What Is Literature For?: A Symposium on Angus Fletcher’s “Wonderworks”

Keith P. Mankin (and also Ed Simon, Erik J. Larson, and Angus Fletcher) in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

There is great emotional weight in literature. Anyone who has cried for the death of Old Yeller, laughed at the antics of Lucky Jim, or been thrilled by the adventures of Simon Templar can attest to that simple fact. What has never been simple is understanding why a string of written words can create such an emotional response, or possibly more important, why some strings achieve it so much more effectively than others.

Angus Fletcher’s breathtaking book Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature attempts to explain that very thing. With degrees in both English Literature and Neuroscience, Dr. Fletcher explores the intersection of two fields that, on their face, have little overlap. His book follows a linear and roughly chronological narrative of literary innovation from the standpoint of a reader’s emotional response. At the same time, he peers into the central nervous system at each milepost to find out what biological and biochemical action may be governing those emotions. Intriguingly, he has also found a parallel and almost linear narrative of our knowledge of the way the brain works, furthering his argument that the two functions are intertwined.

More here.