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Michel Chaouli

Associate Professor, Germanic Studies
Adjunct Professor, Comparative Literature
Phone: (812) 855-8847

See also: Professor Chaouli's homepage


  • Ph.D., Comparative Literature, University of California, Berkeley, 1994

Research Interests

  • Embodied Cognition and Aesthetic Imagination

    In the past few years, I have become more and more curious about the question of the embodiment of thought, and I have been exploring ways of making concepts and procedures developed in phenomenology and cognitive science fruitful for the study of literature, aesthetic theory, and philosophy. I do this in four related projects.
    1. A book-in-progress provisionally entitled Touch and Taste: Embodied Cognition and the Emergence of Aestheticsexamines how various currents of European thought, from antiquity through the twentieth-century (with an emphasis on eighteenth-century aesthetic theories), imagine the senses and how these conceptions of the senses relate to ways cognition is thought to work. A description of the project can be found here. (I am scheduled to teach a graduate course on the five senses at Harvard in Spring '07; see here for a brief course description. I am also co-organizing a workshop on the topic at the Center for Eighteenth-Century Studies at Indiana, planned for May 2007; the Call for Papers can be found here.)
    2. In a paper on the place of poetry in the Critique of Judgment, I try to account for Kant's preference for poetry as the highest of arts by linking the abstract voice of humanity with the physiology of silent reading. The paper remains unfinished because I have been unable to overcome several conceptual obstacles. I have found it difficult, for example, to understand the degree to which Kant's notion of aesthetic pleasure relies on an anthropologically motivated idea of the body.
    3. A third way of asking the question of the embodiment of thought approaches the issue via the protocols and procedures of literary criticism. How do we establish, accept, or reject evidence for a particular reading? How do we settle on an interpretation of a text when we know that there are other options available (and there always are)? Reading Heinrich von Kleist's novella "The Marquise of O….," I argue that interests emerging from our embodiment urge us towards certain readings before we have had a chance to weigh the evidence. (The article in PDF format is here.)
    4. I am also interested in how disgust, one of the most visceral affects known to most of us, relates to aesthetic theory and practice. I have explored this question in two contexts, one a reading of Heinrich von Kleist's play Penthesilea (article in PDF format; German translation: Kleist-Jahrbuch 1998, 127-149), the other an essay on Van Gogh's Ear (article in PDF format). An abridged version of the latter article appeared, in German, in the weekly Die Zeit.
  • Literature in the Digital Media

    A second area of research relates to media history and media theory. I am particularly interested in how fiction—and our understanding of fiction—might change under pressure from the computer and the internet. I have gone in three directions with this.
    1. An article (in German) explores the material basis of the concept of literature through a theoretical exploration of the idea of the archive. The basic question is, what happens to writing when texts (such as this one) can continuously change even after publication? The article was published in the journal Text + Kritik 152: 65-74.
    2. Another article (here in PDF format) pursues the question of why computer-based literature (often called hyperfiction) fails to interest readers, myself included. I examine the concept of interactivity and the asymmetry that seems to be required in artistic communication.
    3. Rather than merely criticizing failed attempts at connecting fiction and the computer, I am working on an idea for a device that would play literature the way a stereo plays music. This is still a work-in-progress, though the basic idea stands.