Cognitive Poetics: Discourse Worlds & Mental Spaces

Here I continue my response to Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction and Cognitive Poetics In Practice. The chapters on discourse worlds theory and mental space theory build on schema poetics, introduced in the previous chapter. Discourse worlds and mental spaces further the consideration of how context and meaning are reproduced in the minds of readers. These two theories are distinct and come from different traditions, but for cognitive poetics they compliment one another in both scope and depth.

Discourse worlds theory comes out of possible worlds theory from philosophy of language and pragmatics. Possible worlds theory is applied to logical sets and obeys certain logical rules, such as the laws of non-contradiction and the excluded middle. In Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction, Stockwell uses the term discourse worlds to describe the adaption of the philosophical theory to readerly interactions that have narratological and cognitive dimensions.

Discourse worlds can have counterparts in the actual world, as well as other discourse worlds. For example, Shakespeare’s Richard III is the fictional counterpart of the actual Richard III King […]

Cognitive Poetics: Grammar

According to Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction, what makes cognitive grammar “cognitive” is that it takes language in its psychological and social circumstances to consider grammatical form in terms of what that form is doing in the mind ?. Peter Stockwell uses prototype analysis to interrelate concepts in cognitive grammar, prototype analysis being a way of describing how the mind makes categories. He returns to a consideration of clause structure that he introduced in a previous chapter, and he narrows in on the subject position of the clause. The mind conceives the subject in a clause along four dimensions: its semantic role, its level of empathy, its definiteness, and whether its perceived as figure or ground. Each of these dimensions can be measured along a spectrum. For example, empathy ranges from speaker/human/physical object on the strong end to hearer/animal/abstract entity on the weak end. Semantic role ranges from agent to patient in various degrees.

Another concept Stockwell introduces is action chain, a way of modeling a clause that considers each of the participants in the action […]

Cognitive Poetics: Deixis

My reading and response to Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction and Cognitive Poetics in Practice continues with chapters on deixis, a term that refers to language’s capacity to have distinct meanings in different contexts. For example, left/right ? indicate meaningful directions that change in relation to an individual’s orientation. East/west ?, in contrast, indicate directions that do not depend on orientation. Left/right ? are deictic expressions.

For cognitive poetics, deixis describes the experience readers have of being in ? a story. The deictic shift deeper into a story is called a push, and the shift further out of a story is called a pop. In Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction, Stockwell identifies a spectrum of deictic levels experienced while reading and writing fiction. At the furthest level out are the real author and real reader. At the deepest level in are the characters. Between these two extremes are the implied author, narrator, idealized reader, and more. Pushing in and popping out are what give the narrative texture. Stockwell also identifies five different modes of deictic […]

Review of Second Nature by Jack Collom (Pt. 2)

I am continuing my review of Second Nature by Jack Collom using the techniques of Dark Ecology. In part one of this review, I considered aspects of radical kitsch in Collom’s book. Specifically, I noted the poet’s perpetual move into the kitsch of experimental and avant-garde writing as well as his use of kitsch to redeem anthropocentric suckage ? in so-called environmental writing.

In part two, I consider radical juxtaposition, a second technique Timothy Morton makes use of in his Dark Ecology approach, and how this technique might jibe with Collom’s description of Swamp Formalism.

Dynamic twists, such as turning from scientific grandeur to kitsch imagery of Mickey Mouse, are frequent in Second Nature. Every poem–every line is a fresh experiment with what is possible in language. Collom describes his approach to poetic composition as Swamp Formalism because like a real swamp it unifies liquidity and detail. ? Swamp Formalism evokes the complications, multiple axis, introduces numerous slant vectors, sifts and strews miscellany. ?

The style varies and opens space […]

Review of Second Nature by Jack Collom (Pt. 1)

Here, I apply techniques of Dark Ecology in a review of Jack Collom‘s book Second Nature, which received the Colorado Book Award in 2013.

