Monthly Archives: June 2007

The Novel as an Emergent Feature

Novels are typically addressed as literary, cultural, eventually cognitive products, the amount of an artifact that has been created by someone or some process. Accordingly, they are commonly conceived as stories embedded into texts embedded into books. The three levels are usually considered as different features referred to the same object. For being a novel, a story has to be encoded through the set of symbolical features defining its textual layout. For being a text, the encoding has to be based on symbols engraved on a surface able to preserve it as an object: typically (and “lately”) paper. Consequently, a novel can’t be a novel without literacy and, as far as western literature is concerned, a novel can’t even be a novel out of a book containing it.
Besides, books are a very late feature in human cultures. Homo Sapiens Sapiens shaped narratives without books, even without literacy for the 99.99999% of his evolutionary history. Still, literary criticism can hardly figure out novels without books. Indeed, the process of ‘creating’ a novel and the one of ‘writing’ a novel are basically the same thing in common understanding. In many western languages the word “to write” counts as a synonym of “to create, to produce”, as far as the novel is the intended object the verbs refer to. Likewise, in many western languages words as “book” and “novel” count as synonyms.
There is historical evidence of the fact that the rise of the book as a medium and the rise of the novel as a literary genre fairly developed at the same pace, from papyrus age through parchment, till paper and print. That’s probably why the Digital Age questions at the same time the book as a medium and the novel as a genre. However, the historical and the theoretical extent of the questions both could be, and often they are, easily overrated, not to say generally mistaken, in absence of a previous, critical discussion taking into account unquestionable hystorical data.

Indeed, unquestionable evidence support the view that the same story, say the one about the unlucky love between Tristan and Ysolt, can be told by different narratives, say novels as the ones by Thomas, Beroul and, very likely, Chrétien de Troyes himself. Moreover, various versions of the same novel are affected by massive textual variation through the extent of their manuscript tradition. Similar evidence, concerning both fully different events taking place in different versions of the same story and the same events encoded through different textual features, apply to the medieval tradition of the Roman d’Alexandre, since four previous versions seem to have been collected by Alixandre de Paris into a single novel. Amazingly compelling evidence is provided by the textual tradition of the prose Lancelot-Graal cycle, featuring more than 200 different manuscript versions.
More in general, medieval manuscript traditions of early french romance novels from the 12th and the 13th century provide a wide range of textual variation, from simple graphical encoding, through the breakdown of narrative sequences, to the plastic assembly of episodes or even entire novels into new different ones. Basically, there is unquestionable evidence that variation is an unavoidable side-effect of manuscript copy or editing, due to the fact that the text is just the temporary-solid symbolic configuration the plastic non-symbolic flow of the story is shaped through. The textual borders can not be thick enough to avoid the narrative flow to outstrip them, hence the novel, as any chapter paragraph or other possible part it can be divided into, always exceeds the text it is encoded into. Very likely, textual variation depends on the mismatch between the story and the text it is encoded into, defining the extent of the decoding and recoding of a story. Indeed, since editors are human being, their eyes reading the exemplar are connected to their hands writing the copy on the blank page by means of a brain at work.

The philosophical investigations of J. R. Searle (1980 and 1990) recommend not to describe the mind as a mechanical processing informations device applying a set of algorithms and rules to some given symbolic code. As Searle pointed out with his chinese room argument and further insights, information-theory based accounts of the human mind operative patterns are utterly paradoxical. According to Searle’s philosophical point of view, neuroscientists are showing ever growing and pretty unquestionable evidences that the brain is not an instructions-driven engine, working as a Turing machine or as any other problem-solving mechanical device. Accordingly, the processes involved into manuscript textual transmission can not assume the editor’s brain as a mechanical device aimed to reproduce the text the way the exemplar provides him with. That’s why formalist, structuralist, semiotic and cognitive approaches failed to show any consistency at all, while looking for primary components of stories on the basis of the textual features they are supposed to be encoded into (Fuksas 2002).

