Minds in and out of time: memory, embodied skill, anachronism, and performance

Textual Practice 26 (4):587-607 (2012)
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Contemporary critical instincts, in early modern studies as elsewhere in literary theory, often dismiss invocations of mind and cognition as inevitably ahistorical, as performing a retrograde version of anachronism. Arguing that our experience of time is inherently anachronistic and polytemporal, we draw on the frameworks of distributed cognition and extended mind to theorize cognition as itself distributed, cultural, and temporal. Intelligent, embodied action is a hybrid process, involving the coordination of disparate neural, affective, cognitive, interpersonal, ecological, technological, and cultural resources. Because the diverse elements of such coupled systems each have their own histories and dynamics, many distinctive or competing times are built in to the very mechanisms of remembering and reasoning. We make this argument by means of two distinct case histories: a reading of the site-specific audio walk of Canadian artist Janet Cardiff; and an extended discussion of a famously anachronistic moment in William Shakespeare’s King Lear. These readings reveal the inherent polytemporalities of human mental and social life.
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