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The Neural Implantation: Cognitive Difference and Contemporary Culture

Meeks, Spencer (2020) The Neural Implantation: Cognitive Difference and Contemporary Culture. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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This thesis seeks to explore the effects of the neuro-turn, which is the turn away from predominately psychological paradigms towards neuroscientific models and explanations of the self. Demarcating the beginning of this turn as the 1990s, dubbed the ‘decade of the brain’, the thesis is particularly concerned with exploring the effects of the neuro-turn on the people whose identity, subjectivity, and personhood come to be built or formed around these novel neuroscientific ways of understanding or measuring brains and cognition. In particular, the thesis considers people who are categorised, diagnosed, or believed to have cognitive difference, particularly salient in this neuro-turn in regards to the myriad brain diseases, disorders, syndromes, and conditions present today. Underpinned by a Foucauldian theoretical framework, particularly the description of the nineteenth century’s ‘perverse implantation’, this thesis develops the concept of the ‘neural implantation’ to describe the effects of this biopolitical drive to classify cognitive difference. It is particularly interested in how the generic properties of crime fiction can elucidate both the biopolitics of the neural implantation, as well as how these texts can be sites through which to resist some of the more problematic effects of the medicalisation and politicisation of cognitive difference. Beginning with the cultural fascination with cognitive enhancement, it seeks to understand the kinds of subjectivities ideas of enhancement produce through close readings of Neil Berger’s film Limitless and Ramez Naam’s novel Nexus. It argues that the recent shift away from neoliberal to populist forms of politics is reflected in these two texts, and show how the neural implantation they imagine encapsulates this. It continues with an exploration of autism in society and culture, arguing that implantations of autism can be divided into the polar figurations of the ‘autistic shooter’ and the ‘autistic hacker’. It looks at Jodi Picoult’s novel House Rules as indicative of the ‘shooter’, describing the reading of the narrative as a ‘feel bad’ experience, before shifting to representations of the hacker, through readings of the television series The Code and Stieg Larsson’s Millennium novel series. The thesis concludes with a discussion of dementia, arguing that the contemporary model seeks only to medically pathologise and culturally demonise people living with dementia. To combat this, the thesis adopts a psychoanalytic reading of Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing and Alice LaPlante’s Turn of Mind, to show how society can begin to ‘read’ dementia differently, and moreover begin to learn what dementia and other cognitive differences can teach us about the limitations of the normative paradigm.

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