Not Writing is Not Writing

In my previous post, I described how writing is not writing, how frequent breaks and non-writing activities are necessary to the creative process. Here I’m going to consider those extended intermissions which are not conducive to creativity. What do I do when I’m in a slump, when not writing is indeed not writing.

My vocational demands are greatest during the fall and winter months. During these months, I don’t have the luxury of manufacturing distractions from writing with walks through the park or rides on my motorcycle. My life during these months is full to the brim with responsibilities that distract me from writing. I’m usually only able to make time to write a few days a week and only for an hour or two at a time. I’m generally satisfied if I can keep that pace, and the sparse writing schedule can even spur creativity as I discussed previously.

However, if I miss a few days of writing because of some pressing demands, then a week or more may pass by without any […]

Writing is Not Writing

I’ve been thinking about my writing process. During the summer months I’m able to devote my days to writing, and the story I’m working on often takes over my world. But in the autumn months, vocational demands impinge on the days, even hours, I can devote to writing. So how do I make the most of the fecund summer months? And what do I do during the withering months between summer and spring?

The hard work of writing, putting down words, is essential. I call it hard work, because for me it often is. Sometimes it seems the hardest work of all. I’d rather be doing anything than write—dishes, house cleaning, running errands, my day job, anything. But I have to stay in the seat with my fingers on the keyboard for hours. There’s no other way.

However, I also know I have to get distracted. If I don’t get distracted, nothing comes: no words, no ideas, nothing. If I sit at the computer all morning, three or four hours, then eventually the words will […]

Cognitive Poetics: Text World Theory

I am continuing my response to Peter Stockwell’s Cognitive Poetics and Cognitive Poetics in Practice edited by Joanna Gavins and Gerard Steen with an overview of text world theory. This chapter, like the previous chapter on parable, is more complex than the beginning chapters because these methods and approaches incorporate the foundational concepts previously introduced to expand the range and depth of the cognitive poetic analysis. For example, text world theory is similar to possible worlds theory described in the chapter on Discourse worlds and mental spaces, but text world theory is more thoroughly rooted in the cognitive approach and is generally applicable to longer texts.

Possible worlds and mental spaces offer a way of explaining the process a reader uses to interpret literature. Cognitive poetic analysis using possible worlds theory is limited to generalized statements about texts that describe setting and analyze characters. Mental space theory can extend possible worlds theory by describing the cognitive means by which readers track these possible worlds. But possible worlds theory is a philosophical conceptualization that models knowledge […]

Poetics Today: Ideology and Entertainment

I am interested in understanding what reading fiction does to us while we are being entertained and how a writer works to transfer ideology while also working to please the reader. Here I respond to a paper from Poetics Today v23 by Francis F. Steen that sets out to explain Aphra Behn’s approach to exactly that problem and the apparent contradiction between her ideological feminism and her political support of royalism. In two prior blogs, I responded to articles by Reuven Tsur and Liza Zunshine also from Poetics Today v23, a collection of papers from 2002 on the cognitive revolution in literary studies. This paper by Francis F. Steen applies cognitive blending theory to an analysis of Love-Letters between a Nobleman and His Sister by Aphra Behn. Steen’s approach is different from Tsur’s and Zunshines in that he attempts to draw broad conclusions about fictional narrative compared to other modes of discourse and does not strictly hold to a cognitive analysis of the text.

Steen explains that Behn’s “instructional pact” was not between writer […]

Poetics Today: Evolution & Natural Kinds

I am continuing my response to Poetics Today v23 (2002), a collection of papers from the then nascent field of cognitive poetics. In my previous blog, I responded to an article by Reuven Tsur, the scholar who coined the term “cognitive poetics”. Here I will respond to a paper by Liza Zunshine on the English poet A. L. Barbauld by Liza Zunshine. A couple of years ago, I briefly summarized this article in a blog post about the chapters on cognitive grammar of Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction and Cognitive Poetics In Practice. Now I will consider Zunshine’s paper as it connects to my own writing.

Zunshine argues that the use of metaphor in the catechistic hymns of A. L. Barbauld activate two distinct cognitive domains: one for natural kinds and one for artifacts. Zunshine’s explication of the interplay between language and these cognitive domains suggests a solution to a particular writing problem I’ve been considering since I read Timothy Morton’s Ecology Without Nature.

