This is the abstract I submitted for the paper I'll be giving in September at the German Studies Association conference in Louisville, Kentucky, in the session "The Cognitive Turn in German Studies (1)." I'll be the official respondent for session (2).
Abstract: "Reading Fragments: Romantic Philology, Visual Perception, and the Inner History of Reading"
While there has been considerable work in recent decades on the social history of reading, the “inner” history of reading has seen little progress or has been declared an impossibility (for example, Bickenbach 1999). This paper proposes one way to approach the cognition of reading diachronically by connecting philological and poetic practices. One of the basic experiments for studying the role of visual perception in reading involves obscuring parts of letters, words, or sentences, and then observing how readers nevertheless successfully decode the text. Such experiments have led to the currently prevailing connectionist models of reading, which see visual, aural, and semantic cognitive structures operating simultaneously in the reading process. These experiments slow down and make conscious acts of decoding that are usually unconscious and automatic. It is therefore noteworthy that the rise of scholarly philology in the 18th and 19th centuries involved much the same exercise in the form of editing manuscript fragments and attempting to reconstruct original texts and codices. Furthermore, this philology coincided with new approaches to reading and literature in the Romantic period, broadly defined. One thinks of Heinrich von Ofterdingen by Novalis, for example, in which the title character’s famous vision of a blue flower functions as a theory of reading: the intense focus on one element of a text leads to a visionary experience that creates a new work. One of the roots of German Romantic literature might be found in an awareness of reading cognition resulting from contemporary philological practice.