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Mimesis of Mind: Stylistics and Stream of Consciousness Narration - WA Friday Lunch Talk

WA Friday Lunch Talks are monthly meetings with presentations of current research results or research in progress by WA faculty, PhD students and guests. Each talk is of 45 minutes (+15 minutes for discussion). This time the Department of Studies in Culture has the pleasure to welcome all to a talk "Mimesis of Mind: Stylistics and Stream of Consciousness Narration" by Dr. Eric Rundquist from Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (Friday, January 21, 13:15-14:15, Aula Heliodori and MS Teams).

Dr. Eric Rundquist

Pontifical Catholic University of Chile

Mimesis of Mind: Stylistics and Stream of Consciousness Narration

January 21, 13:15-14:15, AULA HELIODORI


ABSTRACT: What is it like to be somebody else, to be alive inside of their mind, to see the world from their point of view? One of the central problems in consciousness studies is that any given person, no matter how smart they are or what technology they use, can only really have direct access to their own mental experience. We can, of course, make inferences about other people’s thoughts and emotions based on what they say or do; and scientists can use neuroimaging technology to predict experiences based on patterns of electricity in the brain. But when it comes to actual first-person experience, to what it’s really like to be somebody, this is by nature bracketed off for all but oneself.

However, there exist certain tools – artforms – that can be used to mimetically represent conscious experience, and this defies the natural limitations on subjectivity by providing direct access to the mind of another person – albeit a fictional one. Fiction, to put it another way, can make minds transparent to a degree that is not possible in real life.

In this lecture, I will argue that the most precise and effective artistic technique for representing the mind is the stream of consciousness technique in narrative fiction. Working within the discipline of literary linguistics (aka stylistics), we’ll explore the mechanics of meaning in stream of consciousness narration. We’ll analyze some classic examples in English literature in order to describe the semantics of the language in relation to characters’ mental activity; and we’ll discover how authors take us beneath the surface level of their characters’ consciousness by essentially translating non-verbal cognition into language.

Eric Rundquist is a professor of English linguistics at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. He is the author of the book Free Indirect Style in Modernism: Representations of Consciousness (John Benjamins, 2017) and several academic articles, including “The Cognitive Grammar of drunkenness: consciousness representation in Lowry’s Under the Volcano” (Language and Literature, 2020) and “Cognitive semantics as character conceptualization: re-orienting the cognitive stylistic analysis of character discourse and Free Indirect Style” (Literary Semantics, 2020). He obtained his PhD from the University of Nottingham in 2016. His research areas include stylistics, discourse analysis, cognitive linguistics, narratology, English grammar, language acquisition and philosophy of mind. He serves as the PALA ambassador to Chile for the Poetics and Linguistics Association.