Prior to reading Morton, the environment was not an explicit concern […]

Poetics Today: Literature and the Cognitive Revolution

I have been reading the journal Poetics Today, a scholarly journal published by Duke University. Volume 23 collects articles from 2002 which are primarily concerned with “Literature and the Cognitive Revolution”. The endeavor has been a challenge for me. I’ve read academic writing in the past but not so thoroughly or consistently. The writing in this volume is not as turgid or intricate as literary criticism often is, perhaps because one influence the “cognitive revolution” has on literary criticism is to make it more technical and precise. Here I will respond to a few of the articles in this volume as they connected and influenced my own writing.

I’ll begin with Reuven Tsur’s article “Some Cognitive Foundations of Cultural Programs”. I had previously encountered Tsur in the chapter on deixis in Cognitve Poetics in Practice and was quite taken with his acuity and his detailed analysis. Not only is his research impeccable, but I also find his style of writing engaging.

In Poetics Today v23, Tsur argues that cognitive constraints can help explain and describe […]

Cognitive Poetics: Benito Cereno as Parable

A few months ago I posted about the Literature as Parable chapters in Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction and Cognitive Poetics in Practice, chapters that brought together many of the ideas and techniques discussed previously in those books. Here I continue my response to Literature as Parable with some notes I made doing an exercise from one of those chapters. The assignment in Peter Stockwell’s textbook was to “investigate the main conceptual structure across a single long text” and to “sketch out the role this conceptual scaffolding plays in the global construction of the work as parable”. The long text I chose as subject for this exercise is the novella Benito Cereno by Herman Melville. In this post, I will consider how the peculiar structure of metaphors in the novella contribute to reading it as a parable.

Benito Cereno was published in 1855 when slavery was a major point of concern in the US. The Compromise of 1850 may have postponed open conflict between southern states and northern states, but neither side of the slavery issue […]

Ten Years

About ten years ago I started this blog with the intention of archiving my writerly pursuits. At the time, I had decided to go for a master’s degree in creative writing, a decision I came to after several years of writing and studying on my own. My first blog posts were a review of Haruki Murakami and some thoughts on Mark Twain’s anti-war writing. My interests have not changed much since then. I still post responses to books I’ve enjoyed and my thoughts on literary topics. But as a writer, I have changed. Writing means more to me now than ever before.

In this blog, I documented my years as an MFA student at Naropa University. Having an MFA now seems ordinary to me because I know so many people with the same degree. But ten years ago I was anxious, scared of failure, and unsure if I was capable or worthy of an advanced degree. Apparently I was.

As a practical consideration, the MFA has provided little benefit. No editors or […]

Cognitive Poetics: Literature as Parable

The chapters in Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction and Cognitive Poetics in Practice on literature as parable bring together all the concepts from previous chapters to describe how meaning is made of whole texts. Each of the carpenter’s tools has been studied thoroughly. The hammer, saw, measuring tape and chalk, framing square, and nails are ready to hand, and the real work can begin. Prototypes, figure & ground, deixis, and scripts are used to build both micro and macro structures from a textbase. Cognitive metaphor and conceptual blending help explain how these structures interact to generate meaning from texts, both personal and general meanings, and how intertextuality provides literature with the capacity to modify the cognitive models that form our world views.

In What Are They Saying about the Parables?, David B. Gowler argues there are “no spectators in the dialogic word of parable.” He is referring specifically to the Biblical parables but his argument can apply to all parables and all literature read as parable. A parabolic reading of a text is a synthesis […]

Review: Empathy and the Novel by Suzanne Keen 2007 Oxford University Press

Although proclamations of the novel’s imminent demise seem to be an annual occurrence–see last year’s eulogy–in the 21st century, attacks on the novel usually come in the form of radical apathy (people just don’t read). Defenders of the novel usually respond with radical fervor, lobbing specious exaggerations about the novels importance. But these often superbly articulated encomiums are little more than lances aimed at unperturbed windmills. And if I may continue the allusion to that first and best modern novel: with Empathy and the Novel, Suzanne Keen is like the faithful Sancho, applying herself to identifying the erroneous assumptions but never leaving the side of intrepid bibliophiles.

I am such a bibliophile, bookish even. My reading, whether it be Dante Alighieri or Laurell K. Hamilton, is motivated by a belief in the redemptive capacity of narrative. My writing is, likewise, motivated by my belief in love and the power of stories to engender love in myself and my readers. Empathy and the Novel challenges these beliefs and in doing so enriches and advances them. […]