The study entitled Cognitivism and Literature, written by Clementina Mihăilescu has three important goals in focus: to offer insights upon the role of cognitive linguistics, to present cognitivism from an interdisciplinary perspective, tackling various cognitive theories such as Soja’s Theory of Thirdspacing, Semino’s Theory related to Mind Style and Palmer’s Theory of Fictional Minds, to apply cognitive theories on literary texts.

Soja’s Theory of Thirspacing reveals the fact that the concept of Thirdspacing can be regarded as another way of thinking about the social production of human spatiality and incorporates both the Firstspace of objects and the Secondspace of thought while expanding upon the complexity of the geographical or spatial imagination. Moreover, Thirdspacing has been instrumental in depicting and interpreting various aspects related to the chracters’s multiple selves (Logos- the thinking self, Pathos- the emotional self, and Ethos- the acting self).

As concerns poetry, Mihăilescu strongly believes that it can be also profitably approached from a cognitive perspective in order to better surface the meaning of several modern British and American poets and of Eminescu’s Lucifer.

Buciu’s four dimensions of the Being: the historical, mythological, mythical and sensual one, all facets of the pathetical modern ”unaccomodated self” have been related by the author of this contribition to Bachelard’s ”poetics of elements” (of earth, air, fire and water) and Russell’s theory of prototypes to offer entries to Kinnell’s poetry and his consciousness vis-a-vis the social and natural world as one symbolically redeemed by fire.

Cognitively speaking, metaphor, metonymy and mental imagery are central to reason rather than an adjunct to the literal, posits Lakoff. As such, the imaginary of fire has been tackled in terms of its function, rather than its result, in total opposition with Hopkins’concern with the result rather than the function of fire.

Kinnell’s impulse to characterize the fire as the vital earthy energy conjugated with his ambition to elevate it into an agent of ”transmutation” has been interpreted by Mihăilescu as revealing his central preoccupation. His peripheral concern with ”the factual, harsh and active” aspects of life reveals itself in poems focused on primitive events such as the killing of a dog that had previously saved the life of the man of the woods, the shooting of buffaloes or the death of previously ”raped, robbed, weighted and drowned” nurse.

Cioran’s triad ”enunciation, denunciation and transfiguration” has been employed to decode the meaning of such mental imagery imbued with ”negativity”. As if intoxicated by enunciating and denunciating evil, Kinnell counterbalanced them using images meant to suggest spiritual transfiguration through the symbol of Christ’s rising.

The visionary atmosphere of such apparently contradictory poems has been interpreted through Ricardou’s cognitive model of two temporal cells which share in common the scheme of the self. The first cell usually charged with sensual connotations, while the second with ”possibilities of transfiguration” suggest, in Mihăilescu’s opinion, the psychological evolution of the self from ”periphery” (the unconscious) towards the ”centre” (the conscious) by bringing the dark sensual tendencies to conscious view.

Russell’s cognitive prototypical theory involving the central and the marginal features of words has been employed in order to firstly weave out and secondly to decode a conceptual map made of peripheral satellite –elements gravitating around the prototype – the central metaphor of ”life is journey”.

Conclusively,  Mihăilescu has argued that the boiling fire which metaphorically stands for life involves all the primordial elements: fire, water, earth and air, all elevated from materially charged entities into spiritually transfigured ones, through Kinnell’s creative imagination, affording each individual an ultimate accomodation with truth.

The construction, deconstruction and reconstruction of the hostile modern world reverberate in Duncan’s poetry, cognitively approached as a case of Soja’s Thirdspacing, by Mihaiescu. So, Lakoff’s and Soja’s conceptual models have been turned to good account in her cognitive approach to Duncan’s poetry, more exactly to the poem entitled “Ingmar Bergman’s Seventh Seal”. The repetition of the concrete noun “age” in association with “rage” and “storm” has activated its connotative hostile potential cognitively interpreted via Lakoff’s metaphor “life is war”. The abundance of linguistic constructions related to the war metaphor has helped the author of this book realize, through the sound judgment of irony and Kelly’s constructs about change, part of his personal construct theory, the individual’s oscillations between “anxiety” and “certainty” or between “threat” and “fear” when the poet gets engaged in interpreting life events (in Gilder 89).

