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David West. I. A. Richards and the Rise of Cognitive Stylistics.

David West. I. A. Richards and the Rise of Cognitive Stylistics. New York: Bloomsbury, (2013). vii+145pp.

Readers are likely to be curious about the relationship between Richards and cognitive stylistics when they glance at the title of David West's new book. Almost invariably Richards is considered a pioneer of New Criticism, a method that treats each literary work as an autonomous entity. In contrast, cognitive stylistics is generally considered a separate methodological approach, distinct from and historically subsequent to New Criticism. As E. Semino and J. Culpeper (2002 ix) have argued, "Cognitive stylistics combines the kind of explicit, rigorous and detailed linguistic analysis of literary texts that is typical of the stylistics tradition with a systematic and theoretically informed consideration of the cognitive structures and processes that underlie the production and reception of language". David West's endeavor to uncover the link between these two methods was first publicized in his essay 7. A. Richards' Theory of Metaphor: Between Protocognitivism and Poststructuralism (2007:1-18). In his new book, West amplifies his earlier argument by providing a detailed reading of Richards's works of literary criticism. He argues that "the science of criticism that [Richards] built is similar enough to cognitive stylistics to justify the claim that Richards was an early cognitive stylistician, and that his work is rich and interesting enough to be of relevance and importance to literary scholars, and particularly to cognitive stylisticians, today" (13).

By exploring Richards's academic background and the publishing houses of his representative works, West proves that Richards is first and foremost a psychologist, rather than a literary critic. Primarily rooted in the discipline of psychology, Richards's theory of literary criticism should be accorded the status of science. Unfortunately, Richards's science of literary criticism was not developed by later critics until the early 1990s, when cognitive stylisticians embarked on the similar quest without knowing that Richards laid the foundations 70 years earlier. West sets two goals in this book. One goal is to prove that the recent calls of cognitive stylisticians for a paradigm shift and for a change from the current aimlessness and low morale in literary studies today are in fact distant echoes of Richards's earlier call. The other is to change critics' decades-long mistaken and unfair perception of Richards as a literary formalist.

In Chapter 1, West explores the common roots of Richards's science of criticism and cognitive stylistics. He argues that the main impetus for Richards's science of criticism is the "remarkable developments in psychology and its allied sciences" in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the twentieth, which are "a direct result of the publication in 1859 of Darwin's The Origin of Species and of the evolutionary psychology to which it gave rise"(21). Steeped in Darwinism, Richards emphasized the function of literature in human life; thus he should not be considered a New Critic, despite perceptions to be contrary. Remarks by many cognitive stylisticians show that Darwinism is the root of cognitive stylistics, as well. It is the common rootedness in Darwinism that accounts for the startling similarities between Richards's science of criticism and cognitive stylistics. West elaborates on those similarities in his next four chapters, in which he deals with Richards's four main books in chronological order, showing how they build the science of criticism.

Chapter 2 discusses Richards's earliest project of building a science of criticism in his book The Foundations of Aesthetics (1922). It is in this book that Richards clearly defined the object of his study. The predominant methodological paradigm that he followed was the philosophical psychology of Richards's teacher James Ward, Ward's student G. F. Stout, and William James. West groups these three psychologists together under the name of philosophical psychologists because their psychological works were very much the product of their individual backgrounds in philosophy. Philosophical psychology was important to Richards because it emphasized the continuity and inseparability of the three mental activities--i.e., thinking, feeling and volition-and mental activity and adaptablity rather than passivity in our experience of the world. Richards located beauty within our experience of objects in the world, in particular within our experience of synaesthesis, which he described as an aesthetic state in which the experiencer's impulses aroused by the aesthetic object achieve an equilibrium and harmony that the experiencer recognizes as beauty. Although West doesn't explicitly address the two goals set in the introduction, it is clear that Richards, by emphasizing readers' experience of the object, rather than the object itself, cannot be considered a formalist. This fact, together with his exploration of the stages of synaesthesis, are in line with the approach of cognitive stylistics and could further inspire the latter.

