Focussing on the metaphorical structure of Updike's short story "The Wallet," this essay shows, on theoretical and practical grounds, the applicability of the conceptual network model presented by Mark Turner and Gilles Fauconnier to the analysis of complex narrative texts, and its efficiency for the cognitive consideration of their interpretation processes.
The conceptual integration network model, one of the latest extensions of blending theory, considers narrative a major cognitive operation equivalent to other more typically recognizable cognitive functions such as conceptual projection, conceptual integration, conceptual framing, or categorization (Turner; Fauconnier and Turner; Turner and Fauconnier; Grady, Oakley, and Coulson; Coulson and Oakley; Grady). This new and more comprehensive model of analysis expands the original theory of conceptual metaphor whose central contribution to linguistic studies was the consideration of metaphorical thinking as an inherent component of human cognition (Lakoff; Lakoff and Johnson; Lakoff and Turner). Recent research in the field has enriched this view by investigating the varied cognitive operations that underlie linguistic communication and has shown how knowledge domains are connected by different types of conceptual operations that are of vital importance in all areas of human production, action, and interaction. These operations usually include other identifiable cognitive moves implicit in our thinking processes, such as elaboration, composition, completion, fusion, and analogy, as well as metaphoric and metonymic mappings or counterfactuals (Turner and Fauconnier; Grady; Lakoff; Lakoff and Johnson; Barcelona). By way of variable combinations, these mental activities often result in more or less complex blended mental spaces where elements from given conceptual domains mix together through diverse projections between source and target inputs. The conceptual integration network model identifies at least four basic spaces: an input space and an output space (or source and target respectively), a middle generic space and a middle blended space (Fauconnier and Turner; Turner and Fauconnier). Projections between these spaces are not necessarily one-way mappings, as the earlier versions of the theory of conceptual metaphor claimed (Lakoff; Lakoff and Johnson; Lakoff and Turner). On the contrary, the conceptual integration network model contends that projections occur among all four spaces, the central ones (the generic and the blended) serving as intermediate running fields for all sorts of transformations undergone at the source and target. In the generic middle space the previously existent general knowledge and/or the specific information located in the source are reduced to skeletal structure, thus facilitating the online creation of alternative combinations of meaning with their own inferences and associations in the blend. The target profits from the emergence of this new blended reality as well as from the interaction it holds with the other spaces.
This all-embracing approach to cognition has favoured the understanding of the many steps involved in the communicative process and has come to shed new light on aspects concerning the configuration, development, and interpretation of complex meaning constructs (Turner and Fauconnier; Coulson; Alonso, "Grammatical"; Alonso, "Conceptual"). The aim of this essay is to further this line of investigation by applying the analytical procedures of the conceptual integration network model to a narrative text in an attempt to show how this descriptive model of human cognition can be used to untangle the intricacies encountered in this type of complex discourse. For that purpose, I explore the cognitive strategies employed in the creation of an apparently simple but very tightly blended work of fiction: John Updike's short story "The Wallet." My intention is to analyze the blend that constitutes the core of this story, through the identification of the many conceptual projections interacting in it. I do not mean to go further into the critical interpretation of the story; neither do I intend to provide a new refreshing view of its contents. My main objective will be to use a precise and rather innovative method of analysis to thoroughly expose the complexity and significance of its conceptual components, an operation that is usually intuitively and automatically performed by competent receivers, but that acquires a totally new dimension when subjected to systematization. I believe that a cognitive analysis can be beneficial to literary studies, especially when there is discrepancy with regard to interpretation. In the case of Updike's narratives, it may serve to illuminate the traditional controversy surrounding his work.
It has been a common criticism, especially in the early years of Updike's career, that behind its remarkable lyrical values, his fiction was thematically weightless (cf. e.g., Thorburn and Eiland; Greiner; Macnaughton; Detweiler). Many have considered his elaborate "qualifiers, metaphors and images" as mere ornaments that "hang on to events" (Richardson 196). From a cognitive perspective, however, metaphor and other similar conceptual phenomena signify much more than mere stylistic skill:
Far from being merely a matter of words, metaphor is a matter of thought--all kinds of thought: thought about emotion, about society, about human character, about language, and about the nature of life and death. It is indispensable not only to our imagination but also to our reason. Great poets can speak to us because they use the modes of thought we all possess. Using the capacities we all share, poets can illuminate our experience, explore the consequences of our beliefs, challenge the way we think, and criticize our ideologies. To understand the nature and value of poetic creativity requires us to understand the ordinary ways we think. (Lakoff and Turner xi-xii)
The application of the conceptual integration network model to Updike's short story will help to reveal his highly praised "elaborate style" as actually a masterly wrought representation of the mental complexity that underlies the "presumably light" content of this work. We intend to demonstrate that, in "The Wallet," the anguish the protagonist experiences toward the proximity of death and the multiple interrelated expressions used to reflect how he conceptualizes his irrational fear cannot be separated if we wish to do justice to the text.
The reasons that I selected Updike's story are quite simple. On the one hand, I have a personal taste for this author's fiction; on the other, it seemed adequate to progress in the investigation of the conceptual structure of complex narrative discourse by analyzing the work of an author who is precisely renowned for his gifted treatment of metaphor, a central topic in all linguistic approaches to human cognition. Though knowledge of critical approaches to this story (cf. Luscher) would certainly enlighten the reader's vision of "The Wallet," I do not contemplate this facet here as it escapes my main objective, which seeks to discover how the conceptual network model can contribute to the understanding of the more involved types of discourse. I have also applied this methodology to other literary texts (cf.: Alonso, "Grammatical"; "Conceptual"), and the results have been revealing in all cases. We must take into consideration, however, that in all analyses, each text will establish its own rules. The dynamics of the analysis practised in the …