Of course, the encoding process of stories into texts, the creative writing of an author on a blank page as the editing of a written one by an editor or the author himself imply the adoption of a symbolic code. Since stories have to be narrated, symbolic encoding has to be credited as an essential feature. Moreover, the symbolic encoding of a story is pragmatically limited, in terms that it implies at least one possible, accepted, placeable, recognizable textual configuration. At the same time, given that there is not any code before the encoding has been processed, being the code the result of the process, how can the textual encoding, or any other symbolic feature, be addressed as a crucial feature of the story itself? Moreover, how can the encoding process of a story into a text be described as a sort of translation?
Matter-of-factly, readers or listeners do not need to memorize phrases, sentences, words to understand a story. They hardly succeed in the task of retelling a single sentence of given narratives they read or listen to, even though they can retell what the story is about in different words, sentences, phrases. Very likely, if asked to retell a single narrative event extracted from a story, both listeners or readers would completely shuffle and replace most of the words, not to mention verbal tenses and conjugation modes.
Iser’s Wirkungstheorie investigated the aesthetic response triggered by the act of reading as the interaction, that is the dialectic relationship between text and reader. According to Iser (1972), the reading of the text «brings into play the imaginative and perceptive faculties of the reader, in order to make him adjust and even differentiate his own focus». Hence, even though the study of the literature arises from our concern with texts, there can be no denying in the importance of what happens to readers through texts. The point is, what happens to them?

Gibson’s Theory of Affordances and recent neuroscientific evidences concerning mirror neurons suggest that the decoding of narrative actions very likely induce motor facilitation, triggering action potential as the planning, the observation or the the auditory clues associated to corresponding actual actions do. Acts as ‘reading a novel’ or ‘listening to a story’ very likely trigger action potential entailed by textual descriptions. That is, textual decoding of narratives may very likely lead to the actual embodiment of described perceptual events, actions and emotional correlates by means of resonance and mirror matching of corresponding sensory experiences, motor schemes and interoceptive ramifications.
Brief, according to an ecological approach to storytelling described events entailing perception, action and emotional correlates are embodied via mirror matching, that is processed according to corresponding percepual, motor and emotional patterns.
Since embodiment of stories has to be credited as the very crucial feature making it possible the processing and the understanding of narratives, the symbolic encoding of narratives into actual texts has to be addressed as an emergent feature. Accordingly, a given text can be defined as a sequence of symbols encoding a story, but can not be identified with the story itself, any story being potentially encoded into infinite texts. Being possible to encode the ‘same’ story through potentially infinite symbolic assets, none of them can be identified with the story itself, at least not as the only way to tell the ‘same’ story. Indeed, perceptual events, actions and emotions decoded from novels, stories, narratives in general by means of mirror matching, are saved and stored as sensory experiences, motor schemes, feelings and behaviors into isolated or combined complex patterns, outlasting the textual features they are symbolically encoded into, that are soon gone and forgotten.

«Natural conditions» still applied to medieval manuscript tradition given that between the eyes reading the exemplar and the hand writing the copy the brain was still able to process variation on a scribal, editorial basis. Indeed, medieval manuscript tradition of French romance novels shows unquestionable evidence of massive variation when it comes to the breakdown of episodes, narrative sequences and smaller units as paragraph markers. Accomplishing the process of editing a novel, the very same novel, if “same” is the right word, different editors provide different breakdowns of the the story, the very same story, if, still, “same” is the right word. Basically, no middle-age manuscript tradition of any given early romance novel shows a recurrent breakdown pattern of the narrative parts. Any given version of the “same” romance novel actually provides his own breakdown of paragraphs, sections, chapter borders.
Moving deep forward the literary history of the novel to the Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit one could easily account narrative sections, chapters, episodes, paragraphs, as meaningful defined and fixed units. Indeed, printing made it possible to reproduce the standard breakdown of the novel into potentially infinite copies. Of course, different editions eventually revise the original partitioning of the novel, sometimes the author himself changes his mind, sometimes an editor takes part into a revision. Still, as soon as the matrix is established, copies reflects the very same standardized breakdown of the story in chapters, episodes, paragraphs, any kind of sections or parts.
Classical works by Watt e Goody (1968 ), Goody (1977: ix and passim, 1987) e Ong (1982: 78 ) identified textual consistency as a peculiar feature of literacy. R. H. Finnegan (1988: 17 e 82 in part.) suggested a different approach, observing that «even in litterate cultures there are many differences of degree in the respect accorded to a fixed text». Indeed, «it is possible indeed that we should regard printing rather than writing in itself as the most important factor here». If a threshold factor may be identified, distinguishing textual consistency of a story as a pure aim or an actual feature «it is between societies with and without printing, rather than with or without writing».
Accordingly, printing subverts the ecology of the novel making it possible to reproduce a standard format basically packing into the very same unit the story, the text and the novel. In ‘natural conditions’, that is before printing, the processing of the novel is dynamic and stochastic. The purpose of reproducing on an “high fidelity” standard, possibly “maximum, absolute fidelity”, should be considered as very exceptional, that is as the degré zero of manuscript textual reproduction. Hence, technologies underlaying reproduction have to be credited for the fixed textual encoding of the novel.