Chapter 3 discusses The Meaning of Meaning (1923) coauthored by Richards and Ogden. West notes, "The earlier book was concerned primarily with the valuable effects of art and poetry on the contemplator's emotions and attitudes," the two processes in Ward's tripartite model of mental activity (together with feeling and volition). The Meaning of Meaning "dealt primarily with the first process (i.e., thought or cognition)," "particularly in relation to language used in its referential or symbolic function" (56). The psychological paradigm here is "the objective, stimulus-response psychology of behaviourism, conditioned reflex in particular, which Watson had adapted from Pavlov as an explanation of the organism's capacity to learn from experience and thereby become better adapted to its environment" (57). Owing to the influence of Pavlov's principle of conditioned reflex, Richards and Ogden regarded the interpreter's thought or past experiences as the context for interpreting words, but they move beyond behaviourism's single-minded focus on the external behavior of an interpreter by emphasizing what happens in the mind of that interpreter. West highly praises this study as "an early book in cognitive linguistics" (57). Although West doesn't mention explicitly the relationship between Richards and cognitive stylistics, the context of reference is undoubtedly an important principle of cognitive stylistics.

Chapter 4 explores Richards's first single-authored book, Principles of Literary Criticism (1924), which is mainly concerned with language's emotive function and its effects on the reader. "[I]t was a return to the concerns of The Foundations of Aesthetics," West asserts, "although Richards's treatment of emotive language was much fuller and more sophisticated in the later book" (79). In this book Richards explained the value of arts and the methodological paradigm he adopted was Sherrington's model of neurology. For Richards, the value of poems depends on the neural coordination of multitudinous impulses when reading poems. What is worth mentioning is Richards's emphasis on the phonological level of poetry as constituting one of "the most fundamental impulses, those satisfying our 'physiological and social needs' (106-107). It is obvious that Richards was not a formalist because he believed the value of formal elements lies in their effects on readers, rather than in the formal elements themselves.

Chapter 5 focuses on Practical Criticism (1929), in which Richards reported his experiments on readers' responses to many anonymous poems and then analyzed these responses. This, to quote West, "marks a real shift in Richards's interests: not only from principles to practice, or from theory to experiment, but also from value to valuation, from an attempt to explain the value that the arts (especially poetry) have for the human species to an attempt to explain the 'motives' which lie behind the way that people actually judge poems" (113). Here again West strongly argues that what Richards was concerned with was readers' responses to the poems, and the motives and mental processes revealed by the written responses, rather than with the poems themselves. West remarks, however, that it was because of Richards's adoption of conditioned reflex as an explanation for all mental activities, that he thought our stock responses or previous experiences decide the value of poems to a great extent.

West has fully proven that Richards was not a formalist, but as for the other goal set in the introduction, he mentions the similarities between Richards's theory and cognitive stylistics only sporadically. Readers who have the background knowledge of cognitive stylistics should recognize the similarities, which are not highlighted until the conclusion. According to West, there are two main similarities. First, both draw on the science of mind, psychology and its allied sciences, which are rooted in Darwinism. Second, both are primarily concerned with readers' mental events when reading a literary text, rather than the author, the text or the text's sociohistorical background. West points out that cognitive stylistics is different from Richards's theory in that the former is a branch of stylistics and therefore explains readerly experience through a careful analysis of a text's language, while Richards is first and foremost a psychologist.

West points out that Richards's science of criticism has at least two things to offer contemporary cognitive stylistics. First, Richards's experiments on readers' valuation and the motives behind it is enlightening for cognitive stylistics, which urgently needs the scientific method to know and interpret how readers really experience literature. Second, Richards emphasizes the sound qualities of poems, which has been ignored by cognitive stylisticians to a large extent. Lastly, West highly praises Richards's science of literary criticism and cognitive stylistics for both appear at the times when literary study seems fragmented and random, and both try to build a science of literary criticism which aims at exploring mental processes involved in the creation and reception of literary works, the cognitive processes which are an important part of our everyday lives, and which "find heightened and peculiar expression in that strange and wonderful entity that we call literature" (134).

This book is very enlightening both for readers who have been taught and who believe that I. A. Richards was a formalist, a pioneer of New Criticism, and for those who are interested in cognitive stylistics. It will change the former's steoreotyped conception of Richards and open a new field for the latter.

Other Works Cited

Semino, Elena, and Jonathan Culpeper, eds. Cognitive Stylistics. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2002. Print.

West, David. "I. A. Richards' Theory of Metaphor: Between Protocognitivism and Poststructuralism." Stylistics and Social Cognition. Ed. Lesley Jeffries, Dan Mcintyre and Derek Bousfield. New York: Bloomsbury, 2007. 1-18. Print.

Jia Xiaoqing

University of Shanghai for Science and Technology
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Author:Xiaoqing, Jia
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2014
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