MLA 99: Cognitive Theory and Gender intro
Cognitive Approaches to Literature
Hart second speaker

Beth Bradburn
Graduate Student, English
Boston College

Presentation Abstract

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, Philosophy 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.

Papers delivered

"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.

Publication List

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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MLA 99: Cognitive Theory and Gender intro
Cognitive Approaches to Literature
Hart second speaker