Academic journal article Style

Cognitive Mapping in Literary Analysis

Academic journal article Style

Cognitive Mapping in Literary Analysis

Article excerpt

Literary analysis takes many forms, depending on the critical approach adopted. Critical theories vary in the ways they accommodate the three components of literature--the writer, the reader, and the text. At one extreme are those theories that focus almost exclusively on the text itself, such as formalist or structuralist approaches; at the other, those that focus on the writer (biographical, psychoanalytical) or the reader (reader response); and then there are approaches that fall somewhere between, adopting elements of more than one component (historical, cultural). Each approach has its strengths and weaknesses in illuminating the nature and role of literature in a given society.

A cognitive linguistic approach to literature provides a methodology by which the insights of these literary theories may be reconciled. Because cognitive linguistics is concerned with the conceptual workings of the embodied mind, all aspects of human experience and behavior, whether from the perspective of the writer, from the perspective of the reader, or from the perspective of the text itself, are relevant and are integrated into a cognitive understanding of the literary experience. In addition, cognitive linguistics further contributes to literary studies by revealing the extent to which the imaginative powers that both create and comprehend literary works reflect the general workings of the human mind.

One question raised by a cognitive linguistic approach to literature, as Claiborne Rice notes, is whether "textual production and reception necessarily rely on identical, or even similar, integration networks" (43). Joseph Grady provides some evidence for experiential motivation for conceptual metaphor that would indicate that speakers and hearers share the same cognitive network structures. Fauconnier and Turner's claim that these conceptual integration networks are "the way we think," rather than just the way we speak (or write), would indicate that the same structures are at work in both production and reception. Norman Holland relates the conceptual processes of the reader to those of the writer in his work on the poetry of Robert Frost. Indeed, it would be strange to contemplate the notion that the human mind has two discrete and independent conceptual components for formulating and understanding language. In this paper, therefore, I explore some general cognitive processes at work in literary texts and show how readers utilize these same cognitive processes in understanding them. I restrict my analysis to the work of one poet, Emily Dickinson, to show that these cognitive strategies are not ad hoc or randomly chosen but pervasive and structurally significant in creating human conceptual reasoning.

The way poets think is the way we think. Recent work in cognitive linguistics explores the analogical processes by which the human brain makes sense of its world (Fauconnier and Sweetser; Fauconnier and Turner; M. Johnson; Lakoff and Johnson). The human mind, under this view, thinks analogically. Analogy is the process underlying all the topoi of classical rhetoric (such as definition, classification, comparison and contrast) and figures of speech (such as synedoche, metonymy, metaphor). It also informs the structure of poetry. Its components include cognitive mapping skills that create levels of identification across different domains and projections across multiple mental spaces. In order to understand what literary critics do when analyzing a literary text, we need to identify the kinds of cognitive mappings they use.

Analogical Mapping

Understanding the meaning of a speaker's sentence involves more than understanding the words. A linguistic expression is made significant when it is understood in the context of a knowledge domain, or, in Lakoff's term, an idealized cognitive model (ICM). These knowledge domains are also culturally determined. (1) The notions of "God" and "Heaven" in Dickinson's poetry, for example, depend on a cognitive model that is Christian and Protestant, a cultural model that situates the poems in nineteenth-century Puritan New England, and Dickinson's individual stance toward that idealized cognitive cultural model (ICCM). …

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