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Distributed Cognition in Victorian Culture and Modernism$
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Miranda Anderson, Peter Garratt, and Mark Sprevak

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781474442244

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474442244.001.0001

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Walking, Identity and Visual Perception in Romantic and Modernist Literature

Walking, Identity and Visual Perception in Romantic and Modernist Literature

(p.152) 9 Walking, Identity and Visual Perception in Romantic and Modernist Literature
Distributed Cognition in Victorian Culture and Modernism

Andrew Michael Roberts

Eleanore Widger

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter considers enactivist theories of cognition and perception in relation to aspects of Romantic and Modernist literature, in particular how walking relates to visual perception and the representation of the visual field (sensorimotor enactivism); and how movement and visuality inflect ideas of subjectivity, identity and consciousness (autopoietic enactivism). It draws on Alva Noë’s account of sensorimotor enactivism in Action in Perception (2004), on Evan Thompson’s account of autopoietic enactivism in Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology and the Sciences of Mind (2007), and on Varela, Thompson and Rosch’s The Embodied Mind (1993), to argue that, while Romantic poetry tends to an affirmative account of unconstrained walking in a rural environment, facilitating identity-enhancing interaction, Modernist literature shows a marked duality in its representation of urban walking. In T.S. Eliot’s poetry, walking constrained by an oppressive urban environment threatens to fragment identity, implying dysfunctional forms of distributed cognition. However, although women’s urban walking in the Modernist period has often been seen to be constrained by gendered power structures, Virginia Woolf’s writing at times celebrates the aesthetic and sensory pleasures of urban walking, leading to more affirmative versions of dispersed identity.

Keywords:   walking, identity, sensorimotor enactivism, autopoietic enactivism, Romantic poetry, Modernist literature

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