February 8, 2013
Christopher Collins, an NYU professor emeritus of English, introduces readers to paleopoetics, a new field of research that combines an array of established disciplines in order to shed new light on the experience of reading.
Paleopoetics, a term coined by Collins, combines evolutionary biology, anthropology, archaeology, cognitive psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, and literary study. Under this rubric, he proposes reading literature using cognitive skills that predate language and writing. These include the brain’s capacity to perceive the visible world, store its images, and retrieve them later to form simulated mental events.
Paleopoetics, Collins explains, maps the selective processes that originally shaped the human genus millions of years ago and prepared the human brain to play, imagine, empathize, and engage in fictive thought as mediated by language. Paleopoetics (Columbia University Press) calls for a broader, more integrated interpretation of the reading experience, one that restores our connection to the ancient modes of thought that still resonate within us.
Collins is the author of a number of books, including Homeland Mythology: Biblical Narratives in American Culture; Reading the Written Image: Verbal Play, Interpretation, and the Roots of Iconophobia; and The Poetics of the Mind’s Eye: Literature and the Psychology of Imagination.
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