Kelly’s constructs about change have been extended in range and scope through Soja’s case of Thirdspacing the world in terms of the Firstspace of objects, Secondspace of thought and Thirdspace of experience revealing “dimensions of transition”, within the individual from passivity, disappointment and failure to transcendence and transfiguration of his social and spiritual destiny. The syntagm “an age of our own” has been exploited in a “self-reflexive developmental application” (Booth in Gilder, 48) of Soja’s Thirdspace where self-transcendence develops into “the bodiless space” (Soja, 11) of mind and soul ensuring the individual’s survival.

If the formerly analyzed poem “Ingmar Bergman’s Seventh Seal” allowed Mihăilescu both the “deconstructionist” and the “logical positivist” (Booth in Gilder, 27) interpretative positions, “A Poem of Despondencies” approached through Lakoff’s concept of embodied thinking and Soja’s thirdspace has suggested the paradoxical affirmation through negation of the dialectics of the existential plenitude and emptiness.

According to Bachelard, the third interpretative entry turned to good account, in an inspired and inspiring manner by Mihăilescu, the inner and outer spaces, commented upon  through the symbol of “rising”, correspond to a “twofold geometry”. Ethical commandments to fulfil personal responsibilities present in the poem has brought about the interpretative  assumption that the resurrection of Jesus fills in with morality an empty-hearted humanity, while its negation “sickens the eyes” and “tricks the domestic poseur to self-loathing”.

Bolinger’s cognitive concept of “gradience” has provided the construer of this poem with a vast spectrum of possibilities of identifying various degrees of exclamatory stress which are not in sequence, but in gradation. It has appeared that through the stress on “rising” and “rise”, the two forms are not separate or converse, but grading into one another, exactly as Present Tense Continuous grades into the historically charged Present Tense Simple.

Soja’s Thirdspace of experiencing moral rising from ignorance to awareness has been turned into account as a device of connecting sociality, historicality and spatiality. This association has further revealed humanity’s cognitive accomplishment in terms of “degrees of awareness” which implies low awareness related to the instinctual dimension and its transition toward high awareness, precisely through the ethics of cognitive interpretation. The cognitive suggestion that images are in gradation moving from the negative to the virtual positive pole has highlighted the possibility of contemplating spiritual dynamics precisely through the ironical affirmation through negation, an aesthetic device reflecting the dynamics of emotional and lyrical selves of Duncan’s private ethos.

Mihăilescu’s cognitive stylistic approach to Merrill’s poetry is based on the assumption that stylistic patterns such as metaphor, pun, allusion, personification should not be regarded only as “patterns of language”, but rather as “patterns of thought” (Naciscione, 29). Moreover, Gibbs claims that metaphor and other stylistic patterns occur in thought, in one’s way of thinking, not in language. Cognitively approached, Merrill’s subjective thinking reveals itself embodied in various mental images and it has been analyzed how he ‘visibly laboured to get rid of his own limitations in order to penetrate the opacities of the past’ (Booth in Gilder, 184). It has  also been followed the cognitive trend promoted by Monron according to which reason can elevate low sensibility into high sensibility and O. H. Mowrer’s conviction that emotions do not deserve to be put into opposition with “intelligence”, rather they are “themselves a high order of intelligence” (307). Instead of hiding Merrill’s twofold Freudian and Platonic tendencies by avoiding both the subversive words which symbolize degradation and evil and the archetypally and mythically ones charged with transfiguring Platonic connotations, Mihăilescu has often construed them in relation to Proust’s psychological model charged with cognitive connotations.

The allusions to “vision”, “garden”, “innocence” have been regarded as betraying Merrill’s psychological and cognitive concerns and they have further been commented by extending Soja’s cognitive theory of the three spaces. It has been assumed that Soja’s Firstspace related to things is constructed via the presence of concrete nouns such as: garden, face, child, window, pane. The Secondspace of thought, has been rendered concrete through the noun “vision”, from the title itself. To convincingly argue that the Firstspace of things articulated through “garden” indeed embodies “great themes and motives found in the past of humanity”, more precisely the lost original paradise, Soja’s Thirdspace of emotional experience has also been turned to good account, through the abstract noun “innocence”. Mihăilescu has posited that innocence suggests what Mowrer called “a high order of intelligence” (307) where the logical and the emotional are in perfect equilibrium. Poetic evidence has also  been provided through claiming that through Merrill’s ethos, or acting self, by imaginatively reconstructing a lost Edenic world, his low sensibility and also the readers’ sensibility have become elevated into higher sensibility-an aesthetic phenomenon charged with psycho-cognitive connotations analyzed via Soja’s Thirdspace.

