zunshineLisa Zunshine is Bush-Holbrook Professor of English at the University of Kentucky, Lexington, where she teaches courses in Restoration and eighteenth-century British¬†literature and culture. She is the author or editor of eleven books, including Why We Read Fiction: Theory of Mind and the Novel (2006)¬†Getting Inside Your Head: What Cognitive Science Can Tell Us about Popular Culture¬†(2012). She is the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship (2007) for her work in what she calls “cognitive cultural studies.” She is an influential advocate of cognitive approaches to literature–using insights from the cognitive sciences to help us understand literature and using insights from literary studies to inject new ways of thinking into the cognitive sciences. Some critics argue that she makes sweeping claims based on evidence that’s far from definitive, but she is pretty frank about the fact that most of what we know about the mind is theoretical at this point. In this sense, her writing can be a useful model for how to discuss hypothetical scientific knowledge to illuminate literary texts.

lehrerJonah Lehrer is a science writer who got his start in journalism, after working in the lab of Nobel-prize winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel. He is the author of several books, including Proust Was a Neuroscientist (2008) and Imagine: How Creativity Works (2012). He became a controversial figure last year, when a critic discovered that he had fabricated quotes he attributed to Bob Dylan for his book Imagine. He was fired from his position as staff writer at The New Yorker after the revelation. He has recently started to talk publicly about his mistakes. If you’re interested, you can read more in this article from the NY Times Arts Beat blog. Music journalist Ann Powers wrote a pretty great piece comparing Lehrer’s fabrications to those of his “victim,” Bob Dylan, himself a notorious “fabulist” (or teller of tall tales). Dylan’s autobiography, she points out, is full of fabricated facts. It’s too soon to know how the scandal will affect Lehrer’s career in the long run, but it has caused many to doubt the integrity of his work, including his use of science, which sometimes oversimplifies or fails to mention crucial sources. On the other hand, he’s a very good writer and his insights about writers like Woolf and Proust are genuine. If you decide to use Lehrer as a source, though, you’d inevitably have to address the controversy, at least in a small way.

 

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