Ben Marcus, in ‘Why Experimental Fiction threatens to destroy publishing, Jonathan Franzen, and life as we know it’, identifies what he calls the ‘reader’s muscle’ – Wernicke’s area, in the left temporal lobe of the brain – which is responsible for complex linguistic abilities. This muscle needs to be exercised if it is to keep our cognitive abilities sharp and growing and keep our language agile enough to engage with the world around us in a focused way. Marcus argues that it is literary fiction (and poetry) that invigorates this muscle:The brain is, literally and metaphorically, as big as the universe in that it contains as many neurons as there are stars and neural pathways that are virtually infinite. If we stare up at the Milky Way, we are seeing what our brain (our ‘self’) looks like in all its vast wonder.
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