The Conceptual Integration Network Model as a Paradigm for Analysis of Complex Narrative Discourse

Article excerpt

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.

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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. …