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Neuroscience, consciousness and neurofiction Owen, Matthew

Abstract

This study undertakes a comprehensive examination of neurofiction – a genre of literary fiction which has emerged in response to what scholars have termed neuroculture. Neuroculture refers to the cultural ascendancy of neuroscience witnessed by Anglo- American society over approximately the past thirty years, and the associated predominance of materialist conceptions of consciousness. By examining works from four authors – Oblivion (2004), by David Foster Wallace; The Echo Maker (2006), by Richard Powers; Enduring Love (1997) and Saturday (2005), by Ian McEwan; and The Sorrows of an American (2008), by Siri Hustvedt – this work of contemporary cognitive historicism establishes and explores three grounding themes of neurofiction: pessimistic biologism, neuro-introspection, and neuro-intersubjectivity. Pessimistic biologism refers to a demoralizing view of human existence as dispiritingly mechanistic and existentially isolated; neuro-introspection refers to the the capacity for individual minds/brains to perceive and observe themselves; and neuro-intersubjectivity refers to the capacity for individual minds/brains to engage in forms of communication or empathy with their analogs. This study demonstrates how these three overarching themes frame and motivate the neurofictional works of my four authors, and how my conception of neurofiction brings into sharper focus other concerns of the genre. These other concerns include the so-called Hard Problem (the disconnect between, and irreconcilability of, objective and subjective accounts of consciousness); the Two Cultures (a perceived epistemological and philosophical clash between scientific and humanistic forms of enquiry); forms of obscured mysticism or spirituality; and the question of the value of fiction in the neurocultural era.

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