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From psychobabble to neuro-nonsense: cognitivism, neuroscience and children’s literature

Lesnik-Oberstein, K. (2017) From psychobabble to neuro-nonsense: cognitivism, neuroscience and children’s literature. In: Zhu, Z. (ed.) A Collection of Lectures on Children's Literature by Renowned Scholars. China Social Sciences Press, Jinan, China. (In Press)

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Abstract/Summary

This chapter explains the implications of Jacqueline Rose’s arguments in her seminal book 'The Case of Peter Pan or the Impossibility of Children's Fiction' (1984) which argues that childhood as an identity is neither about a child as ‘actual’ or ‘real’ but also not about a child as ‘fictional’ or ‘ideal’ and, therefore, not about the possibility of ‘correcting’ the child to get from a (supposedly wrong) fictional child to a (supposedly correct) real child. It is precisely the assumption of necessary, knowable, separations between ‘stories’ and ‘lived reality’, ‘the child’ and ‘ourselves’, and the ‘us’ and ‘stories’ and ‘lived reality’ which constitute the ‘real’ that Rose is putting in to question. Finally, and as a necessary corollary to the first two issues, I argue here that the investments in the ‘real’ which Rose reads through children’s fiction are not about ‘just’ children’s fiction or childhood, but extend to any claims about the ‘real’. To demonstrate these arguments I will be reading here some further investments in childhood while also drawing parallels specifically with the (arguably ) comparatively recent development (also in literary criticism) of an interest in cognitivist and neuroscientific approaches in evolutionary psychology. My interest lies primarily not just in analysing the problematic nature of the science that this kind of work claims, but in analysing also what is at stake in such approaches. Specifically, I am puzzled by the popularity of these kinds of claims when both the scientific and the philosophical frameworks they rest on are, at best, questionable and also not in any sense new or original, neither philosophically nor scientifically speaking. I argue here, following theorist Neil Cocks’s formulation, that neuroscientific accounts of cognition recover and maintain thought as scan, brain and figure: an object of scrutiny and exchange. Therefore, these cognitivist and neuroscientific studies, as with children’s literature and childhood more widely, are about, as Rose puts it, ‘a conception of both the child and the world as knowable in a direct and unmediated way, a conception which places the innocence of the child and a primary state of language and/ or culture in a close and mutually dependent relationship’.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Refereed:No
Divisions:Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > Graduate Centre for International Research in Childhood (CIRCL)
ID Code:73267
Uncontrolled Keywords:children's literature; neuroscience; cognitivism; psychoanalysis; literary theory
Publisher:China Social Sciences Press

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