Cognitive Approaches to Old English Poetry

Cognitive Approaches to Old English Poetry

Antonina Harbus
Volume: 18
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.cttn33bb
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  • Book Info
    Cognitive Approaches to Old English Poetry
    Book Description:

    A major, thoughtful study, applying new and serious interpretative and critical perspectives to a central range of Old English poetry.' Professor John Hines, Cardiff University. Cognitive approaches to literature offer new and exciting ways of interpreting literature and mentalities, by bringing ideas and methodologies from Cognitive Science into the analysis of literature and culture. While these approaches are of particular value in relation to understanding the texts of remote societies, they have to date made very little impact on Anglo-Saxon Studies. This book therefore acts as a pioneer, mapping out the new field, explaining its relevance to Old English Literary Studies, and demonstrating in practice its application to a range of key vernacular poetic texts, including 'Beowulf', 'The Wanderer', and poems from the Exeter Book. Adapting key ideas from three related fields - Cognitive Literary/Cultural Studies, Cognitive Poetics, and Conceptual Metaphor Theory - in conjunction with more familiar models, derived from Literary Analysis, Stylistics, and Historical Linguistics, allows several new ways of thinking about Old English literature to emerge. It permits a systematic means of examining and accounting for the conceptual structures that underpin Anglo-Saxon poetics, as well as fuller explorations, at the level of mental processing, of the workings of literary language in context. The result is a set of approaches to interpreting Anglo-Saxon textuality, through detailed studies of the concepts, mental schemas, and associative logic implied in and triggered by the evocative language and meaning structures of surviving works. Antonina Harbus is Professor in the Department of English at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-016-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Preface and Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  6. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-23)

    The vernacular writer of The Dream of the Rood conceptualises the human mind, and its ability to apprehend textual representations of dream images and imaginary worlds of scintillating animated crosses, in distinctive ways that are at least partially available to us today. Without some access, not only to those concepts, but also to common human mental functions for processing the text, we would not be able to make sense of these lines, nor have an emotional, intellectual, or aesthetic reaction to them. We would not be able to appreciate and synthesise, for example, the Christian cultural references, the generic dream...

  7. 2 Conceptual Metaphors
    (pp. 24-51)

    Metaphor is the common factor in all cognitive approaches to the study of literature, so is the natural starting point for considering culture, cognition and literature. Traditionally, a metaphor has been considered a linguistic expression where the attributes of the source domain are transferred onto those of the target domain. For instance, in the expression ‘life is a dream’, selected attributes of the concept ‘dreaming’ are mapped onto those relating to the idea ‘life’, resulting in an innovative synthesis. Recently, though, findings from cognitive science have demonstrated that such uses of language are the surface manifestations of deep-seated human mental...

  8. 3 Conceptual Blending
    (pp. 52-69)

    The creation and processing of metaphor is one instance of what has become known as ‘conceptual blending’. This theory explains how the brain integrates information, and accounts for how the combination of ideas can be more than the sum of its parts. This theory is probably the most important concept to cross over from Cognitive Science to Literary Studies, both because of its capacity to explain central, complex issues, and also its broad applicability.¹ Blending theory accounts for how our brains are able to learn through the selection and combination of the old with the new: how structured schemas and...

  9. 4 Text World Theory
    (pp. 70-103)

    Like the other cognitive approaches treated in the chapters above, Text World Theory provides a new way of understanding the mind’s complex yet organised responses to any textual encounter, especially what occurs below the level of conscious awareness. This particular theory of discourse processing has developed out of Cognitive Grammar,¹ so has a linguistic origin, but has application beyond Linguistics because it looks well above the level of the sentence to the whole text. It assumes that to understand language we have to conceptualise its propositions; to create coherence from extended pieces of discourse, we have to keep track of...

  10. 5 Cognitive Cultural Studies
    (pp. 104-129)

    ‘Cognitive Cultural Studies’ refers to an emerging interdisciplinary group of approaches, which is developing into one of the most interesting and dynamic areas of inquiry relevant to Literary Studies today. At its core is an interest in the interplay between brain and environment – cognitive architecture and cultural forces – a focus that requires a genuine interdisciplinary crossing of the arts/science divide that has been a desideratum in Psychology and Anthropology for at least two decades.¹ John Tooby and Leda Cosmides laid out the argument very clearly in 1992 in their integrated model of human social and cognitive functioning:²

    The rich complexity...

  11. 6 Anglo-Saxon Perspectives on Autobiographical Memory and the Self
    (pp. 130-161)

    The cognitive approaches outlined in the foregoing chapters all have their own field-specific bases, alignments with particular professional associations, key scholarly figures and characteristic modes of inquiry. They all have something to offer the Anglo-Saxonist, both in terms of specific modes of textual engagement and lines of inquiry, but also in promoting and expanding the cognitive turn in Literary Studies generally through combination. Beyond their emerging disciplinary developments and distinctive ways of doing the business of interpretation, their chief value is in foregrounding the complexity and interrelatedness of the functioning of the evolved human brain and its cultural context. This...

  12. 7 Cognitive Approaches to the History of Emotions and the Emotional Dynamic of Literature
    (pp. 162-176)

    Emotion, and its connection to cognitive functioning, has come up again and again in the preceding chapters, which is unsurprising given the reliance of poetry on affective experience. Wordsworth famously observed that poetry has emotion as its essence: ‘All good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity’.¹ More recently, cognitive scientists have begun to analyse with their own concepts and methods this uncontested capacity of literary texts to represent, simulate and cause emotions,² thereby facilitating a dynamic line of inquiry for the cognitive study of literature. Any consideration of this...

  13. 8 Conclusion
    (pp. 177-182)

    The developing cognitive approaches to literature outlined above can be applied to Old English texts with results that are significant both in their own right as interpretive responses to the texts, and also in terms of bringing Anglo-Saxonists into emerging conversations between Literary Studies and Cognitive Science. Frequently, the dialogues that are currently occurring at this intersection treat recent or early-modern literary texts at the farthest remove, so are limited in their diachronic scope and cross-cultural potential. By bringing the earliest texts written in English into the discussion, a fuller picture can emerge of how evolved human cognitive abilities and...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 183-206)
  15. Index
    (pp. 207-211)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 212-213)