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Strange Concepts and the Stories They Make Possible

Cognition, Culture, Narrative

Lisa Zunshine

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In this fresh and often playful interdisciplinary study, Lisa Zunshine presents a fluid discussion of how key concepts from cognitive science complicate our cultural interpretations of "strange" literary phenomena.

From Short Circuit to I, Robot, from The Parent Trap to Big Business, fantastic tales of rebellious robots, animated artifacts, and twins mistaken for each other are a permanent fixture in popular culture and have been since antiquity. Why do these strange concepts captivate the human imagination so thoroughly? Zunshine explores how cognitive science, specifically its ideas of…

In this fresh and often playful interdisciplinary study, Lisa Zunshine presents a fluid discussion of how key concepts from cognitive science complicate our cultural interpretations of "strange" literary phenomena.

From Short Circuit to I, Robot, from The Parent Trap to Big Business, fantastic tales of rebellious robots, animated artifacts, and twins mistaken for each other are a permanent fixture in popular culture and have been since antiquity. Why do these strange concepts captivate the human imagination so thoroughly? Zunshine explores how cognitive science, specifically its ideas of essentialism and functionalism, combined with historical and cultural analysis, can help us understand why we find such literary phenomena so fascinating.

Drawing from research by such cognitive evolutionary anthropologists and psychologists as Scott Atran, Paul Bloom, Pascal Boyer, and Susan A. Gelman, Zunshine examines the cognitive origins of the distinction between essence and function and how unexpected tensions between these two concepts are brought into play in fictional narratives. Discussing motifs of confused identity and of twins in drama, science fiction’s use of robots, cyborgs, and androids, and nonsense poetry and surrealist art, she reveals the range and power of key concepts from science in literary interpretation and provides insight into how cognitive-evolutionary research on essentialism can be used to study fiction as well as everyday strange concepts.

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Strange Concepts and the Stories They Make Possible

Lisa Zunshine

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Reviews

Reviews

The book is stylistically well-written and features interesting readings of various texts.

The author gives herself a refreshingly modest assignment: to demonstrate that a certain cognitive predisposition has contributed to the development of, and continued interest in, specific literary motifs that occur across a wide variety of cultures. This is all that she tries to do, and she does it very well.

Zunshine renders the book accessible to the general reader.

Zunshine’s scholarship here and elsewhere is boldly exploratory.

About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
232
ISBN
9780801887079
Illustration Description
10 halftones, 1 line drawing
Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Part 1: "But what am I, then?": Chasing Personal Essences across National Literatures
1. Ural Mountains–Rome–London
2. Essentialism, Functionalism, and Cognitive Psychology
3. Possible

Acknowledgments
Part 1: "But what am I, then?": Chasing Personal Essences across National Literatures
1. Ural Mountains–Rome–London
2. Essentialism, Functionalism, and Cognitive Psychology
3. Possible Evolutionary Origins of Essentialist Thinking
4. "A bullet's a bullet's a bullet!"
5. Talk to the Door Politely or Tickle It in Exactly the Right Place
6. Resisting Essentialism
7. The Ever-Receding "Essence" of Sosia
8. Identical Twins and Theater
9. How Is Mr. Darcy Different from Colin Firth?
10. Looking for the Real Mademoiselle
11. "Mahatma Gandhi: war!" "But he was a pacifist." "Right! War!"
Part 2: Why Robots Go Astray, or The Cognitive Foundations of the Frankenstein Complex
1. What Is the Frankenstein Complex?
2. On Zygoons, Thricklers, and Kerpas
3. Theory of Mind
4. Theory of Mind and Categorization: Preliminary Implications
5. Concepts That Resist Categorization
6.... and the Stories They Make Possible
7. The Stories That Can Be Told about a Talking Needle
8. Asimov's "The Bicentennial Man"
9. Cognitive Construction of "Undoubted Facts": "The Bicentennial Man" and the Logic of Essentialism
10. Made to Rebel
11. Why Phyllis Is Still a Robot
12.... and Why Rei Toei Is Not
13. More Human Than Thou (Piercy's He, She and It)
14. Made to Pray
15. Made to Serve. Made to Obey. Made to Break Hearts
Part 3: Some Species of Nonsense
1. How Nonsense Makes Sense in The Hunting of the Snark
2. "Strings of Impossibilia" and What They Tell Us about the Value of Nonsense
3. "Painters of the Unimaginable," or More aboutReally Strange Concepts
Conclusion: Almost beyond Fiction
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Author Bio
Lisa Zunshine
Featured Contributor

Lisa Zunshine

Lisa Zunshine is Bush-Holbrook Professor of English at the University of Kentucky, Lexington. She is the author and editor of ten books, including Strange Concepts and the Stories They Make Possible: Cognition, Culture, Narrative and Introduction to Cognitive Cultural Studies, both also published by Johns Hopkins. Her work has been featured in the New York Times and the Chronicle of Higher...
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