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Pursuing literary immortality illuminates how the mind works, finds CWRU researcher
Date:12/13/2012

The initial excitement of hearing a new song fades as it's replayed to death. That's because the brain naturally functions as a kind of ticking time bomb, obliterating the thrill for artistic sounds, images and words by making them familiar over time.

So the artist, musician or author's challenge is to create a work that retains a freshness, according to Case Western Reserve University's Michael Clune, in his new book, Writing Against Time (Stanford University Press). And, for the artist, musician or writer, creating this newness with each work is a race against "brain time."

Clune explains how neurobiological forces designed for our survival naturally make interest in art fade. But the forces don't stop artists from trying for timelessness.

While the phenomenon is true for all art, the assistant professor of English focuses on the intersection of literature and science, describing what writers can do to block or slow that natural erosion over time. Clune's builds on his interest in how the brain destroys a lasting enjoyment of art. He has written about and reported on the topic in the neuroscience journal, Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

The brain gradually defeats that initial excitement with boredom that Clune describes as "this dull feeling that your senses have died."

As writers fight to ward off the reader's boredom with striking new forms, metaphors, and images, the brain works just as fast to extinguish it.

"We are evolutionarily designed so that we focus on new objects and ignore familiar ones," Clune says. "When the mind confronts a new object, our perception is intense and vivid, but it soon dies with familiarity. Every minute, this feeling fades as the mind grasps the object."

Many writers in the Romantic tradition are animated by an impossible ambition to indefinitely extend that intensity. Clune writes about the strategies some literary greats have used to slow the brain's
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Contact: Susan Griffith
susan.griffith@case.edu
216-368-1004
Case Western Reserve University
Source:Eurekalert

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