Monday 29 September 2008

Myrifield Manifesto on Research on Literary Reading

On 16 July we posted an announcement of a symposium on Literary Reading and Emotion at the newly formed Myrifield Institute for Cognition and the Arts, that is hosted by Margaret Freeman, Don Freeman, and Mark Turner, (you can reach the Myrifield website by clicking here). Amongst other matters, the group at this symposium discussed and drafted a manifesto for an interdisciplinary approach to literature and the other arts. After further electronic discussion, the manifesto has now been published at the Myrifield website, and a copy is below.


The Myrifield Institute for Cognition and the Arts is a think tank for the formal and informal discussion of literature and the arts.

1. We share a growing dissatisfaction with the way literature and the arts have been presented as university subjects over the past decades. In response, we call for a new emphasis, based on our contention that predominant approaches to the study of the arts ignore what we consider to be fundamental issues.

2. We discern a need to shift focus from the interpretative preoccupation of current approaches to the experience of literature and the arts, which includes the need to study their emotional aspects.

3. We propose a new interdisciplinary approach that integrates the social and biological sciences with the humanities. This proposed integration implies the readiness to become actively involved with the methodology of non-humanistic disciplines, including the development of philosophical and empirical research methodologies.

4. Of great promise, we believe, is the emergent cognitive approach to the study of the arts, specifically recent new developments such as embodied cognition and cognitive linguistics that have special relevance for research in literature and the arts.

5. At this stage we propose two central topics: empathy (and related concepts) and literariness (which includes, more broadly “artifying”). In these domains we aim to show what the underlying structures and functions of the arts may have in common, a topic that has been unsatisfactorily covered by current and most past approaches in the humanities.

6. We propose to reopen and reexamine theories of the fundamental nature of the various arts. For that endeavour, we welcome the active participation of scholars in disciplines other than the humanities, such as evolutionary psychology, gestalt theory, linguistics, cognitive science, neuropsychology, philosophy, anthropology, and related disciplines.

To this end, the Myrifield Institute for Cognition and the Arts invites proposals for conferences, symposia, colloquia, or workshops. Please address enquiries to Margaret H. Freeman at


Kirsten Valentine Cadieux said...

Very satisfying to have this follow up from that previous Myrifield teaser. Can you describe a bit more what literariness and artifying entail?

Keith Oatley said...

Thank you, Valentine, for this question. In my understanding, literariness is a quality that has been proposed by David Miall and Don Kuiken, to point to what it is that makes literary texts distinctive. It typically involves the use of foregrounding, syntactic and semantic constructions that are unusual and produce defamiliarization, and—I think this is what interests me about the idea—that enable words in a piece of poetry or literary prose to take on a significance that makes them worth taking as one's own: the reader's mind comes close to that of the writer. Artifying is a related idea from Ellen Dissanayake. Her view is that it is a shame that art is only a noun, and that it would be good for there to be a verb, something like "to artify." The central activity of art, she says, is to make something special, to mark it out for attention.

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