This strategy has become lucrative and by stating out Merrill’s strong aesthetic argument Mihăilescu opines that it can convince the collective “body artistic” (Gilder, 112) of readers that one can liberate from the “traumatic past” by assimilating it into “the timeless domain, that of art itself” (Mc Clatchy, 289).

Lesley Saunders, a brilliant British modern poetess, has written highly metaphorical pieces of poetry, interpreted from a cognitive perspective because, as Lakoff himself claims sharing Nascicione’s opinion, metaphor, metonymy and mental imagery should be related to reason because they foremost occur in thought.

The cognitively charged syntagm “embodied thinking” has been a good starting point in depicting the poetess’ complex personality reflected in her poems. The poem “Organ” reveals Auzoux’s papier-mâché anatomical model as an instance of thinking embodied in various “language-objects” (Sandu, 40) meant to bring into bold relief the particular psycho-anatomical structure of the poetess’ self.

A cognitive reading of the symbol of the horse from the poem figuratively entitled “Out of the Blue” has led to the cognitive concept of thinking embodied under this unusual animal form – which epitomizes the possibility of the boundless human being to aspire for perfection. The human heart genuinely suggested through the simile “the wheat-blond shore like the horizon” has further been associated with the Kantian necessity to explore its “prestructured knowledge” (Sandu, 40), acquired under the form of various unconscious contents archetypally present within ourselves. The symbolic somehow veiled representation of Jesus Christ as the archetypal embodiment of the self has been interpreted as a proof of Saunders’ “active revelation” (Bachelard, 109) and of the fact that the sensitive modern man can become enlightened and reach the spiritual status of the “third man” (Cornea, 11).

The symbol of the architect from the poem which bears the same name, interpreted as emblematic for the poetess herself, has activated various images related to it, all interpreted as embodiments of the unconscious under various archetypal images. Saunders has created within this poem a real “topo-analytical representation of the spaces of her poetic intimacy” (Bachelard, 247), which, through the syntagm “the ideal place” has suggested the weary region of the affectively obvious truth that writing poetry is a human act made to serve human beings to live creatively and fully.

The poem entitled “A Person is not a Landscape”, inspired by Guiseppe Fiorelli’s account of the excavations at Pompei in 1860 when he realized that the unexplained Voids in the ash layer had been left by the victims’ bodies, through the nominal constructions “space” and “shape”, has been  approached via the cognitive construction of “embodied thinking”. This syntagm has further been expanded upon as thinking embodied in “the shapes people, made in the tuff”. From the psycho-cognitive perspective, this cognitive image has been construed in terms of the “geometrical intuitions meant to control the space of intimacy” (Bachelard, 274)

A different type of “dimension of experience” has been identified in the poem entitled “In the Realm of Dreams, the Alter Ego is Master”. To illuminate the psychology of revolt that has contaminated the meaning of the poem due to Jung and Freud’s aggressive debates on psychological issues, Lakoff’s metaphor “Argument is War” has been fully turned into account. Lakoff’s approach to the coherent structuring of experience as “experiential gestalts” (84) and his special preoccupation with the “gestalt for conversation” (84) as being structured through “correspondence with the selected elements of the gestalt for War” (84) have objectified Mihăilescu’s understanding of the personal and cultural selves of the two scientists. Such understanding has ethically arisen from the power of the “Word” which can save us or, conversely, can drive us into individual hostility and social guilt if we deny its role in our “socially charged” everyday life. Saunders brilliantly claims, within the last part of the poem, that it is the power of the “Word” that the two exceptional persons have undermined in their attempt to perform acts of choice and judgment. As concerns Lakoff’s solution, it simply reads as “thinking embodied in Word”.

