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Israel, June 2001

Tony E. Jackson
Theoretical Ebbs and Flows:
Poststructuralism, Cognitive Science, and The Waves

This paper will discuss writing, language and narrative in relation to poststructuralist theory, cognitive linguistic theory, and cognitive narrativity. I will show how the conclusions about writing and language in early poststructuralism are unsustainable if cognitive linguistic claims about language are true. Further, taking cognitive linguistics as true, if we look back at the writings of, for instance, Jacques Derrida, we find a theoretical confusion between writing and language in general. This confusion enables some of poststructuralism's strongest claims. Briefly stated, the repression of writing in the history of philosophy and linguistics cannot lead to the de-centering of meaning, truth, the self etc. in the way that poststructuralism claims. There exists a verifiable fullness of "presence." It is the paradigm verbal speech-act considered in the light of cognitive linguistics. Writing lacks presence in relation to the speech act, but the nature of writing as a technology leads to the misconceived relativization of language itself, and thus to the other claims of poststructuralism. This effect of writing upon speech is paralleled by the effect of written narrative upon narrative in general, a claim that we can substantiate with what I call cognitive narrativity, the understanding of narrative as a fundamental element of human cognition. In much narrative theory, too, we find this ongoing confusion of written and oral story. To show more clearly what I mean by these claims and to show how they may be relevant to an actual literary text, I look at Virginia Woolf's The Waves. Bernard, the novel's main character, is Woolf's most elaborate representation of a writer. We may read his story as a fictional exploration of the confused conflict between written narrative and narrative in its speech-act sense, which is to say oral narrative.

Tony E. Jackson
Associate Prof, English
U. of North Carolina, Charlotte






Maintained by Francis F. Steen, Communication Studies, University of California Los Angeles