Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Existence Costs: What does Literature Grasp that the Empirical Sciences do not about Signs, Deception, Intensionality, and the Economic Horizon of Existence?

A. Samuel Kimball.

The empirical sciences (including cognitive psychology, economics, and evolutionary biology) have insufficiently theorized the problematic nature of human signification—in particular, the relation between signs, deception, orders of intensionality (in theory of mind research), and the economic horizon of life. Insofar as literature comprehends the structural limits of all signifying activity, literary study has an invaluable role to play whenever and wherever a culture endeavours to anticipate and shape its possible future.

This paper begins with the economic axiom that governs all evolutionary accounts of human cognition—namely, that existence always costs. It then proceeds to identify the epistemological consequences of this presupposition and how it limits the explanatory reach, above all the self-reflexive capacity, of the discourses this conference seeks to challenge, discourses predicated on one form or another of scientific, technical, and economic rationalism. To this end, the paper reviews how representation always costs. The paper then investigates the general fact of the epistemological loss or incompleteness that is the condition of possibility of any field of inquiry, including the interdisciplinary study of “theory of mind,” a field that turns on the problem, intrinsic to all rationalisms, of a non-formalizable limit to what can be known. Finally, the paper argues that the knowledge of the limits of knowledge constitutes an enormous cultural burden the violent—sacrificial—consequences of which western literature has from its beginnings sought to name, analyse, and demystify so as to work through to a less violent, less sacrificial cultural footing.


A. Samuel Kimball  (United States)
Associate Professor of English
Department of English
University of North Florida

A. Samuel Kimball, Associate Professor of English at the University of North Florida, has published on American literature (Melville, Hawthorne, Morrison), film (Twin Peaks, Pulp Fiction, Chinatown, The Matrix, Alien Resurrection), and cultural theory (Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus). He has completed a book-length manuscript: “Infanticidal Testimonies: Abraham, Oedipus, Jesus.”

  • Evolution
  • Theory of mind
  • Intensionality
  • False Belief
  • Semiotics
  • Epistemological loss
  • Oedipus the King
  • Gospel of John
  • Sacrifice
  • Jacques Derrida

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)