Reading Readers Reading a Poem: From Conceptual to Cognitive Integration
Cognitive Semiotics, No. 2, pp. 102-128, Spring 2008
27 Pages Posted: 7 May 2009
Date Written: May 6, 2009
My attempt in this paper is to further the discussion of the role of conceptual blending in cognitive poetics by looking more closely at the cognitive processes by which readers interpret a literary text. I start by describing the results of an informal experiment to determine what mapping strategies people actually use to solve an analogical problem. I discovered that people tend to map on the basis of similarity and relation; they do not spontaneously apply the more abstract reasoning processes based on form that may be unique to human beings, what Holyoak and Thagard (1995) call system mapping. I then analyze critical readings of a poem by Emily Dickinson from the perspective of conceptual blending. My analysis shows that different interpretations arise as a result of readers selecting different topologies and projections to make sense of the text according to their own knowledge, experience, intentions, and motivations. Missing from their interpretations is any attention paid to formal qualities - such as order and shape, or prosodic and linguistic features - that reveal the poem’s tone or feeling, elements that would need to figure in a full system mapping approach. I then sketch out an approach toward reading Dickinson’s poem based on a theory of literature that takes into account form as symbolic of human feeling (Langer 1953). I conclude by suggesting that my approach offers a way that shows how system mapping based on a theory of art can provide a cognitive poetics reading that combines interpretive (conceptual) and experiential (emotional) responses.
Keywords: cognitive mapping, blending, cognitive poetics, Emily Dickinson
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