Academic journal article Style

Apostrophe in Life and in Romantic Art: Everyday Discourse, Overhearing, and Poetic Address

Academic journal article Style

Apostrophe in Life and in Romantic Art: Everyday Discourse, Overhearing, and Poetic Address

Article excerpt

If a zone of convergence is emerging between literary studies and the cognitive sciences, then a fundamentally new understanding of figurative language marks its epicenter. (1) The study of rhetorical figures, especially metaphor, became a key research area for cognitive linguists, computer scientists, and cognitive psychologists soon after the cognitive revolution began in earnest. (2) Their interest was inspired in no small part by the notable failures of early artificial intelligence programs to handle figurative utterances that human speakers readily took in stride. One early text-processing program (called FRUMP), fed a news article beginning "The death of the Pope shook the world," issued the following summary: "There was an earthquake in Italy. One person died" (Abelson 39). Why was it so unlikely, almost unimaginable, for any native speaker to make such an error? What did the effortless and automatic interpretation of rhetorical figures say about the architecture of human cognition and the widespread, perhaps universal properties of natural Languages? Once consigned largely to rhetoric, itself increasingly seen as a minor subdiscipline of literary scholarship, the study of figurative language suddenly became a topic of great moment for cognitive science.

Two cognitive theorists in particular, the linguist George Lakoff and the philosopher Mark Johnson, made metaphor crucial to their novel conception of what would eventually be called the "figurative mind." As the title of their first book, Metaphors We Live By (1980), suggests, for Lakoff and Johnson metaphor is pervasive in everyday language and metaphorical mappings characterize even pre-linguistic thought processes. Where an earlier philosophical tradition had long viewed figurative language as ornamental and deviant, Lakoff and Johnson insisted on the constitutive character of figurative thought and on the naturalness of figurative language. As they summarized it in retrospect, Metaphors We Live By presented "evidence that conceptual metaphors are mappings across conceptual domains that structure our reasoning, our experience, and our everyday language" (Philosophy in the Flesh 47). Mark Turner, one of the first literary scholars to notice the growing prominence of figurative language for cognitive resear ch, declared that rhetoricians now had a key role to play in the "science of the mind" (Death 9-10). If, as Lakoff and Johnson argued, our effortless (and largely unconscious) production and comprehension of rhetorical figures reveal the figurative structure of thought and speech, then for Turner the "literary mind is the fundamental mind" and the traditional concerns of literary analysis can be refashioned within the larger orbit of cognitive science (Literary Mind v). A number of cognitive psychologists, including Ellen Winner, Richard Gerrig, and Raymond Gibbs, agreed, and controlled studies of how human subjects use figures like metaphor, metonymy, and irony soon made a central part of their research agendas. Gibbs became an important proponent of the key claims staked out earlier by Lakoff and Johnson; his 1994 book, The Poetics of Mind, summarizes years of empirical research designed to show that "human cognition is fundamentally shaped by various poetic or figurative processes" (1).

It should not be surprising that so few scholars in departments of literature shared Turner's early enthusiasm for the cognitive study of figurative language. For the rise of what Turner called "cognitive rhetoric" in the 1980s was largely eclipsed by an equally challenging, and at the time much more compelling, recasting of metaphor and related figures of speech in the service of deconstruction. Paul de Man's essay "The Epistemology of Metaphor," first published in 1978, set the tone for much of the work that followed in emphasizing the "proliferating and disruptive power of figural language" (28), what Jacques Derrida had earlier called the "abyss of metaphor" (253). …

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