Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

"I Have More Sight Than Sense": The Sensorium in Taylor's Meditations 38-40

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

"I Have More Sight Than Sense": The Sensorium in Taylor's Meditations 38-40

Article excerpt

This essay examines the sensory references in three poems by Edward Taylor, based on a relativistic approach to the sensorium, which may vary in different cultures and at different eras. The essay argues that abstract-toabstract metaphorical mappings, as are found more often in poetry than in other genres, should better inform cognitive linguistic theorizing about metaphor.

This essay examines, from the perspective of the sensorium, three poems in the seventeenth-century Puritan poet Edward Taylor's Meditations 38-40, First Series. Generally considered the most sophisticated of the American Puritan poets (Craig), Taylor is known for his vivid and intense metaphor and his compositions provide many intriguing examples of conceptual linkages. He wrote the Preparatory Meditations as private poetry, and one of its main purposes was for Taylor to express to himself the subtlety and depth he found in his religion. On the basis of a sensorium analysis of Meditations 38-40, I will make three primary arguments:

1) A sensorium approach helps us to uncover metaphors that do not fit the expected pattern of mapping from concrete to either abstract or concrete domains, and such metaphors should not be excluded from cognitive linguistic theorizing about metaphor.

2) A sensorium study suggests that the issue of whether or not a linguistic metaphor is processed as a conceptual metaphor may be related to the organization of the sensorium.

3) Sight dominance, especially with regard to cognition metaphors, is taken as a given in cognitive linguistic research. This sensorium study will also uncover sight dominance in Taylor's poems, but it will go a step further and look at its meaning. I will suggest that there is a cultural component to sight dominance that is missing from current metaphor theory.

The sensorium is "the entire sensory apparatus as an operational complex" (Ong, Presence 6). It is organized by the interaction of the senses and the ratios that obtain among them. (1) Among the humanities, the sensorium has received most attention in the field of anthropology (see Finnegan) but it has not been applied to literary studies.

The following is an example of a sensorium difference between the United States and the Dassanetch culture in Ethiopia. Uri Almagor describes the practices of the latter with regard to their memory of the dead:

   The objects which evoke memories [...] are usually personal objects
   inherited from a deceased person. In these memories odors fulfill
   an important role, for these heirlooms exude odors associated with
   the deceased who had used them for many years, sometimes decades,
   and thus bear the personal odor of the deceased. I interviewed
   siblings who had once belonged to one household and [...] the issue
   of odors came to the fore unexpectedly. The brothers and sisters
   referred to the odor of their father whom they smelled whenever
   they came to visit one of the siblings and entered his hut [...].
   What was interesting in this recollection of their father through
   odor was that each of the brothers referred to a different location
   and event which the odor of the same object reminded him of.
   Furthermore, each of them told me that a similar odor recollection
   happened to him or her whenever they went to visit their brothers
   and sisters. (264-65)

The sense of smell universally has an important link to memory, but American and Dassanetch culture differ as to the relative importance of smell with respect to memory of the dead: for the Dassanetch culture, the sense of smell plays a more central role, whereas for Western cultures, the sense of vision looms larger. The heightened emphasis on vision in encoding Western memory of the dead is well documented in Hallam and Hockey:

   Paintings, sculpture, clothing, and burial apparatus were integral
   to early modern English death rituals and were part of a rich and
   varied visual culture of death [. … 
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