Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Metaphors, Cognition and Behavior: The Reality of Sexual Puns in the Turn of the Screw

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Metaphors, Cognition and Behavior: The Reality of Sexual Puns in the Turn of the Screw

Article excerpt

Much present-day literary criticism shows little interest in the interdependence of language and reality. Postmodernists, extending the tradition of formalism and New Criticism, generally deny the referentiality of language and emphasize its relativity or ambiguity; more socially involved cultural critics, continuing a post-Marxist tradition, emphasize "contextualized" readings in which the historian's reality serves as a supposedly extra-lingual interpretation. Postmodernists thus stay within the realm of language, while post-Marxists often narrowly focus on a posited physical reality. When these two basic approaches are combined--as they frequently are--the attempt to solve the predicament that reality can be discussed only with the means of language usually takes the form of merging reality and language in a single entity of language-as-reality: through discursive appropriation reality is integrated into and becomes undistinguishable from language.

In the social sciences, mainly because of their empirical roots, this confusion of "map" and "territory" occurs to a much lesser extent. In disciplines such as cognitive linguistics, constructivist psychology, anthropology and even artificial intelligence (AI), language is treated as a cognitive structure which is not a type of action in itself. Rather than favoring the special case of doing things with words and focusing on speech as an act of behavior (as we have it, e.g., in Austin's speech-act theory), language in the cognitive sciences is treated as a kind of human software, a means for monitoring behavior, which it represents and prestructures in circular fashion. Thus it does not just integrate reality but mediates it--being a part of the mind, language also steers behavior.

The new cognitive theories of metaphor and related anthropological studies of linguistic "enactment" (ritual) provide a way relating the realms of cognition and behavior without confusing them and try to develop a terminology which explains their interdependence. They do this, most interestingly, often with a dramatic vocabulary, the most striking examples being Roger Schank and Robert Abelson (cognitive science) and Victor Turner (anthropology). Extending the rather static and abstract notions of Jean Piaget's "schemas" or Erving Goffman's "frames," Schank and Abelson describe the human repertoire of knowledge structures in terms of more dynamic and concrete "scripts," a kind of "standard event sequence" (38), which corresponds to the notion of "punctuation" advanced by Paul Watzlawick et al. (54-59). According to Schank and Abelson, "|e~very script has associated with it a number of roles. When a script is called for use, i.e., 'instantiated' by a story, the actors in the story assume the roles within the instantiated script. If no actor has been specifically mentioned when a particular script is instantiated, his presence is nonetheless assumed and a default unnamed actor is used in his place. All this happens whenever a script is called up" (41-42). Scripts define a kind of cognitive programming which facilitates appropriate behavior in a specific context and thus can make up for communicational gaps. If "|m~ost of understanding is script-based" (67), this terminology conversely implies that "most of" understanding extends to behavior. Schank and Abelson illustrate their theory with the simple "restaurant script," which puts certain "props" and "roles" into a specific narrative of interaction, prescribing the standard "scenes" of entering, ordering, eating and exiting (42ff.).

Although Schank and Abelson approach cognitive science in terms of dramaturgy, in order to extend their insights one needs to turn to Keir Elam and his notion of referentiality in literary drama. Elam claims that dramatic logic constitutes a "dramatic world": "the possible worlds of the drama have to be 'supplemented' by the spectator on the basis of his knowledge and hypothesizing before they are fully constituted" (103). …

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