Blending Workshop Chair: Vimala Herman
Literature and the Cognitive Revolution
Blending Workshop, Second speaker: Margaret Freeman

Todd Oakley
Assistant Professor, Department of English, Case Western Reserve Univesity
First speaker, Workshop on Conceptual Blending in Literary Representation

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 and environment.
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.

Todd Oakley


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.

The New Oxford Book of English Verse 551-2

Curriculum Vitae



Blending Workshop Chair: Vimala Herman
Literature and the Cognitive Revolution
Blending Workshop, Second speaker: Margaret Freeman