In Denver on 15-18 April 2020, Nic Helms and I will co-chair a seminar for the SAA conference on “Watery Thinking: Cognitive and Ecocritical Perspectives on Water in Early Modern Literature.”
We’ll post links and other materials for the seminar on this page.
Here’s the full description we sent to the SAA Board:
“Watery Thinking” brings together cognitive science and ecocriticism to ask how environment influences how we think, and how we think about thinking. The seminar will explore how water–as element, as environment, and as part of our bodies–affects the way early modern and contemporary discourses model cognition. Meditation and water are wedded forever, says Melville — but we aim to show older and more varied confluences. Seminar papers might address topics such as Othello’s fountain, Lear’s conflict with the storm, and Cleopatra’s invocation of the Nile. Water affords and constrains thought, both as metaphor and as physical feature of environments. Watery Thinking is a tool used to craft characters and a theoretical model, both contemporary and early modern, for how cognition flows.
A resonant early modern example finds Burton describing melancholy through stagnant water: “water itself putrefies…if it be not continually stirred by the wind…so do evil and corrupt thoughts in an idle person.” Cognitive science likewise models the brain and the extension of thought into the world through water and watery environs. Stephen Kosslyn and Olivier Koenig’s Wet Mind (1992) charts the shift from the brain as computer to the brain as network; Edwin Hutchins’s Cognition in the Wild (1995) offers naval navigation as a model of how cognition integrates people, tools, and environments.Early modern literary criticism has begun to pursue wet thinking in such works as Steve Mentz’s At the Bottom of Shakespeare’s Ocean (2009) and Shipwreck Modernity (2015), Dan Brayton’s Shakespeare’s Ocean (2012), Lowell Duckert’s For All Waters (2017), and articles by Dyani Johns Taff, Laurence Publicover, and James Seth. This seminar combines these ecocritical approaches with cognitive literary studies to examine how water engages with thought as metaphor and feature of the environment. Recent cognitive literary criticism that addresses the overlap between mind and world includes Evelyn Tribble’s Cognition in the Globe (2011), the collection Embodied Cognition and Shakespeare’s Theatre, edited by Laurie Johnson, John Sutton, and Tribble (2014), and work by Mary Crane, Lianne Habinek, and James Knapp. This seminar will bring these two active threads of contemporary criticism together.