Still , textual processing of stories, both while listening to spoken aloud narratives, and very likely even while reading a written text, relies on plastic decoding of the symbolic code leading to the embodiment of corresponding perceptual events, actions and emotional correlates via mirror matching. Hence, the Novel stops being a defined product, an artifact working as an instructional system any time a reader or a listener start decoding the text so to embody the encoded story. In that very moment the novel starts acting as a plastic organism, a system providing a set of perceptual events, actions and emotional correlates. When the very same ecological interaction involves an editor, it very likely mutates the novel into something new, since the recoding of decoded events entailing perception, action and emotion very likely depends on the selection of new options among the potentially available “fit enough” ones.

That’s why ruling variation out of the general plan, typical histories of the literature basically rely on premises that are the very literary equivalent of the assumption that god created all the living species on earth. Indeed, novels as modern criticism is used to conceive them, basically as single objects identified by the boundaries of given texts, embodied into books and secured by the borders of their covers, are just the result of cultural or social selection operated by authors, editors, scribes, printers. Paradoxically, in ‘natural conditions’ the modern definition of “novel” applies both to the individual versions and/or to the family they belong to, that is it may be regarded at the same time as an item and/or as a category including that very same item.
Since the relationship between stories and texts is nonhierarchical, the novel basically results in an emerging feature arising from an asymmetric process of critical encoding.
That’s why, semiotic theories of reference, as the ones based on intertextuality (Kristeva 1966), should be finally discarded once and forever in favor of a new ecological approach to intersubjectivity, entailing embodiment of narrative references as a crucial feature. Indeed, texts can no be just addressed as mosaics of quotations, that is as parts of a larger mosaic of texts, given that textual features counts as meaningful units just in terms they can be plastically embodied into corresponding perceptual schemes, activity patterns and related interoceptive ramifications, as emotions and feelings.
Moreover, an evolutionary approach to the novel should necessarily investigate ‘textual fossils’, so to figure out the way cultural and social selection shaped the World Literature the way it looks like. Indeed, a philological approach make it possible to avoid literary determinism, the full equivalent of creationism in natural sciences.
Finnegan, R. H.
Literacy and orality: studies in the technology of communication, Oxford-New York, Blackwell, 1988.

Fuksas, A. P.
Selezionismo e conjointure, in Dal Romanzo alle reti. Atti del Convegno «Soggetti e territori del romanzo» Università di Roma «La Sapienza». Facoltà di Scienze della Comunicazione, 23-24 maggio 2002, a c. di A. Abruzzese e I. Pezzini, Torino, Testo & Immagine, 2004, pp. 152-184.

Goody, J.
The domestication of the savage mind, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Goody, J.
The logic of writing and the organization of society, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Goody, J. – Watt, I.
The consequences of litteracy, in Litteracy in Traditional Societies, a c. di. J. Goody, London, Cambridge University Press.

Iser, W. 1976
Der Akt des Lesens. Theorie asthetischer Wirkung, Munchen, W. Fink (then Id., The Act of Reading. A Theory of Aesthetic Response, Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press, 1978 ).

Kristeva, J. 1969
Séméiôtiké: recherches pour une sémanalyse, Paris: Edition du Seuil.

Ong, W. J.
Orality and Litteracy: the Technologizing of the World, London – New York, Methuen.

Searle, J.R.
Minds, brains and programs, in « Behavioral and Brain Sciences» 3 (3), pp. 417-457.

Searle, J.R.
Is the brain a digital computer?, in «Proceedings of the American Philosophical Association» 64 (3), pp. 21-38.

An Ecological Theory of the Novel

Major critical studies regarding the novel and its mimetic potential approached the crucial subject of mimesis focusing on the relationship between literature and reality. From words, language and style (Auerbach 1946), the theoretical emphasis progressively shifted through the relativistic chronotope (Bachtin 1937-38 then 1975), across structural semiotics (Greimas 1970, 1983) to reach the domain of epistemology (Pavel 1986). Throughout the critical history of the problem novels have been basically considered as a mimetic reflex, a semiotic translation or a dialectic alter ego of a given reality. That is, they have been supposed to imitate reality through language, to translate facts and events into semiotic acts or to establish consistent fictional worlds intersecting the so called actual or ‘real’ one.

