Doctoral Candidate, Department of English, University of California at Santa Barbara
Fourth speaker, Workshop on Conceptual Blending in Literary
Domain Specificity and Conceptual Blending in A. L. Barbauld's 1781 Hymns
A common critique against the conceptual model of metaphor, as put forward by Lakoff and Johnson and developed by Turner and Fauconnier, is that there is no principled way of determining what constitutes a conceptual domain. The work of cognitive psychologists Spelke, Baillargeon, Cosmides, as well as that of cognitive anthropologists Atran, Sperber, and Tooby, suggest that the human mind has a number of functional specializations in addition to that of the body schema Lakoff emphasizes. In this talk, I analyze Anna Laetitia Barbauld's Hymns in Prose for Children, an 18th century religious treatise, drawing on the conceptual frameworks of these complementary intellectual traditions.
Early modern religious treatises for children (by George Burder, A.L. Barbauld , her brother John Aikin, Sarah Trimmer, Hannah More, and others) yield remarkable results from a cognitive analysis. Perhaps because of the deliberate conviction behind their message, these writers are extremely careful in choosing ways of impressing that message upon the imagination of their young readers. Their letters and diaries testify to how much thought they gave what we now call developmental psychology and cognition. At the same time, the narratives these authors produced routinely contain ideas that contradict basic ontological assumptions held even by very young children, such as the idea that certain living entities are omnipresent, can assume various shapes, and are not subject to the natural processes of aging and dying.
The focus of my talk is to explore the semantic and visual (pertaining to specificities of printed culture in the early modern period) strategies employed by Barbauld to construct the ephemeral but powerful "authority presence" which frames the supernatural element and makes it ring true. I situate these strategies within the conext of basic ontological assumptions about living kinds (usually construed as having mysterious underlying "essences") and artifacts (construed in terms of their "function") creatively activated by Barbauld as she works on her "domestication" of the supernatural.
UC Santa Barbara