ACTUAL MINDS, POSSIBLE WORLDS by Jerome Bruner

ACTUAL MINDS, POSSIBLE WORLDS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Bruner (On Knowing: Essays for the Left Hand) explores the interface between psychology and literature in a collection of essays that raises more issues than it settles. Many of his insights are fascinating. Using Tzvetam Todorov's structuralist theory of ""transformation"" (which posits that imaginative narrative may be distinguished from simple exposition by the greater number of ""transforming"" verbs, i.e., ways of turning ""the action of the verb from a fait accompli to being psychologically in process,"") Bruner points out that a student assigned to retell the plot of James Joyce's ""Clay"" will use even more ""transformations"" than the text itself. Bruner thus suggests that we transform the world practically in the act of encountering it: perception and interpretation become simultaneous rather than disjunctive processes. Though he rejects the ""reader response"" school of criticism--which argues that readers create the text--he uses recent psychological research, particularly in child development, to show that our expectations, conditioned by our own ""private narratives,"" tend to color our experience of literature--and of life. Intuitive himself, he everywhere debunks ""the habit of drawing heavy conceptual boundaries between thought, action, and emotion as 'regions' of the mind, then later being forced to construct conceptual bridges to connect what should never have been put asunder."" In a rough-hewn afterword, Bruner joins George Steiner's and Todorov's recent humanistic attacks on Marxist deconstructionism, concluding: ""It is the transaction of meaning by human beings, human beings armed with reason and buttressed by the faith that sense can be made and remade, that makes human culture--and by culture, I do not mean surface consensus."" The deconstructionists and Marxists do not want to reduce culture to surface consensus, either, of course: nor is it fair to dismiss deconstruction as ""the rather philosophically harebrained perspectivalism that is now living out its sunset in Paris and New Haven and in the intellectual suburbs."" Since Harvard got left behind by the post-structuralist bandwagon, there is more than a jot of the literary politics Bruner elsewhere deplores in his final attack on Yale. If far from rigorous in summary of opposing viewpoints, Bruner nonetheless offers an eloquent presentation of the best recent progressive (as opposed to radical) thinking about the psychology of narrative.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1986
ISBN: 0674003667
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press