fatti i sogni”, sappiamo dalla sentenza che Shakespeare fa pronunciare a Prospero in The Tempest. Viviamo di proiezioni fantastiche, di immaginazioni consce e inconsce. Ma da dove viene, come nasce l’immaginazione? Perché è così importante per l’esistenza umana?
Alberto Casadei ha provato a capire com’è fatta e come funziona la materia dei sogni nel suo ultimo libro, Biologia della letteratura. Corpo, stile, storia (Il Saggiatore, 2018), ricorrendo alle ipotesi sulla mente umana formulate dagli studi neuroscientifici; selezionando, facendo interagire e mettendo a sistema diverse interpretazioni neurocognitive dell’arte e della letteratura.
On April 7th I participated in the British Society for Literature and Science annual conference at Oxford Brookes University, with a paper entitled Out of the Comfort Zone. Dan Brown’s Origin as a standpoint on literature and science. What follows is the text of my talk.
In his last novel Origin, the bestselling author Dan Brown imagines that an acclaimed scientist and futurist, whose name is Edmond Kirsch, is about to announce a disrupting scientific discovery on the origin of life. Right before the spectacular presentation of his research, Kirsch tells his long-time friend and old-fashioned humanities scholar Robert Langdon, the main character of several Dan Brown’s novels, including the groundbreaking Da Vinci Code: «Tonight is all about pushing people outside their comfort zones».
Similarly, the novel itself can push literary criticism and the humanities outside the comfort zone of their acknowledged interpretative practices, usually at unease with the analysis of such cultural objects, socially meaningful but aesthetically controversial. For sure, it pushes me out of the comfort zone of my research on Italian Studies, unfamiliar with popular and science fiction. Still, I decided to take-up Dan Brown’s challenge and displaced myself to look at the relationships between literature and science from the standpoint of a popular bestseller novel. To learn from the bestseller, where outstanding scientific discoveries are both simplified and overstated to fit into an appealing narrative framework, how literature and the humanities could address the major challenges entailed in the current scientific debate.