Elaine Auyoung (pronounced O-Young) is Director of Undergraduate Studies, Associate Professor of English, and Affiliate Faculty of the Center for Cognitive Sciences. She specializes in nineteenth-century British literature and culture, the global history and theory of the novel, and psychological approaches to the arts. Her first book, When Fiction Feels Real: Representation and the Reading Mind (Oxford UP, 2018), provides literary studies with a new cross-disciplinary method for examining the relationship between novelistic technique and literary experience, focusing on how realist writers from Jane Austen to Thomas Hardy bring readers into intimate relation with fictional persons and worlds. Professor Auyoung's essays have appeared in New Literary History, Victorian Studies, Poetics Today, The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Literary Studies, Nineteenth-Century Literature, and Victorian Literature and Culture. She held a McKnight Land-Grant Professorship from 2018–2020 and received the 2019 Ruth Christie Distinguished Teaching Award for Faculty in English.
Her current book project, "Unselfing: What We Can Ask of the Arts," accounts for how the arts––including fiction, poetry, painting, music, and dance––create uniquely powerful but fragile experiences of absorption, intimacy, belonging, even transcendence. It recovers the profoundly social underpinnings of aesthetic response and, in doing so, invites us to distinguish the conditions that give rise to aesthetic experience from those that shape our ordinary feelings and judgments. Recognizing that aesthetic emotions are extremely context-sensitive challenges longstanding assumptions about the relationship between art and moral action, alerting us to a vital new role for critical inquiry and for aesthetic education: attuning ourselves to how specific contexts enable or foreclose aesthetic attention. By cultivating critical awareness of how social context shapes the way we see, feel, and judge, we can more precisely understand why solidarity is so difficult to sustain and how we might act in ways even more aligned with our values.