21L.704 Studies in Poetry - British Poetry and the Sciences of the Mind (MIT)

Do poems think? Recurrent images of the poet as an inspired lunatic, and of poetry as a fundamentally irrational art, have often fostered an understanding of poets and their work as generally extraneous to the work of the sciences. Yet poets have long reflected upon and have sought to embody in their work the most elementary processes of mind, and have frequently drawn for these representations on the very sciences to which they are thought to stand - and sometimes do genuinely stand - in opposition. Far from representing a mere departure from reason, then, the poem offers an image of the mind at work, an account of how minds work, a tool for eliciting thought in the reader or auditor. Bringing together readings in British poetry of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with writings from the emergent sciences of psychology and the physiology of the brain, this interdisciplinary course will explore the ways in which British poets, in years that witnessed the crucial development of these sciences, sought to capture an image of the mind at work. The primary aim of the course is to examine how several prominent genres of British poetry - the lyric, for instance, and the didactic poem - draw from and engage in this period with accounts of cognition within the sciences of psychology, physiology, and medicine. More broadly, the course aims to give undergraduates with some prior experience in the methods and topics of literary study an introduction to interdisciplinary humanistic research.

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