MLA: Mind Reading in OE Poetry

Antonia J. Harbus, Macquarie U in Sydney, Australia
“Mind Reading in Old English Poetry”

author of The Life of the Mind in OE Poetry

This is a live blogging of the session.

“I know what you are thinking…”
All human interaction is only possible because we work behind the scenes, our minds.
Cognitive scientists use “mind reading” and “mind theory” to the capacity for understanding and predicting action.

Thoughts, emotion, minds, …
If someone rises but does not alight on a bus, you might assume a seat is being offered. Given the huge amount of non-verbal communication, guesswork is required, as well as our knowledge of behavioral laws (culture?).

We all use our theory of mind all the time. Usually below level of consciousness.
Subject to cultural contingency.

added complication of narration to the theory of mind in OE poetry
narration can interpret consciousness and thought

why-we-read-fiction-kindle-versionLisa Zunshine Why We Read Fiction: The Theory of Mind and the Novel

Focus on novel is reasonable. But so little work has been done on earlier uses. Difficult to apply theory of mind to older works.

potential insights of using mind theory
as an exemplary case study, theory of mind, applied by narrator of The Dream of the Rood
familiarity of representation in dreams
decoding of intertextual references
mind schema

prompt didactically the design of the narrator in the mind of the text

Christian vision of salvation, talking cross, relevant dream- all of these must be believed in
audience must predict states of mind from behavior.
Angels observed the tree and interpreted it as “not the gallows.”
Throughout opening section of poem as it is interpreted by the dreamer is seen as gallows/death and cross/salvation. Mediated presence.

Dreamer attributes motivated behavior to the cross.
Cross has mental state. Cross attributes the same mental states to the humans “enemy seized me”…
Act of mind reading to coerce an unwilling tree to force it to kill.
Tree has been wronged. Its feelings were not consulted.
Thoughts, intention inform the cross’ discussion.

“I know that you know they didn’t know”
Cross aligns with Christ “I saw then the Lord of mankind hasten with courage”
likens itself to Mary, Mary was chosen over all women. Cross was chosen by God.
I know that you know that He knows.

fully cognizant sentient being
Cross even anticipates the Judgment Day

Point is reiterated when he equates emotions with intentions. “The is no need then that anyone who already … the best of…”

Throughout the OE corpus. Andreas it is there. Not in source documents.

Cognitive science can show… Old English poetry can show mind theory was used, particularly for didactic approaches.

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