Cognitive narratology: A practical approach to the reader-writer relationship

Debra Ann Ripley, Marquette University


This work seeks to isolate and highlight, through the lens of cognitive narratology, several key moments in the development of the relationship between the author and the reader. This study is of particular importance at this point in literary studies because of the nihilistic and ever fragmenting effects of the most influential critical approaches of the 20th century. The result of much critical theory in the past three decades has been an increased focus on the untouchably individual and personal at the expense of the notion of shared human experience. Some of the basic principles of cognitive processes can be applied to literary texts to illuminate the surrounding cognitive systems that breathe life into the written artifact. The elemental participants in this exchange are the reader, the author and the text. All three of these parties are necessary to the full picture of cognitive practices. The reader and author are key in that they are the real, embodied minds who use tools and strategies inherent to the human brain. Cognitive processes offer a window into why readers often explain that they feel or suspect certain things, but are unable to pinpoint the cause. Although we are immersed in our processes, that proximity often functions to make the processes harder to see rather than easier to see. A cognitive approach to narrative also makes clear that narrative is the property of every human mind. Stories form the foundation for all of our thinking because they are the foundation of all of our memories. We are context dependent systems that derive meaning based upon situational cues and relationships. In this way, it is everyone who has access to narrative processes rooted in cognition, not just a privileged artist. The difference between people who are considered to be great artists and the rest of us is not a matter of them having a particular genius; it is a matter of them better using their inherent ingenuity.

Recommended Citation

Ripley, Debra Ann, "Cognitive narratology: A practical approach to the reader-writer relationship" (2005). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3201930.