Looking Back With SurpriseFoto: Keli Schimelpfenig, Case Western Reserve University

Looking Back With Surprise


Shifting Blame, Shifting Alliances, and the Problems of Atonement

Wednesday 27. February 2019, 18:00 until 20:00

Venue: Nedjma

Host: ILOS, UiO

Entrance: Free entry

When we look back from the end of a story — especially a surprising story — how, from what vantage, and with whom, do we observe our former reading selves? Is it with tenderness? Affection? Concern? Blame? Alienation? Annoyance? When stories of a certain sort seem to tell us one thing, then turn around and tell us something else, they often introduce a specter of misdoing. Someone around here has been unreliable, something has been inconsistent, somebody has somehow gotten things importantly wrong. The question then arises: who is to blame? Vera Tobin will discuss this specter as a source of cognitive trouble and a locus of narrative energy in a number of texts and their critical reception, with special attention to the case of Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement. As she will show, the cognitive structure of surprise can exert a substantial pressure on our feelings of allegiance and culpability in the readerly scene.

Vera Tobin is associate professor in the Department of Cognitive Science at Case Western Reserve University, where she studies cognitive bias, viewpoint in language, the problems of cooperation, and how literature and film engage our social cognition. Her first book, Elements of Surprise: Our Mental Limits and the Satisfactions of Plot, was published in spring 2018 by Harvard University Press.

Guest lecturer Vera Tobin will be joined by Karin Kukkonen, professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Oslo, and Ylva Østby, Postdoctoral Fellow at UiO’s Department of Psychology and expert on memory and cognition, for a panel discussion after her presentation.


The lecture and discussion are organized by Natalia Igl, postdoctoral researcher and Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions Individual Fellow at the University of Oslo, as part of her project “Readers as Observers” (funded under H2020 EU, Project ID: 794549).