How Memories Become Literature


Cognitive science can help literary scholars formulate specific questions to be answered by archival research. This essay takes, as its starting point, embedded mental states (that is, mental states about mental states) and their role in generating literary subjectivity. It then follows the transformation of embedded mental states throughout several manuscripts of Christa Wolf’s autobiographical novel, Patterns of Childhood (Kindheitsmuster, 1976), available at the Berlin Academy of Arts. The author shows that later versions of Patterns of Childhood have more complex embedments in the chapter describing the adolescent protagonist’s relationship with her schoolteacher. This textual development is integral to the process whereby the presumably authentic memories of the past are constructed to fit the present needs of the person who is doing the remembering. Accompanying the three case studies of the manuscript revision is a discussion of theoretical and practical implications of this “cognitive-archival” approach to literature.

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