Cognitive Narratology


In a (2010) discussion of recent narratological history, Monika Fludernik explains the concept of cognitive narratology. It is a really interesting discussion – and the many works she points to as relevant look particularly interesting (hence the list of references below). Fludernik explains:

“Turner and Fauconnier see metaphors as only one subtype of the cognitive strategy they call blending. Blending consists in fusing two scenarios together and thus creating new meaning effects.” (p.926)

“Blending, as Turner and Fauconnier argue, is responsible for the specifically human development of imagination and creativity. In particular, their blending theory aims at combining metaphor and narrative under one cognitive umbrella. Metaphor and narrative have been regarded as constitutive nonscientific modes of human cognition. Turner and Fauconnier depict them as two sides of the same coin, like Saussure’s signifier and signified: through blending, narrative approaches a situation in which one scenario merges with another, while in metaphor (generally acknowledged as a case of blending) the superimposition of two scenarios evokes narrative sequences.” (p.926)

“Cognitive narratology demonstrates that readers do not see texts as having narrative features but read texts as narrative by imposing cognitive narrative frames on them—for instance, by interpreting animals as quasi- human protagonists in fables.” (p.926)

“One can, moreover, diagnose an emotive turn in the humanities, which has given rise to numerous studies on the emotions and on empathy in literature.”6

“Current introductions to cognitive literary studies document the existence of a variegated set of approaches, methods, concepts, and theories that are often either application-oriented (taking one element or insight from cognitive studies in order to read one text or genre from that perspective) or theoretical and resistant to general application.7 The field at the moment resembles a group of construction sites, as some scholars concentrate on metaphor and blending theory (e.g., Gavins and Steen), others on cognitive reflexivity (Zunshine), still others on deixis (Stockwell) or space perception (Tsur). The different cognitive approaches show no sign of coalescing.” (p.927)

In her footnotes (6 and 7 are referred to above), Fludernik points to a number of works in the field:

“4. For a good basic introduction to blending, see Fauconnier and Turner, “Mechanism.” More generally on Turner’s recent work, see Turner, “Cognitive Study,” Lit­erary Mind, “Mind,” Reading Minds, and “Way”; Fauconnier and Turner, “Rethinking” and Way.
5. Turner established a research center on cognitive studies at Case Western Reserve University in 2004.
6. Let me note here the Journal of Narrative Theory 34.3 (2004) and the Journal of Literary Theory 1.2 (2007), as well as a few of the numerous books on the emotions and empathy: Benedict; Roberts; Kövecses; Terada; Hogan, Mind; and Keen.
7. For introductions see, e.g., Coulson and Oakley, Conceptual Blending and Conceptual Blending Theory; Richardson and Steen; Semino and Culpeper; Stockwell; Gavins and Steen; Herman; Hogan, Cognitive Science; Zunshine, Why We Read and Strange Concepts; and Tsur. Discussion of these problems is provided in, among others, Gibbs; Adler and Gross; and Sternberg.” (p.928)

Note that in the blurb about her, it indicates that Fludernik is “completing a study of prison metaphors in English literature” (p.924) – sounds fascinating to me!

Ref: Fludernik, Monika. ‘Narratology in the Twenty-First Century: The Cognitive Approach to Narrative’. PMLA 125.4 (2010): 924–30.

Reference is to:

Adler, Hans, and Sabine Gross. “Adjusting the Frame: Comments on Cognitivism and Literature.” Poetics Today 23.3 (2002): 195–220.

Benedict, Barbara M. Framing Feeling: Sentiment and Style in En glish Prose Fiction, 1745–1800. New York: AMS, 1994.

Coulson, Seana, and Todd Oakley, eds. Conceptual Blend­ing. Spec. issue of Cognitive Linguistics 11.3–4 (2001): 175–358.

Coulson, Seana, and Todd Oakley, eds. Conceptual Blending Theory. Spec. issue of Journal of Pragmatics 37.10 (2005): 1507–742.

Fauconnier, Gilles, and Mark Turner. “A Mechanism of Creativity.” Poetics Today 20.3 (1999): 397–418.
———. “Rethinking Metaphor.” The Cambridge Handbook of Metaphor and Thought. Ed. Ray Gibbs, Jr. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008. 53–66.
———. The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind’s Hidden Complexities. New York: Basic, 2002.

Gavins, Joanna, and Gerard Steen, eds. Cognitive Poetics in Practice. London: Routledge, 2003.

Gibbs, Raymond W., Jr. “Evaluating Contemporary Models of Figurative Language Understanding.” Metaphor and Symbol 16.3–4 (2001): 317–33.

Herman, David, ed. Narrative Theory and the Cognitive Sciences. Stanford: Center for the Study of Lang. and Information, 2003.

Hogan, Patrick Colm. Cognitive Science, Literature, and the Arts: A Guide for Humanists. New York: Routledge, 2003.
———. The Mind and Its Stories: Narrative Universals and Human Emotion. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003.Richardson, Alan, and Francis F.

Keen, Suzanne. Empathy and the Novel. New York: Oxford UP, 2007. Semino, Elena, and Jonathan Culpeper, eds. Cognitive

Kövecses, Zoltán. Metaphor and Emotion: Language, Cul­ture, and Body in Human Feeling. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000.

Perry, Menakhem. “Literary Dynamics: How the Order of a Text Creates Its Meaning.” Poetics Today 1.1–2

Richardson, Alan, and Francis F. Steen, eds. Literature and the Cognitive Revolution. Spec. issue of Poetics Today 23.1 (2002): 1–182.

Roberts, Nancy. Schools of Sympathy: Gender and Identi­fication through the Novel. Montreal: McGill- Queen’s UP, 1998.

Semino, Elena, and Jonathan Culpeper, eds. Cognitive Stylistics. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2002.

Sternberg, Meir. “Universals of Narrative and Their Cognitivist Fortunes.” Poetics Today 24.2–3 (2003): 297–395, 517–638.

Stockwell, Peter. Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction. London: Routledge, 2002.

Terada, Rei. Feeling in Theory: Emotion after the “Death of the Subject.” Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2001.

Tsur, Reuven. Toward a Theory of Cognitive Poetics. 1992. 2nd ed. Brighton: Sussex Acad., 2008. Ansätze in der Erzähltheorie. Ed. Ansgar Nünning

Turner, Mark. “The Cognitive Study of Art, Language, and Literature.” Poetics Today 23.1 (2002): 9–20.
———. The Literary Mind. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996.
———. “The Mind Is an Autocatalytic Vortex.” The Literary Mind. Ed. Jürgen Schläger and Gesa Stedman. Tübingen: Narr, 2008. 13–43.

———. Reading Minds: The Study of English in the Age of Cognitive Science. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1991.
———. “The Way We Imagine.” Imaginative Minds. Ed. Ilona Roth. London: Oxford UP; British Acad., 2007. 213–36.

Zunshine, Lisa. Strange Concepts and the Stories They Make Possible: Cognition, Culture, Narrative. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2008. Print.
———. Why We Read Fiction: Theory of Mind and the Novel. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2006.


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