Dark Ecology’s response to the Beautiful Soul Syndrome–characterized by the aesthetic move toward the outside, away from participation and responsibility–is, always, to move in and engage. Timothy Morton has identified a number of ways in which environmental art and nature writing foster attitudes of exploitation and consumerism. Using Hegel’s dialectic, he describes the condition as Beautiful Soul Syndrome or sardonically as BS Syndrome. In Ecology Without Nature, Morton identifies tropes in nature writing that frame experience within an ideological fantasy. The Dark Ecology outlined by Morton is a move through this ideological fantasy space using two techniques for engaging the Beautiful Soul: radical kitsch and radical juxtaposition. Morton eschews mystical Deep Ecology in favor of a universe of mechanical reproduction ?. In a word: Evolution. But not the folk version of evolution, summed up by the phrase survival of the fittest. Evolution, as the creation myth of our time, is a […]

Cognitive Poetics: Figure & Ground

The first chapters of Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction by Peter Stockwell and Cognitive Poetics in Practice edited by Joanna Gavins and Gerard Steen introduce the notion of figure & ground to explore literary concepts. Foregrounding brings attention to certain aspects of the text using attractors: familiar techniques such as repetition, unusual naming, innovative descriptions, creative syntactic ordering, puns, rhyme, alliteration, metrical emphasis, the use of creative metaphor, and so on. ? Attractors pull attention from one element of the text to another. In a sense, Stockwell explains, this is how reading operates: it is a continual process of pulling attention from one element to another. Inhibition of return and redundancy refer to aspects of the text that cause loss of attention, such as static elements and stereotypical elements.

A recurring preoccupation in my writing is race. I’m interested in new ways to figure the illusion of race. The notions of figure & ground are helpful in understanding how I might represent race (as noun and verb). For example, a short story I wrote while […]

Interview with Tim

This month I talk with my friend, Tim Hernandez, about his latest book Manana Means Heaven. This is a book that really excites me, because I’ve seen it grow from just a hunch Tim had about Terry the Mexican Girl ? to this novel we can all enjoy. Manana Means Heaven is about relationships: between Jack Kerouac and Bea Franco, between the Beats and Mexico, as well as, between literature and life. Tim talks about his research, his process as a writer, and some of the decisions he made writing this book.

Listen to the Interview on Sound Cloud

Also, you can read several other blogs this week that have interviews, excerpts, journal entries Tim made while working on the book, and more.

Tim Z. Hernandez Blog Tour: Monday, September 16 | Stephanie Nikolopoulos blog Tuesday, September 17 | The Daily Beat Wednesday, September 18 | La Bloga Friday, September 20 | The Dan O’Brien Project Saturday, September 21 | Impressions of a Reader […]

Legacy of Slavery & Oppression in Literature

Stories about slavery have a long tradition. The first example from European literature that comes to my mind is The Oresteia. Most people don’t talk about that ancient Greek play as a slave story, but Cassandra is a slave. Her role as cursed witness continues to speak to audiences. Slaves and slavery are central to the stories in the The Bible. Shakespeare wrote explicitly about slavery, and his character Caliban continues to influence writers concerned with the legacy of slavery. Don Quixote contains several stories about slavery, and its author, Miguel de Cervantes, was a slave for half a decade.

By the time merchant capitalism was an established part of European trade, slavery was the backbone of colonial economics. In 1688, Aphra Ben wrote Oroonoko, a story of an African prince who dies as a slave in a South American plantation. In the 18th century, the English translation of A Thousand Nights and a Night, which is full of slave stories, was popular reading.

Abolitionist in the 19th century used […]

Second Nature by Jack Collom

For several weeks I’ve been reading Jack Collom’s book Second Nature with the intention of writing something on the connections between Jack’s ecological approach and Ecology Without Nature. And just this month Colorado Humanities gave Second Nature a Colorado Book Award for Poetry.

Last year I posted about the Writer-in-the-School workshops led by Jack. The same inspiration and “on the spot” quality that I find in his teaching comes through in his writing.

Congratulations, Jack. Well deserved.

Sublime Slime: Sci-Fi as Radical Kitsch

Following his discussion of radical juxtaposition, Timothy Morton admits a point of concern. He warns: It is almost possible to show how any text could deliver a radical message… ? without accounting to properties of the text (p. 150). This concern extends to radical kitsch, but kitsch is typically not the kind of thing an artist aspires to create or would want his work to be read as. Indeed, kitsch is bad art, not even as aesthetic as camp. Kitsch is the unalloyed enjoyment of an object not normally considered aesthetic in a ‘high’ sense. ? (p.151) Arriving at radical kitsch begins with interrogating the object.

Asking questions about objects such as where did this come from? ? and where does this go? ? does ecological politics without relying on the abstract concept nature. But such materialism has its own pitfalls, and so Morton has another way of considering objects: sheer stuff. Sheer stuff is what is mass produced for the enjoyment of other people and not the objects crafted for our own use. My […]