Implied Narratives: From Landor to Visatril-i.m.
The initial premise of the cognitive revolution was that human thought
can be instantiated in what Herbert Simon called physical symbol systems,
or machines that operate according to the rules of formal logic. Such a
view, however, is incompatible with the attempt to construct dynamic descriptions
of ways in which language and culture help to shape, constrain, and maintain
human action. In the lived time of history, meaning is constructed and
negotiated through the interactions of persons who share a common embodiment
Cognitive rhetoric attempts to correct this discrepancy by generating research programs in which the starting assumptions are broadly compatible with rhetorical theory: (1) that mind is a process not an object; (2) that language is context-dependent and dynamic not context-free and stable, and that focus of study should be on its individually enriching and socially limiting effects, not simply the study of forms and their distributional properties; and (3) that cultures and their material artifacts constitute the foundational "scene" of intelligent behavior, not a prosthetic addition to some formal core competence. Embodied intelligence provides rhetoricians with a way of putting the individual back into cognition without invoking naive individualism.
Specifically, the human rhetorical potential constitutes a "species-adaptive"
capacity (Kearns) for the individual to coordinate the enriching and limiting
effects of symbols for the purpose of inducing cooperation without recourse
to physical violence or force (cf. Crosswhite). This requires the ability
to "read" the intentions of others reliably (though not perfectly), an
ability based on notions of agent and intent embodied in the faces, non-verbal
cues, and linguistic conventions of the social world, for it is that world
that constitutes the very notion of the self. In cultural products as diverse
as Walter Savage Landor's "Mother, I cannot mind my wheel" and an advertisement
for Visatril-i.m., a postoperative anxiety suppressor, I demonstrate a
reliance on words and images to cue readers to construct a complex "before-and-after"
narrative that is nowhere explicitly provided. The embodied and specifically
human nature of such cognitive acts, I argue, preclude an analysis in terms
of the physical symbol systems hypothesis.
Walter Savage Landor
Mother, I cannot mind my wheel;
My fingers ache, my lips are dry:
O, if you felt the pain I feel!
But O, who ever felt as I?
No longer could I doubt him true -
All other men may use deceit;
He always said my eyes were blue,
And often swore my lips were sweet.