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. […]

Cognitive Poetics & Conceptual Metaphor: Part 2

A few years ago I attended a weekend training in Shambhala Art with Acharya Arawana Hayashi, and subsequently wrote about Chogyam Trungpa’s book True Perception. As I go further in Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction and Cognitive Poetics in Practice, I am inclined to relate the cognitive approach to my previous understanding of a variety of topics, including meditation and Shambhala Art. Particularly, Chogyam Trungpa’s writing on symbolism seems to be connected to conceptual metaphor.

In the vocabulary of Shamhala Art, a symbol can be relative or absolute. The pixels on this screen form relative symbols that indicate words, and the words are also relative symbols that indicate ideas. Ideas can also be relative symbols that indicate a particular ideology, and as Timothy Morton has argued, ideology can indicate a particular subject position. The reticulated system of relative symbols continues ad infinitum. The practice taught by Acharya Arawana Hayashi was to experience the phenomenal world directly, unmediated by conceptual structures. The practice makes use of absolute rather than relative symbols. An absolute symbol doesn’t indicate anything […]

Cognitive Poetics & Conceptual Metaphor: Part 1

My reading and response to Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction and Cognitive Poetics In Practice continues with an exploration of metaphor as a literary style and as the basic pattern in the way the human mind works ?. The topics covered in previous chapters of both books operate in a fundamentally metaphorical way, that is cognitive processes utilize metaphorical mapping to make meaning.

Stockwell outlines various types of metaphorical expressions in Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction. He relates the cognitive linguistic model of metaphor to traditional literary criticisms tenor and vehicle. The cognitive model was previously discussed in Chapter 7 with an explanation of the mapping between source and target domain, which correspond to tenor and vehicle respectively.

Conceptual metaphors can be visible metaphors, which stylistically realize both source and target domains in the text, and invisible metaphors, which do not directly express one of the domains. For example, Juliet is the sun ? is a visible metaphor but What light through yonder window breaks? ? is an invisible metaphor because the target domain (Juliet) […]

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 […]

Discourse Worlds: A Heuristic Response

Before responding directly to the chapters on discourse worlds and mental space theory in Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction and Cognitive Poetics in Practice, here is a short story I’m writing using the conceptualizations outlined in these books. In particular, I am making use of M. L. Ryan’s possible worlds theory summarized by both Stockwell and Semino. Stockwell prefers the name discourse worlds ? when adapting Ryan’s theory to literary analysis. Semino cites Ryan’s Principle of Diversification ? to describe the aesthetic potential of plot.

Keeping Ryan’s possible worlds theory in mind, I am rewriting an old story that I started in Jim Hall’s class at UK. Semino notes in her chapter in Cognitive Poetics in Practice that possible worlds theory is not a cognitive theory but a philosophical theory of logic. Consequently, the theory offers little insight into how specific linguistic stimuli interact with reader’s cognitive processing of the text. However, combining possible worlds theory with other cognitive theories, such as schema poetics, can fill in the gaps. I intend to revise […]