The brilliant Romanian thinking embodied in the eternity words, love and suffering, has been identified and cognitively approach in Eminescu’s “Lucifer”. The cognitive – stylistic approach has arises from Naciscione’s explanation of “cognitive stylistics” as being “a part of cognitive linguistics that focuses on stylistic features of figurative thought and language and patterns (linguistic or phonic) of their expression” (29). Gibbs has further examined figurative language and has come to regard it as a “characteristic of the human mind”, consequently reflecting figurative thought. To this, Gibbs has added that metaphor and other stylistic patterns “first and foremost occur in thought, not in language” (in Naciscione, 29).

As concerns stylistic patterns, Gibbs has regarded them not only as ”patterns of language, but as patterns of thought” (29). The stylistic-cognitive analysis of Eminescu’s ”Lucifer” includes the identification of various phonic and rhyming patterns and the meanings attached to them and of various cognitive means of spacing out the logical and the emotional poetic environments of the poem.

The basic assumptions in a cognitive stylistic approach are that stylistic devices increase sensibility which turns from low to high sensibility, while, the cognitive devices, totalizing Soja’s Firstspace of objects, Secondspace of thought and Thirdspace of experience reveal a particular locus of experience where space merges with time, both being elevated into a bodiless transcendental Platonic dimension of pure spiritual forms, clearly and proffessionally opines Mihăilescu.

The Firstspace of objects has been expanded upon following Bachelard’s suggestion that all objects gradually turn into the signs of an ”intense drama” (149). Within this space, the genuine evidence, Lucifer, becomes art and part of the Aristotelian triangulation logos, pathos and ethos. As the ethical acting self, he does not embody only one of Cătălina’s dreams. He transcends the status of a projection of Cătălina’s mind and is elevated into a Platonic form belonging to ”some geometry of ideas” (Bachelard, 107).

In terms of the Secondspace of thought, it has been assumed in Mihăilescu’s book focused on the relation between conitivism and literature that Eminescu’s poem cognitively suggests a double flight: Cătălina’s ”flight into the ideal” and Lucifer’s ”flight into the real” (Bachelard, 107) only to unveil that the third part of the poem reestablishes the balance for Lucifer in favour of the ideal.

The author has also argued that the Secondspace of thought has slightly been threatened by Lucifer’s demand that God should deprive him of immortality and should offer him ”a human love one hour”. His demand has been cognitively interpreted as an expression of his thinking embodied in a human rather than celestial shape, which in Bachelard’s terminology reads as ”a solidification” (113) of a celestial being under the form of a human entity.

As concerns the Thirdspace of experience, the focus is placed on the oscillations between the idea of embodiment placed under the sign of contingency and embodiment in the Platonic form of celestial perfection where eternity demands ”verticality without weakness” (Bachelard, 114).

Thirdspace is inspiringly construed by the author of this book in terms of a twofold experience: Cătălina’s terestrial emotional involvement with Cătălin and Lucifer’s elevation into a wise superior entity aware of his belonging to the bodiless space of the universal soul.

The cognitive enterprise has facilitated a permanent internalization and insight into the ordinary language objects. Lakoff’s conceptual metaphors ”Life is Transcendence” and ”Life is Elevation” have encouraged her to contemplate how the ordinary language objects from Eminescu’s poem have acquired new connotations and have turned into ”the living roots of the archetype of speaking” (Bachelard, 129).“Lucifer” or “Morning Star”, Eminescu’s swan song, has been a good opportunity for the author to hold that in spite of the fact that ”values and commitments are inherenty non rational and non-cognitive”, (Booth in Gilder, 132) they can be still cognitively interpreted deepening their meaning and enlarging their scope.

Such an opinion holds true for all the poems cognitively approached and proves that only poetry can help people acquire „freedom of conscience” and creative verve. Such challenges which arise from the inspired cognitive interpretations of poetry make us, her literary reviewers, highly appreciate them and consider them great ethic and aesthetic lessons offered to a world that has forgotten to enjoy to read and interpret poetry.


Assist. Prof. Dr. Gabriela Nistor, Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu

Recenzie apărută în revista Demersuri Creative nr. 27 iunie 2018



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