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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Narrative and cognition in Beowulf

by David Herman, Becky Childs

This essay explores ways in which narrative functions as a "cognitive artifact," i.e., something used by humans for the purpose of supporting or enabling cognition. The essay grows out of our ongoing attempt to blend insights from several fields, including narrative theory, discourse analysis, cognitive science, anthropology, and literary studies. Synthesizing ideas developed in these disciplines, and using Beowulf as our tutor-text, we argue that stories provide crucial representational tools facilitating humans' efforts to organize multiple knowledge domains, each with its attendant sets of beliefs and procedures. (1) Relevant domains include not only those associated with social cognition, the mode of thinking that both enables and is shaped by social experience (see Fiske and Taylor), but also a variety of problem-solving activities extending beyond those connected with social life. More specifically, our essay uses Beowulf to show how stories afford resources for thinking in five broad problem domains, to be characterized below.

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