“My brain is always sending me off on little missions,” writes memoirist Naoki Higashida, “whether I want to do them or not.” Higashida asks readers to imagine his physical brain as a kind of portal to his mind. You can hold a brain or examine a neuron, but you can’t touch a self or read a mind. Nevertheless, we spend a great deal of time trying—in life and in literature. When we read literature, we experience simulations of other people’s mental lives—perception, emotion, memory, imagination, consciousness. The words on the page stimulate brain activity, shape our perceptions, and elicit responses from our bodies (for example, tears, hair standing on end, or spontaneous smiles). In this year’s English Honors Seminar, we will read literary works that tell stories about relations among brain, mind, body, and self. We will also read psychological, neuroscientific, and literary theories that explore questions raised by those relations: What can the brain teach us about the mind? Or the mind about the brain? Why are fantasies of touching brains to find minds so prevalent in literature? Why do we spend so much time imagining the mental lives of others? How do literary tools like language, aesthetics, and rhetoric enable—or impede—access to the minds of others? What do scientific tools like brain imaging and neurosurgery teach us about selfhood? What might we learn about being human through examining altered states of consciousness or neurological difference?
We’ll read a wide variety of literary works, in various genres, from various eras and cultures, by writers with a range of experiences and points of view–including works by The Gawain Poet, Emily Dickinson, Kazuo Ishiguro, Siri Hustvedt, Herman Melville, William Shakespeare, Ralph Ellison, Charlotte Perkins-Gilman, and Queens College’s own Kimiko Hahn. For a full list of literary and critical readings, see the Calendar page on this site.
Times: T 6:30 – 9:20 / W 1:40 – 4:30
Office Hours: T 4 – 5:30 / W 10:30 – 11:30 & 5 – 6
Office: Klapper 633
Texts to Purchase
David Lodge, Thinks… (Penguin)
Matteo Farinella and Hana Ros, Neurocomic (Nobrow Press)
Siri Hustvedt, The Shaking Woman (Picador)
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (Vintage)
William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Oxford World’s Classics)
Kaitlyn Greenidge, We Love You, Charlie Freeman (Algonquin Books)
Eric Hayot, The Elements of Academic Style: Writing for the Humanities (Columbia University Press)
Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay, How Can I Talk If My Lips Don’t Move? (Arcade Publishing)
Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Vintage)
The Gawain Poet, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, trans. Marie Boroff and Laura L. Howes (Norton)
Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant (Vintage)
Lana and Lily Wachowski, Sense8 (streaming on Netflix)
You can purchase all texts (at a discounted price) through QC’s Online Bookstore.