PhD thesis defence: David Thiessen, "The Flesh Made Mind: Language and Embodiment in Fourteenth-Century Middle English Literature"

Friday, January 17, 2020 1:30 pm - 4:30 pm EST (GMT -05:00)

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The Flesh Made Mind: Language and Embodiment in Fourteenth-Century Middle English Literature

David Thiessen

My dissertation compares contemporary cognitive models of self, that posit an interconnection between body and mind, with Pre-Modern conceptions of an embodied self as represented in late fourteenth and early fifteenth century Middle English poetry. The medieval authors that I focus on are Geoffrey Chaucer, the Gawain-poet, and James I of Scotland.

         My dissertation asserts several close affinities between late medieval conceptions of self and contemporary models of embodied consciousness proposed by cognitive psychology and neuroscience. Such models challenge models of consciousness that posit an objective mind (i.e. distinct from the body) that perceives before sensation. Chaucer, the Gawain-poet, and James I each engage with their poetic interests through models of an embodied self. While Chaucer utilizes architectural space to map the processes of memory, intellect, and perception as embodied experience, the Gawain-poet employs several schemata, cognitive metaphors, and structured movement to demonstrate the embodied underpinnings of experience. And, after living through his childhood as a political prisoner, James I depicts consolation through cognitive metaphors built upon embodied experience. In sum, my dissertation engages present models of embodied consciousness from cognitive psychology and neuroscience to examine late medieval models of mind and body.