due: Thursday, 11 March
length and format: four double-spaced pages in Times New Roman 12-point font with 1″ margins
Please be sure to staple your pages!
[Topics 1 and 2 require you to incorporate material from Dehaene's Reading in the Brain]
Topic #1: Write a paper about a poem of your choosing that integrates knowledge about the brain’s reading circuits into your analysis of the literary text. The idea is to enrich traditional close reading techniques by incorporating information about written word recognition. You might, for example, discuss Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem “Jabberwocky” not only within the context of well-known literary devices (e.g. alliteration, rhyme, and meter), but also from the point of view of the cognitive science of reading: how is Carroll manipulating phonological and lexical processing of words through his use of neologisms, such as “brillig” and “borogoves”? How might we better understand his poetic experiments through recourse to what Dehaene calls “priming effects” and the organization of the mental lexicon? In short, how can the discipline of neuroscience help us unlock the meaning of the poem or reveal its compositional patterns and devices?
Topic #2: Select a traditional or concrete poem and discuss how its visual appearance on the page contributes to its meaning and comprehension (think about how metered poetry is organized into sequential lines and stanzas, for example, or how shaped verse, such as George Herbert’s “Easter Wings,” adopts a form that mimics its content). Now imagine what would happen if that same poem were delivered to the reader using RSVP (Rapid Sequential Visual Presentation): the eyes would no longer need to move from left to right, text would no longer be organized in linear fashion, and words would be recognized and processed by the brain at a vastly accelerated rate (Dehaene 17-18). What are the implications for experiencing and interpreting the poem under such conditions? How are the affordances of reading changed? What is at stake in such a conversion process? (Tip: you might want to experiment with Spreeder, the “speed reading trainer,” that Hannah posted to help you think through these ideas).
Topic #3: In “Bookscapes,” Matthew Kirschenbaum asserts that the traditional book includes the following affordances:
• The book enables sequential and random access
• The book is a volumetric object
• Books are finite
• Books are a comparative information space
• Books are writeable as well as readable
Review the diagram in the entry for “affordances” in the interactive-design encyclopedia, which distinguishes affordances from the perceptual information used to signal them. Imagine a hypothetical book that contains false or hidden versions of each of Kirschenbaum’s affordances (or track down examples of real books that contain them). For example, a book that appeared to be a volumetric object–with textual content stored inside–but which could not in fact be opened illustrates the concept of a false affordance (and implies an impish book artist!). Write a paper that explores these experimental forms as information art.