Academic journal article International Journal of English Studies

The DIVIDED SELF Metaphor: A Cognitive-Linguistic Study of Two Poems by Nabokov 1

Academic journal article International Journal of English Studies

The DIVIDED SELF Metaphor: A Cognitive-Linguistic Study of Two Poems by Nabokov 1

Article excerpt

1. INTRODUCTION

The present study is based on the main principles of Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CMT), as originally propounded by Lakoff and Johnson (1980, 1999) and Lakoff (1987, 1993), within the framework of Cognitive Linguistics (CL). This theory is very well known by now. However, interested readers may find fairly updated critical overviews in Dirven and Ruiz de Mendoza (2010), Gibbs (2011), Kövecses (2011), Ruiz de Mendoza and Pérez (2011), and Steen (2010), among others.

One of the tenets of CMT that has attracted more attention since its inception is the claim that metaphor is essentially a matter of ordinary, everyday thought, rather than just a literary device. In addition, CMT postulates that metaphor is highly pervasive in human reasoning and, as a consequence, in language. This is so because of its nature as a central cognitive process. As such, metaphor consists in mapping, i.e. putting into correspondence, structure from two discrete conceptual domains, one of which, called the source is used to reason and talk about the other, called the target. The source domain is often grounded in everyday experience, whereas the target domain can occur in any degree of abstraction. Expressions such as They are in a dead-end relationship or This relationship isn't going anywhere are examples of the oft-cited metaphor LOVE IS A JOURNEY (Lakoff, 1993), which exploits the idea that love relationships are purposeful activities that can be understood in terms of a traveller's goals of reaching a destination. Thus, a "dead-end relationship" is one that will not allow its participants to make any further progress, while a relationship that "isn't going anywhere" is one that has lost its sense of purpose thereby becoming meaningless.

Analyses of metaphor along the preceding lines are numerous and some metaphorical systems have received a special amount of attention, among them time-space correlations (Casasanto and Boroditsky 2008; Lakoff and Johnson 1999), emotion metaphors (Kövecses, 2000), and motion metaphors (Talmy, 2000). One metaphorical system that has comparably received little attention is the DIVIDED SELF metaphor (Lakoff, 1993). This metaphor reflects the dual rational-emotional nature of human beings. In it, a person (the target) is understood as a physically fragmented human being consisting of the Subject (which houses the rational aspects of the person) and the Self (which houses the bodily and emotional aspects). We use this idea in everyday expressions such as I made myself go to class, I'm not myself today, He is ahead of himself, I'm scattered, Put yourself together, and a host of related expressions. In general, cognitive linguists take for granted that we find the same kind of metaphors both in everyday language use and in literary language. Surprisingly, there is no study so far that takes into account the impact of the divided-self system in literary language. In addition, those cognitive linguists who do explore metaphor in literature, while acknowledging the role of metaphor to endow texts with conceptual and thematic consistency, seem oblivious to the possibility that metaphor is either consciously or unconsciously used by the writer as structuring factor. As will be shown in this paper, through a case study of two of Nabokov's poems, the DIVIDED SELF metaphor can be such a structuring factor. This should not be surprising since Nabokov made extensive use in all his non-poetic production of the literary motif known as Doppelgänger, i.e. the double of a living person, which is generally a counterpart of the protagonist's self, as we will discuss later on in this paper. One of the two poems selected for the present case study, Hotel Room, makes full use of this literary motif for specific artistic reasons. The motif in this poem takes the form of the DIVIDED SELF metaphor. In the other, The Execution, the motif is less obvious, but there are subtle indications of its presence. In the Hotel Room the DIVIDED SELF metaphor is pervasive and adopts a structuring role, whereas in The Execution the same metaphor appears at the end of the poem, in the last stanza, as a way of re-construing the emotional and rational experiences that the poet brings up in the previous stanzas. …

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