Literary Criticism in Action, Part 2 (PhD seminar 2 ECTS)

Actor-Network-Theory and Extending the Mind: A Discussion of New Activities in Literary Theory. With Karin Kukkonen

This is the second seminar in a new series engaging PhD fellows in literary and cultural studies. The first seminar (with Mike Lundblad) was held in Oct 2017. Rita Felski (University of Virginia) will visit the seminar 13 Sept 2018 (at Litteraturhuset). Organizer: Tina Skouen

Deadline for written assignment, 2-3 pages (by email to 14 March

Karin Kukkonen

Please sign up here by the end of 9 February

In the final chapter of the Limits of Critique, Rita Felski turns to Bruno Latour and his project of “actor-network-theory” in order to develop a positive alternative to criticism and deconstruction. Ironically perhaps, Latour himself characterises “actor-network-theory” as a negative kind of theory that destabilises the categories of sociology and sets question marks where clear paths of agency and interaction had been assumed. Felski for her part seeks to establish the next step that Latour proposes, the process of “reassembling” a flexible actor-network, as a new method for literary criticism and literary history.

This seminar will outline the potential of actor-network-theory for informing literary theory and criticism and weigh its promise against the alternative account of the notion of the “extended mind”, where thought extends through our bodies, technologies and the culturally shaped environments we inhabit.

Students will be invited to discuss two cutting-edge interdisciplinary trajectories for literary study and to explore what these perspectives might contribute to their own projects. Karin Kukkonen will first give a talk on recent perspectives from cognitive literary study that underline how culture and cognition are entwined and how literature might be understood as a particular technology for extending the mind.

Written assignment

In the written assignments students are asked to outline how their own projects might be conceptualised in terms of (1) actors and networks and in terms of (2) extended cognitive processes of mind, bodies and technologies (see the texts by Bernini and Kukkonen for examples of literary analyses through the extended-mind hypotheses). We will discuss these written assignments together to work out the respective strengths and weaknesses of these approaches.

Please write 2-3 pages of text and send it to by 14 March at the latest.

Required readings (to be distributed):

  • Felski, Rita. "Context Stinks!" from The Limits of Critique (University of Chicago Press, 2015).
  • ---. "Latour and Literary Studies." PMLA 130.3 (2015) 737-742.
  • ---. "Introduction.” Special Issue New Literary History 47.2 (2016) 215-229.
  • Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (Oxford University Press). Read in particular "On the Difficulty of Being an ANT: An Interlude in the Form of a Dialogue" and then choose which other chapters look interesting.
  • Bernini, Marco. "Supersizing Narrative Theory: On Intention, Material Agency and Extended Mind-Workers." Style 48.3 (2014): 349-366.
  • Clark, Andy and David Chalmers. “The Extended Mind” (1996) available in Andy Clark, Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action and Cognitive Extension (Oxford University Press).
  • Kukkonen, Karin. Probability Designs: Literature and Predictive Processing (manuscript under review). Selections from Part Four: 4.1 "Das Fräulein von Scudery and the Mole Cricket" and 4.2. "Otto's Novel". The rest is optional.


Karin Kukkonen is an Associate Professor of Comparative Literature in the Department of Literature, Area Studies and European Languages at the University of Oslo. She is the author of three books: Studying Comics and Graphic Novels (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013); Contemporary Comics Storytelling (University of Nebraska Press, 2013), and, most recently, A Prehistory of Cognitive Poetics: Neoclassicism and the Novel (Oxford University Press, 2017). A fourth book is on its way, Probability Designs: Literature and Predictive Processing.

Published Dec. 4, 2017 1:17 PM - Last modified Feb. 12, 2020 1:53 PM