An attempt to «discard the old opposition of fiction and reality» as «inadequate and misleading» has been proposed by Iser (1993). Complaining about the latter-day fate of epistemology, that «ended up having to recognize its own premises as fiction» while investigating the nature of fictionality, he tried to establish a literary anthropology by replacing «this duality with a triad: the real, the fictive, and what we shall henceforth call the imaginary». Assuming that «is out of this triad that the text arises», Iser offered that the text «functions to bring into view the interplay among the fictive, the real and the imaginary» leading «the real to the imaginary and the imaginary to the real». Hence, the text «conditions the extent to which a given world is to be transcoded, a nongiven world is to be conceived, and the reshuffled worlds are to be made acessible to the reader’s experience». Brief, the act of fictionalizing mediates between «external reality» and «diffuseness of imaginary» making it possible the «crossing of boundaries». That is, reshuffling of real and imaginary «takes place not by plain mimesis of existing structures but by a process of restructuring them».

A different approach has been lately suggested by some experimental studies on narrative text processing developed in the field of social and media psychology. Namely, some investigations aiming to explain why narrative persuasion and influence of beliefs differs from non-narrative or nonfiction established the concept of «transportation» (Green – Brock 2000, 2002, Green – Brock – Kaufman 2004) as an «an integrative melding of attention, imagery, and feelings, focused on story events» (Green 2002). Interestingly, theory of «transportation» focuses on sensory absorption of the «traveler», that is the reader or listener, engaging his cognitive resources, emotions and mental imagery. Still, no clues are offered about how «transportation» is supposed to happen, neither «where» it is supposed to physically lead the traveler. Hence, «transportation» basically counts as a new metaphor describing the interactive rendering of so called «fictional worlds».

The opposite key-concept of ‘embodiment’, not to be intended as a metaphor at all, has to be intended as crucial to the different, very materialistic approach this contribution aims to introduce, arguing that all previous mentioned ones are basically faulty and misleading. Very broadly, the actual aim is to establish an ecological theory of narrative reference, based on the idea that the understanding of stories, and the ones defined as novels in particular, basically revolves around action-related knowledge, as suggested by ecological accounts of perception and action originally developed in the field of experimental psychology and recently supported by crucial advances in neurosciences.

Introducing the ‘Theory of Affordances’, Gibson (1966, 1977, 1979 in particular), stated that perception and action can not be conceived as separated entities, since both detection and perceptual encoding depend on the action potential the perceived environmental feature triggers in the body of the perceiver. Common coding of perception and action has been lately supported by large body of evidence collected through fMRI and PET experiments demonstrating that perception of actions performed by others is constantly associated to motor facilitation and mirror matching activity both in human and non-human primates (Rizzolatti 1996a, Gallese 1996, Fadiga and colleagues 1995, Rizzolatti and colleagues 1996b, Rizzolatti, Fogassi and Gallese 2001). In particular, human premotor cortex reacts on a somatotopic basis to the observation of an action. Indeed, actions performed with hand, mouth and foot activate different sectors of premotor cortex and Broca’s Area, according to the effector involved in the observed action (Buccino and colleagues 2001, Umiltà and colleagues 2001).

Facilitation is not only present in action-observation conditions, since the mirror matching system excitability is actually modulated by the auditory perception of action-related sounds (Kohler and colleagues 2002, Keysers and colleagues 2003, Aziz-Zadeh and colleagues 2004). Moreover, when the perceived sounds are meaningful words, the auditory processing modulates the excitability of tongue muscles (Fadiga and colleagues 2002) . Then, action-related knowledge can be retrieved not only by visual or auditory perception, but even by language, that is by sentences actually describing actions (Watkins and colleagues 2003, Flöel and colleagues 2003, Watkins and Paus 2004, Wilson and colleagues 2004).

