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Past Event

Theorizing Care:
A Humanities Online Reading Course

Session Eight|14 September 2023|4-6pm (HKT)



Jeffrey Clapp

Dr CLAPP Jeffrey Michael.jpg

Jeffrey Clapp is Associate Professor of English in the Department of Literature and Cultural Studies at the Education University of Hong Kong. 

He is the director of the community reading project 'One City One Book Hong Kong', which will celebrate Bison, a collection of short stories by the Hong Kong writer Ng Hui Bin, through September, October, and November of 2023. 

Associate Professor

Department of International Education

The Education University of Hong Kong



Session Reading:

Vermeule, B. (2010). Preface, Chapter 1. The Fictional among Us, Chapter 2. The Cognitive Dimension, Chapter 3. What Hails Us?, Epilogue. In Why Do We Care About Literary Characters? The Johns Hopkins University Press.




Optional Reading:



<Why Do We Care About Characters?  Some answers from Cognitive Cultural Studies>

It is not unusual for actors playing villain roles in soap opera-loving countries to be attacked, either physically or orally, by fans who mix the personalities of the actors and the characters they play. The villain, who is given life by the actor, appears to the fans as a real person who deserves a punch or two for all the evil acts he did to the hero of their favorite telenovelas. It would not be surprising that a chance encounter between the fan and the actor in the grocery or in the mall could trigger a sudden fracas.

     Indeed, why do viewers or readers of fiction care about literary characters?

     Blakey Vermeule’s Why do we care about Literary Characters (2010) and Liza Zunshine’s What Cognitive Science Can Tell Us about popular culture (2012) explore answers to the question from the viewpoint of what Zunshine calls “Cognitive Cultural Studies.”[1]


[1]Liza Zunshine, What Cognitive Science Can Tell Us About Popular Culture? (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University 2012) at xii.


A Summary Review by Jose Duke Bagulaya with contributions from Eric Feng

Reading & Discussion

Some suggested readings on embodied simulation and theory of mind (From Ellen):

Cinzia1, D. D., & Gallese, V. (2009). Neuroaesthetics: a review. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 19(6), 682-687.

Gallese, V. (2007). Before and below ‘theory of mind’: embodied simulation and the neural correlates of social cognition. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 362, 659–669.

Gallese, V. (2016). The Multimodal Nature of Visual Perception: Facts and Specu- lations. GESTALT THEORY, 38(2/3), 127-140.

Gallese, V. (2018). Naturalizing aesthetic experience. Projections, 12(2), 50-59.

Feel free to write down any questions or comments regarding the reading materials for Session 8 HERE.


Blakey Vermeule says that the question pressed most urgently is the ethical one. What does it mean for people to expense sympathy on fixture characters? So many real people and animals deserve our route and person. This leads to how things have evolved for today. The cognitive turn of literary and cultural studies versus what we have been saying about the ethics of care led me to a long digression about the history of ethics and literary criticism.

First, the recent history of how ethics has appeared in literary criticism. Criticism overlaps with or digresses from the ethics of care, as we have been reading and understanding it for the last months. We can ask whether this cognitive literary study fits well with other forms of ethical criticism and whether it fits well with an ethics of care. The idea that emotions and ethics are tied together in literary experiences is the oldest in literary criticism. Aristotle proposes that at the moment of most heightened experience when we observe tragic drama, we have an experience he described as Catharsis.




💙What a perfect ending to the incredible 8-month long journey of Theorizing Care.


Our final session was a whirlwind of insights, covering vast literary landscapes and profound ethical discussions. 📖💭

Our session leader Jeff has led us through the history of ‘Ethical Criticism’ in literary studies, exploring how it intersects with, or diverges from the ‘Ethics of Care’, and how it experiences a dramatic return to Anglo-American literary studies in the 1980s. 💡Through an array of works across four decades, from Henry James, Martha Nussbaum, J. Hillis Miller to Dorothy Hale, and more, the tension between Ethical Criticism and Care Ethics unfolded before our eyes, prompting rich dialogues. Particularly, Jeff dissected the four key aspects of moral philosophy according to James’s and Nussbaum’s ideas: relationality, responsibility, emotion, and action. Jeff then introduced the cognitive turn, exploring the concept of mind reading in literary and cultural studies through the lenses of our readings by Vermeule and Zunshine📚. 

💬The comments section was equally enlightening, touching on diverse topics like cognitive neuroscience in film studies, big data analysis in literary studies, the cognitive theory of mind and law, and contrasting liberal and posthumanist perspectives on care. 

As we wrapped up this online reading course, we extend heartfelt thanks to Jeff and all our incredible session leaders and participants😊🙏. But like we said, this is just the end of the beginning!🌱 In November, we're gearing up for an international conference stemming from 'Theorizing Care'. 🌟Stay tuned for exciting details

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