Graduate Student, English
Where is Gender in Cognitive Theory?
The Cognitive Unconscious and Sexual Difference
Given the centrality of bodily experience to cognitive theory (as suggested
by the title of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s comprehensive new overview,
in the Flesh), it is striking that the field has paid relatively little
attention to gender as a possible category of analysis. Of the twenty-four
representative primary metaphors grounded in sensorimotor experience listed
in Philosophy in the Flesh, for example, none suggests that the
body’s biological sex plays any role in the formation of primary metaphors.
I approach this rather resonant silence by close-reading a moment in the
literature of cognitive theory when sexual difference is an obvious factor
in the cognitive phenomenon under discussion but is unaddressed by the
text: Lakoff’s 1997 essay, “How Unconscious Metaphorical Thought
Shapes Dreams,” which elaborates one aspect of the “cognitive unconscious”
posited in Philosophy in the Flesh. Articulating the precise connection
between sexual difference and conceptual metaphor turns out to be surprisingly
hard and engages the very mechanisms of metaphorical thought posited by
cognitive theory itself. This suggests that cognitive theory’s reticence
on gender signifies neither a shyness of engaging politically volatile
issues nor an unwillingness to articulate a nevertheless implicit biological
sexual determinism, but a genuine theoretical difficulty whose working
out, I argue, will have far-reaching implications for understanding of
the relationship among biological sex, metaphor and subjectivity.
"Romantic Poetry and the Embodied Mind." Special Session: "Romanticism and Cognitive Neuroscience." American Conference on Romanticism Annual Meeting, October 1998, University of Santa Barbara.
"The Poetics of Embodiment." Special Session: "What’s the Difference?
Literature, Lacan and Cognitive Science?" MLA Annual Convention, December
1998, San Francisco.
Review of Nancy Easterlin, Wordsworth and the Question of "Romantic Religion." Romantic Circles Reviews (on line)..
Review of Reuven Tsur, Toward a Theory of Cognitive Poetics. On-line at LCB and forthcoming in Journal of Pragmatics.
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