Such findings support the Neural Theory of Language proposed by Feldman and Narayanan (2004), maintaining that listeners or readers enact to some variable extent corresponding embodied experience while hearing or reading about a given perceptual experience or action, even when metaphorically projected to analogue domains. Synergy supporting gestures and more complex activity patterns required by ecological interactions, including potential affordances of environmental features, define the core semantics of words referring to them. Basically, maintaining that words, sentences, all linguistics constructions attain meaning through embodiment as far as speakers, listeners or readers can be tagging properties they are aware of, Neural Theory of Language openly stresses that understanding of narratives relies on the enacting appropriate embodied experiences the described events refer to. Indeed, the ability to utter and process linguistic references seems to be related to the ability to actually perform and recognize corresponding actions in natural environments.

Moreover, Tettamanti and colleagues (2005) found that listening to action-related sentences activate the same left-lateralized fronto-parieto-temporal system actually activated by the execution and observation of the corresponding action. Body part-specific responses to action-related sentences support the idea that somatotopically organized motor representations of the described actions partially coincide with the ones activated by the observation of the corresponding action. Further evidence of congruence between the cortical sectors activated by observing actions and by the reading of corresponding verbal descriptions, proved a direct involvement of premotor areas with mirror-neuron properties in re-enactment of sensory motor representation during processing of linguistic sentences describing actions (Aziz-Zadeh and colleagues 2006). The idea that mirror matching of actions relies both on visual recognition and verbal description has been supported by other experiences showing that processing of language describing actions activates a left-lateralized subset of neural networks subserving visual recognition of actions (Meister and Iacoboni 2007).

Hence, a vast and quickly growing body of evidence (Aziz-Zadeh and Damasio 2008 ) basically supports motor theory of speech perception, originally developed by Liberman and colleagues (1985, 2000), maintaining that the ultimate constituents of speech might be articulatory gestures subserving the production of phonemes. At the same time, such evidence is providing crucial support to the idea that language evolved from gestures and its functioning it’s tightly linked to activation of motor system. Indeed, Recognition of intentional gestures in humans and non human primates can be credited as the archetypal mirror matching mechanism responsible for bridging action and communication, as maintained by Rizzolatti and Arbib (1998), Corbalis (2002) Arbib (2005). Furthermore, since neurolinguistic evidence is definitely supporting theories of embodied semantics (Lakoff and Johnson 1999, Gallese and Lakoff 2005), it even throws open the door to an embodied theory of narrative reference.

Indeed, since utterance, listening and reading of action-related words and sentences seem to be recruiting motor representations involved in the execution of the corresponding actions, narrative references to actions should be inducing motor facilitation by triggering action potential as the planning, the observation or the the auditory clues associated to given actions do. That is processing of action-related words and sentences while listening or reading stories should induce effector-specific motor responses to speech and activation of mirror matching circuits. Consequently, actions described into narratives should be embodied on a somatotopic basis by means of resonance and mirror matching.

As Wolfgang Prinz (2005: 148 ) pointed out: «while watching, in a slapstick movie, an actor who walks along the edge of a plunging precipice, people are often unable to sit still and watch quietly. They will move their legs and their arms or displace their body weight to one side or another». Spontaneous movement induced and modulated by the moves performed by other people have been defined as «idiomotricity» by Wolfgang Prinz (1987 in part., and cfr. even 1990, 1997). Since mediated visual stimuli actually trigger ideomotor actions, some certain degree of potential idiomotricity may be entailed by the textual processing of narratives, both through direct listening to stories verbalized aloud and internal verbalization after silent reading. If so, textual perception and narrative action might share a common coding mechanism, as perception and action do. That is, recognition of narrative action through the pragmatical flow of the text should be supported by the activity of a mirror matching mechanism.

The Ecological Theory of the Novel maintains that perception and action are tightly connected through the narrative flow of the novel. The description of the setting features verbs, nouns and adjectives actually referring to perceptive events, sensory-related properties and body part-specific affordances of items in order to trigger action potential. Narrative action exerts the potential entailed by the described environmental features by means of character-specific affordances encoded through motor, sensory and action-related clauses. Remarkably, verbs are not the only linguistic ‘natural’ referent to action.

