“More than 60 years ago, literary critic Lionel Trilling wrote, “A specter haunts our culture — it is that people will eventually be unable to say, ‘They fell in love and married,’ let alone understand the language of ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ but will as a matter of course say ‘Their libidinal impulses being reciprocal, they activated their individual erotic drives and integrated them within the same frame of reference.'” In the face of recent unbridled successes in neuroscience — which are nothing short of staggering — it would appear that Trilling’s inevitable future is upon us, at least in the pages of our novels.
Austin Allen, associate editor at Big Think, wrote, “I believe it actually will become harder to speak of Faulkner’s Jason Compson as ‘evil’ in a metaphysical sense — or as a raging but thwarted id, or an instrument of repressive patriarchy — rather than positing some kind of defect in his orbitofrontal cortex.”
This all paints a dark future for the novel in the face of neuroscience. Aside from spawning a new literary trend, neuroscience threatens to suck the fun out of analyzing characters and speculating about their motives. Even worse than diminishing the fun of reading novels, neuroscience also threatens to undermine our favorite pastime as readers of novels: passing judgment. This poses the terrifying and compelling question: How will knowing our own brains affect literature?”
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