The Creation of Space: narrative strategies, group agency, and skill in Lloyd Jones’s The Book of Fame

In Chris Danta & Helen Groth (eds.), Mindful Aesthetics. Bloomsbury/ Continuum. pp. 141-160 (2014)
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Abstract

Lloyd Jones’s *The Book of Fame*, a novel about the stunningly successful 1905 British tour of the New Zealand rugby team, represents both skilled group action and the difficulty of capturing it in words. The novel’s form is as fluid and deceptive, as adaptable and integrated, as the sweetly shaped play of the team that became known during this tour for the first time as the All Blacks. It treats sport on its own terms as a rich world, a set of bodily skills, and an honest profession in itself. A reading of *The Book of Fame* can contribute to the interdisciplinary study of literature and cognition, exemplifying two-way ‘exchange values’. On the one hand, we gain insights into the nature of skilful group agency, of distinct forms and at distinct timescales, by focussing on the precise forms taken by the All Blacks’ creation of space. Here, we treat The Book of Fame as a brilliant evocation of features of collective thought, movement, and emotion that both everyday and scientific inquiry can easily miss. On the other hand, we also read back into the novel a subtle, fascinated interrogation of the mechanisms by which small groups form, evolve, and act. In this more ambitious mode of analysis, we use independently motivated theoretical concerns to help us see real features of the literary work that might otherwise remain invisible. We focus on the relationship between skilful performance and collective action. These topics fall outside the ambit of much current work by literary theorists using cognitive research, who tend to focus on theory of mind and modularity, metaphor and blending, emotion and empathy, consciousness and concepts, representation and so on. But skilled performance and collective action comprise surprisingly lively research fields across the sciences, from neuropsychology to philosophy of mind and cognitive anthropology. These areas of inquiry may provide even more productive avenues for future work in the interfield of literary and cultural theory and the cognitive sciences.

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