In the first place, verbs do not necessarily carry narrative action. Moreover, descriptions just based on nouns and related adjectives may carry action potential. Any reference triggered by a noun, any property stressed by an adjective carries a given amount of action potential based on the potential affordances of corresponding item performed by a given agent. Consequently, description can not be simply intended as «ancilla narrationis». Indeed, instead of setting up the landscape the action will be performed ‘into’, descriptions actually turn-on suspence, providing action potential that may be exerted or not by the development of narrative action, eventully providing the actual payoff, or not.
Descriptions of narrative actions may or may not ‘activate’ the potential affordances suggested by previously described items. Still, mirror-matching and consequent embodiment of potential actions may be even triggered by the description of items that are completely unrelated to actions that are about to take place. Likewise, character-specific dreams, desires, wishes, thoughts, not to mention avoidance, trigger sensory-motor responses as character-specific perception and action do. Indeed, narrative events described as happening in the past, in the future, in dreams, while daydreaming, or counter-factual ones described as not-happening at all, should resonate by means of mirror matching as the ones described as actual events taking place in the narrative ‘here and now’. Moreover, narrative events the text just refers to by means of hints and clues matter exactly as the ones that are ‘actually’ described, that is encoded into clauses combining verbs, nouns, adjectives as ‘factual’ ones. Indeed, potential affordances suggested by, say, the description of a crime scene in a detective novel define the potential extent of the crime the novel is about.

Descriptions of narrative events entail a variable extent of culturally defined affordances, perceivable or not depending on cultural identity of agents. Culturally defined affordances may modify implications of narrative events and the way they connect with each other. Social and cultural pressure apply as a ‘normalizing’ agent, regulating selective processes so to establish standard affordances. As soon as ‘canonical’ affordances are established, they basically qualify as object-inherent functions. Consequently, the average way people afford, use, operates an object is perceived as a function of the object itself., say performing an open-hand grasp on a bottle for pouring water, or a precision-pick on a pencil so to use it for drawing.

Some descriptions actually qualify as cultural or social labels, since they modify the narrative implications entailed by potential affordances of described environmental features. Social and cultural pressure apply as a ‘normalizing’ agent, that regulates selective processes leading to standard affordances. As soon as ‘canonical’ affordances are established, they basically qualify as object-inherent functions. Consequently, the average way people afford, use, operates an object is perceived as a function of the object itself, say performing an open-hand grasp on a bottle for pouring water, or a precision-pick on a pencil so to use it for drawing. Besides, as Heft (2003) maintains, «The affordances that are available to be perceived by the individual over time reflect an interweaving of reciprocal, continuing, historical process». Indeed, a bottle can be afforded by sticking a finger into the hole as a pencil can be afforded with teeth, as children very often do. Accordingly, described environmental features may always suggest alternative affordances based on character specific goal-oriented tasks or, more in general, variable previous knowledge underlaying concerned narrative events.

Since references to states of mind, emotions, evaluations are seldom independent from perceptual and action-related events, a general network may subserve processing of both body part-specific and general aspecific events, effectors, attributes. As offered by Damasio (2003), Emotionally Competent Stimuli depend on the actual presence or the mental recall of an object or an event and they are processed by a system relying on somatosensory perception, that is on the interoceptive sense stressed by Craig (2002). The responses provided by the system aim to place the organism «in circumstances conductive to survival and well-being» (Damasio 2003: 53). Hence, perception, emotion and action are tightly linked, since «emotions provide a natural means for the brain to evaluate the environment within and around the organism, and respond accordingly and adaptively».
Researches on patients affected by frontal lobe damage indicate that internal states associated with emotional contents support response options and advantageous choice. According to Damasio (1999: 53-54), emotions provide a couple of connected biological functions: the production of specific reactions to the inducing situations and regulation of the internal state of the organism in order to prepare specific reactions. Since the process of deciding advantageously starts even before knowing the advantageous strategy (Bechara and colleagues 1994, 1997, 2000), emotions should play a major role when it comes to action planning. Hence, according to the somatic marker hypothesis (Damasio 1994, 1996), emotions are biologically indispensable to decisions. So, an action might be hardly defined as ‘planned’, as it might be hardly considered as meaningful at all if pulled off a framework entailing perception, evaluation and emotion. That is why the novel relies on a plastic narrative network connecting body part-related references and amodal, general-aspecific ones, pragmatically integrating perception, action, states of mind and emotions into the same vocabulary.

Hommel and colleagues (2001: 878 ) maintain that abstract, distal representation has evolved as a solution to the problem of developing a representational scheme for the planning of goal directed actions. They state that «action planning has been the problem, common coding has been the solution, and reality has come as a by-product of the solution». According to this view, narratives in general, and the novel in particular, may be assessed as a parallel byproduct of the solution that humans found to the very same problem of action planning. That’s probably why non goal-oriented actions are typically ruled out of novels, even tho they very likely take a big part in activity plans people usually go through in their every day life agenda. The story-line of novels likely features task to be accomplished, rather than exploratory behaviors eventually aimed to find specific goals, not to mention to fight boredom.

