Beginning with "a specific intuition – about Shakespeare: that the very shapes of Shakespeares lines and sentences somehow had a dramatic effect at deep levels in my mind," Davis conducted an experiment with Neil Roberts, a neuroscientist at the University of Liverpool, regarding the cognitive effect of a characteristic Shakespearean rhetorical device known as "anthimeria," or the syntactial forcing of one part of speech to perform the labor of another, i.e.
to try to see what happens inside us when the brain comes upon sentences like 'The dancers foot it with grace', or 'We waited for disclose of news', or 'Strong wines thick my thoughts', or 'I could out-tongue your griefs' or 'Fall down and knee/The way into his mercy'. For research suggests that there is one specific part of the brain that processes nouns and another part that processes verbs: but what happens when for a micro-second there is a serious hesitation between whether, in context, this is noun or verb. The main cognitive research done so far on the confusion of verbs and nouns has been to do with mistakes made by those who are brain-damaged and thus on the possible neural correlates of grammatical errors and semantic violations. Hardly anybody appears to have investigated the neural processing of a 'positive error' such as functional shift in normal healthy organisms.The results are fascinating, and vary depending on whether or not the resulting shift creates sentences that still make some sense or not given the violation of normative grammar. But Davis goes on from this evidence to muse further (and in ways that will not surprise anyone who has worked with victims of traumatic brain injuries whose neural functioning has moved and thus been regained):
Shakespeare's syntax, its shifts and movements, can lock into the existing pathways of the brain and actually move and change them – away from old and aging mental habits and easy long-established sequences. It could be that Shakespeare's use of language gets so far into our brains that he shifts and new-creates pathways - not unlike the establishment of new biological networks using novel combinations of existing elements (genes/proteins in biology: units of phonology, semantics, syntax , and morphology in language). Then indeed we might be able to see something of the ways literature can cause affect or create change, without resorting to being assertively gushy.Upon reading this I was immediately led to recall the audio file of a Bernadette Mayer class on experimental writing techniques, held June 1978 at Naropa, during which Mayer reads passages from Clark Coolidge's Polaroid (page 69), Gertrude Stein's Stanzas in Meditation (LIII), and Shakespeare's Sonnet 105 and invites students to explore the connections. It's a 39 minute audio file, and the passage in question takes place beginning at 7:00 minutes into the file. I won't reproduce those texts here but will include a subsequent experiment conducts, namely to offer three lines, one each from the three authors in question, and invite readers to consider which is by which. (Answer key in the comments.)
to one of one still such and even so
itself in come as same
and now and hours not at all
Test #2I reproduce Mayer's exercise in fun but also in the spirit of the very serious implications of Philip Davis' insight, namely to consider form his Shakespeare example what neuroplasticity potential lies in the writing of Stein and Coolidge among others.
once more to add feeling to feeling
off near to points in itself
one thing expressing leaves out difference