Theory of Mind and Literature

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About this title

Purdue University Press
Professional & Scholarly


Theory of Mind is what enables us to “put ourselves in another’s shoes.” It is mindreading, empathy, creative imagination of another’s perspective: in short, it is simultaneously a highly sophisticated ability and a very basic necessity for human communication. Theory of Mind is central to such commercial endeavors as market research and product development, but it is also just as important in maintaining human relations over a cup of coffee. Not surprisingly, it is a critical tool in reading and understanding literature, which abounds with characters, situations, and “other people’s shoes.” Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly apparent that reading literature also hones these critical mindreading skills. Theory of Mind and Literature is a collection of nineteen essays by prominent scholars (linguists, cognitive scientists, and philosophers) working in the cutting-edge field of cognitive literary studies, which explores how we use Theory of Mind in reading and understanding literature.


Table of Contents


1: Theory of Mind Now and Then: Evolutionary and Historical Perspectives

Theory of Mind and Theory of Minds in Literature by Keith Oatley Social Minds in Little Dorrit by Alan Palmer
The Way We Imagine by Mark Turner
Theory of Mind and Fictions of Embodied Transparency by Lisa Zunshine

2: Mind Reading and Literary Characterization

Theory of the Murderous Mind: Understanding the Emotional Intensity of  John Doyle’s Interpretation of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd by Diana Calderazzo
Distraction as Liveliness of Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Characterization in Jane Austen by Natalie Phillips
Sancho Panza’s Theory of Mind by Howard Mancing
Is Perceval Autistic?: Theory of Mind in the Conte del Graal by Paula Leverage

3: Theory of Mind and Literary / Linguistic Structure

Whose Mind’s Eye? Free Indirect Discourse and the Covert Narrator in Marlene Streeruwitz’s Nachwelt by Jennifer Marston William
Attractors, Trajectors, and Agents in Racine’s “Récit de Théramène” by Allen G. Wood
The Importance of Deixis and Attributive Style for the Study of  Theory of Mind: The Example of William Faulkner’s Disturbed Characters by Ineke Bockting

4: Alternate States of Mind

Alternative Theory of Mind for Artificial Brains: A Logical Approach to Interpreting Alien Minds by Orley K. Marron
Reading Phantom Minds: Marie Darrieussecq’s Naissance des fantômes and Ghosts’ Body Language by Mikko Keskinen
Theory of Mind and Metamorphoses in Dreams: Jekyll & Hyde, and The Metamorphosis by Richard Schweickert and Zhuangzhuang Xi
Mother/Daughter Mind Reading and Ghostly Intervention in Toni Morrison’s Beloved by Klarina Priborkin

5: Theoretical, Philosophical, Political Approaches

Changing Minds: Theory of Mind and Propaganda in Egon Erwin Kisch’s Asien gründlich verändert by Seth Knox
Functional Brain Imaging and the Problem of Other Minds by Dan Lloyd, Vince Calhoun, Godfrey Pearlson, and Robert Astur
How is it Possible to Have Empathy? Four Models by Fritz Breithaupt
Theory of Mind and the Conscience in El casamiento engañoso by José Barroso Castro