Hence, the novel does not imitate a given reality through language, as claimed by approaches based on aristotelian mimesis. Likewise, it does not establish a more or less consistent fictional world intersecting an actual one more or less consistently, as theories based on modern epistemology offer. Indeed, the novel is not the mimetic reflex or the dialectic alter ego of a given reality, since ‘reality’ and the novel are different outcomes of the same process. They both answer questions like when, why, what ‘to do’, implicitly providing given definitions of ‘doing’. That is, they both rely on an integrated network featuring perception and action, reason and emotion in order to plan meaningful actions. Since the novel and that special ‘thing’ humans call ‘reality’ are built in the very same way, to keep regarding novels as imitations or virtual reflects of a given reality definitely sounds sort of naïf.



M. A. Arbib, 2005
From Monkey-like Action Recognition to Human Language: An Evolutionary Framework for Neurolinguistics, in «Behavioral and Brain Sciences» 28, pp. 105-167.

Auerbach, E. 1946
Mimesis. Dargestellte Wirgklichkeit in der abendländischen Literatur, Bern, Francke.

Aziz-Zadeh, L. – Iacoboni, M. – Zaidel, E. – Wilson, S. – Mazziotta, J. (2004)
Lateralization in motor facilitation during hearing of action sounds, in «European Journal of Neuroscience» 19:9: 2609-2612.

Aziz-Zadeh, L. – Wilson, S. M. – Rizzolatti, G. – Iacoboni, M. 2006
Congruent embodied representations for visually presented actions and linguistic phrases describing actions, in «Current Biology» 16: 1818-23.

Aziz-Zadeh, L. – Damasio, A.
Embodied semantics for actions: Findings from functional brain imaging, in «Journal of Physiology» (in print)

Bachtin, M. 1937-38 then 1975
Voprosy literatury i estetiki, Izdates’tvo, Chudozestvennaja literatura.

Bechara, A. – Damasio, A. R. – Damasio, H. – Anderson, S. W. 1994
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Bechara, A. – Damasio, H. – Tranel, D. – Damasio, A. R. 1997
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Bechara, A. – Tranel, D. – Damasio, H. 2000
Characterization of the decision-making deficit of patients with ventromedial prefrontal cortex lesions, in «Brain» 123: 2189-2202.

Buccino, G. – Binkofski, F. – Fink, G. R. – Fadiga, L. – Fogassi, L. – Gallese, V. – Seitz, R. J. – Zilles, K. – Rizzolatti, G. – Freund, H. J. 2001
Action observation activates premotor and parietal areas in a somatotopic manner: an fMRI study, in «European Journal of Neuroscience» 13: 400-404.

M. Corbalis, 2002
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Craig, A. D. 2002
How do you feel? Interoception: the sense of the physiological condition of the body, in «Nature Review Neuroscience» 3: 655-666.

Damasio, A. R. 1994
Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, Avon, New York.

Damasio, A. R. 1996
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Damasio, A. 2003
Looking for Spinoza. Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain, Orlando (FL), Harcourt.

Fadiga, L. – Fogassi, L. – Pavesi, G. – Rizzolatti, G. 1995
Motor facilitation during action observation: a magnetic stimulation study, in «Journal of Neurophysiology» 73: 2608–2611.

Fadiga, L. – Craighero, L. – Buccino, G. – Rizzolatti, G. 2002
Speech listening specifically modulates the excitability of tongue muscles: a TMS study, in «European Journal of Neuroscience» 15: 399-402.

Feldman J. – Narayanan S. 2004
Embodied meaning in a neural theory of language, in «Brain and Language» 89: 385-92.

Flöel, A. – Ellger, T. – Breitenstein, C. – Knecht, S. 2003
Language perception activates the hand motor cortex: implications for motor theories of speech perception, in «European Journal of Neuroscience»18: 3: 704-708.

Gallese V. – Fadiga L. – Fogassi L. – Rizzolatti G. 1996
Action recognition in the premotor cortex, in «Brain» 119: 593-609.

Gibson, J. J. 1966
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Gibson, J. J. 1977
The theory of affordances, in Perceiving, Acting and Knowing, ed. by R. Shaw & J. Bransford, Hillsdale, NJ, Erlbaum.

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