Cognitive Poetics: Comprehension

I am near to completing my reading and response to Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction and Cognitive Poetics in Practice, a project I began about five years ago. It seems like a long time to take with two books that likely serve as textbooks for a semester course. But my intention has been to engage with cognitive poetics deeply and thoroughly, and to that end there is no substitute for time. If I had encountered cognitive poetics in a university course, I would have probably read the entire textbook in a few months but still would have taken several years to integrate it into my writing as I have. Now as I approach the final chapters, I am looking forward to reading more recent work in the field, including Text World Theory and Keats’ Poetry by Marcello Giovanelli and Cognitive Literary Science: Dialogues between Literature and Cognition edited by Michael Burke and Emily Troscianko. But before I get ahead of myself, I need to respond to the penultimate chapters by Peter Stockwell and Chatherine Emmott on […]

Text World Theory: Martian Time-Slip

I am continuing my exploration of text world theory as described in Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction and Cognitive Poetics in Practice that I began with an analysis of Sozaboy. Here I analyze the first few paragraphs of Martian Time-Slip and consider the implications of text world theory on my own writing.

The discourse world of Martian Time-Slip is no less complex than that of Sozaboy which I considered in my previous text world analysis. Philip K. Dick (PKD) is best known as the author of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which was made into an acclaimed movie. I came across PKD the way I imagine many readers do: through Bladerunner and other films. Dozens of PKD novels and stories have been made into films, including: Total Recall, Minority Report, Screamers, and A Scanner Darkly. These films and the stories they are based on shared themes that question our perception of reality and pit the individual against corporate and government agencies. Parts of PKD’s life mirrored these themes. His struggles with mental health and […]

Summer Retreat 2017

This June I went on another retreat at Gethsemani Abbey. This is the third year I’ve started my summer with such a retreat. In 2015, I wrote about my initial experience at the abbey. Now the retreat has become an annual tradition for me, one that marks the transition into summer for me. The retreat also provides a framework that helps with the self-discipline required to sustain my writing efforts throughout the summer. And perhaps most important, my time at Gethsemani Abbey takes me outside the concerns of my own life and brings me in contact with something universal, expansive.

This past winter was a difficult time in my writing life. I wrote about my experience of writer’s block: Not Writing is Writing, and Not Writing is Not Writing. Summer retreats must be scheduled as early as February, so I had to set the intention early in the year. And as spring approached, I began looking forward to the summer months when I could devote several hours a day to my writing. In May I […]

Text World Theory: Rotten English of Ken Saro-Wiwa

In this blog post, I am familiarizing myself with the theoretical methods described in the chapters on text world theory from Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction and Cognitive Poetics in Practice by investigating two novels: Sozaboy: A Novel in Rotten English by Ken Saro-Wiwa and then Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick.

In my initial response to text world theory I discussed how I am using these theoretical methods to revise and reorganize my own novel. During my revisions, I limited my consideration to the text world level of the novel so that I was free to experiment at that structural level. Also, I listed the FAPs and WBEs so that I could see connections that I had not thought of before. Now, I will apply the methods of text world theory to a reading of the post-colonial Sozaboy: A Novel in Rotten English by Ken Saro-Wiwa and sci-fi Martian Time-Slip by Philip K. Dick. I have limited the detailed analysis to the first few paragraphs of each novel, because I am particularly interested in how […]

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 […]