From Iser to Turner and beyond: Reception theory meets cognitive criticism.
"Going cognitive" is one way to define a recent trend in literary studies. Indeed, the term "cognitive" is ubiquitous with "cognitive rhetoric" (Turner Reading), "cognitive stylistics" (Semino and Culpepper), "cognitive poetics" (Tsur Toward; Stockwell; Gavins and Steen), and "cognitive theory" (Richardson and Crane), all in circulation now. Clearly a cognitive turn--some might say a "cognitive revolution" (Steen and Richardson)--has occurred in literary studies. However, "cognitive criticism," the umbrella term we adopt here for all forms of literary criticism for the cognitively-inclined, has never been recognized from the outside-nor coherently defined from the inside--as a single theory, a uniform paradigm, or a formal school of thought. This is no doubt a defensive tactic, enabling cognitive criticism to thrive. As Norman Holland claimed a decade ago, literary theory was based on "a disproven linguistics and a dubious psychology" (qtd. in Wright 530). If so, the cognitive turn was probably made in order to right this wrong. But cognitive criticism's success may be in the eye of the beholder. Its reliance on cognitive neuroscience as an explanatory tool may revive the angst the humanities traditionally feel for the sciences. Resistance to cognitive criticism, as many have noted (Gross; Herman; Jackson), has therefore been predictable albeit futile.
Initial encounters with cognitive criticism may reveal strange bibliographies. For instance, Gibbs, Lakoff, Johnson, Tomasello, Rosch, Sperber, Damasio, Edelman, and Turner all seem to have made Freud, Saussure, Nietzsche, Piaget, Wittgenstein, Searle, Merleau-Ponty, Husserl, and Derrida obsolete. Those who are not cognitive critics greet this bibliographical upgrade rather skeptically. Naturally, where one would have cited Husserl in the past as an authority to bolster one's argument, one now cites Damasio. Why? One assumes that yesterday's philosopher is wrong and today's neuroscientist is right. While this may be true, it reveals a fascination many cognitive critics have with cognitive science. Because of a preference now for findings over speculations regarding the mind and language, that fascination makes sense. Likewise, it is justifiable to build literary theories on sound psychology and credible linguistics. Holland felt we desperately needed this, which helps explain the scientific nature of cognitiv e criticism's bibliographies. When science is embraced rather than feared, the new or improved seems more trustworthy than the old or discredited.
Even so, an inexplicable bibliographic hole remains in cognitive criticism. That hole is reception theory. The challenge Stanley Fish put to Wolfgang Iser in the early 1980s helps explain the hole. Once Fish told the entire profession that reception theory was doomed, many believed him. In the March 1981 issue of Diacritics, Fish unfavorably reviewed Iser's The Act of Reading. He concluded that Iser's key terms were defined so vaguely as to provide him "in advance with a storehouse of defensive strategies" and that Iser never took a side as to where exactly the production of meaning resided when it came to reading (Fish 12-13). Was it in the text, in the reader, in the author, or in the messy interaction of all three? Iser, Fish claimed, had no answers. Also, Iser's analyses often revealed "the unavailability of two acontextual entities--the free-standing text and the freestanding reader--whose relationship he promises to describe" (Fish 12; our emphasis). When Iser failed to keep his promises, Fish cut short the life of reception theory. Then, when Iser's reply in the September 1981 issue of Diacritics did not rebut all of Fish's points, Iser seemed to have lost the challenge. The consequence: Iser' s version of reception theory essentially vanished from view although New Literary History (Cohen) nevertheless dedicated a special issue to him recently. Ironically, the disappearence of Iser's theory is less common in Germany than it is in Anglo-American universities. Iser is conspicuously absent, for instance, from a recent collection of important contributions to reception study (Machor and Goldstein), in which none of Iser's essays is included (though one by Hans Robert Jauss is) and in whose index his name does not appear. In Germany, however, Iser's books from the I 970s have never gone out of print.
Clearly, reception theory's legacy has been unfortunate. Even its name is a source of confusion. In the 1970s, rather than use the terms Rezeptionsasthetik or Rezeptionstheorie, Iser reluctantly used reader response theory to refer to what he felt instead was Wirkungsasthetik. As far as we are concerned, we prefer to speak of reception theory when referring to research in this area, an area with many affinities with cognitive criticism. As Terence Wright claims, reader-response refers to "a variety of positions held together only by their concern with what goes on in the mind of the reader when he or she picks up and peruses a book" (530). Because such a statement might equally apply to cognitive criticism, the genesis of these two related lines of research is worth exploring. And so, in this essay, we begin by critically reviewing the work of Wolfgang Iser and Mark Turner, two of the main figures associated with reception theory and cognitive criticism. (2) Next, we discuss similarities and differences betwe en Iser and Turner. We do so to suggest that cognitive criticism need not neglect its roots in reception theory and to indicate how a cognitive reception theory might be formulated.
2. A Review of Wolfgang Iser's Work
Reception theory at first probably seemed like a readers' rights movement, inspired as it was by Roland Barthes' famous proclamation of "the death of the author" in the late 1960s. Less obvious was the impetus for the theory's rise in Germany. When opened in the late 1960s, the University of Constance required interdisciplinary research. Faculty thus crossed disciplinary lines every day. On that campus were Wolfgang Iser, no stranger to psychology, and Hans Robert Jauss, soon to become another leading proponent of reception theory. (7) As reception theory evolved, readers' rights eventually died out when emphasis was put on texts, not readers. Still, Iser viewed the reading scenario as an interdependent one, so he set out to describe in general the act of a reader reading a text.
Since The Act of Reading follows closely on Iser's first book in English, The Implied Reader, we begin with comments about The Implied Reader before discussing The Act of Reading. Readers may recall that The Implied Reader focuses on fiction in general and the novel in particular since "this is the genre in which reader involvement coincides with meaning production" (xi). But if "reader involvement coincides with meaning production" in any act of reading, to focus for this reason only on fiction immediately limited the theory's scope. Still, an important chapter from The Implied Reader that merits discussion is the final one, "Phenomenology of Reading." Here Iser argues that there are "two poles" in any text: "the artistic refers to the text created by the author, and the aesthetic to the realization accomplished by the reader." Somewhere between the poles is "the literary work," which readers create by reading or "realizing" a text. While Iser admits that realization "can never be precisely pinpointed," he aims nevertheless to pinpoint it (274-75). Inspired by Roman Ingarden's notions of textual schemata, Iser positions an intermediary between a text and a reader, a choice with many consequences. For instance, Iser mentions readers' "expectations" and "anticipations" without seeing reading as an intentional or goal-oriented cognitive activity (278-79). It is only the omnipresent third wheel, the vague space in between, that he wishes to theorize. As for texts, Iser praises those (e.g., Joyce's Ulysses) that leave the reader "working things out for himself" (275). Here Iser fully admires the action of the reader. A few years later, this will change.
In The Act of Reading in 1978, Iser begins by attacking those who insist on finding "hidden meanings" in texts. If it is good to work things out when reading, but bad to try to find meaning, Iser's position is unclear. As many like Fish saw before, why champion the reader who works "things" out and then punish him for doing so when making meaning? Iser, however, still grinds this axe in The Act of Reading, where he complains that literary criticism often "proceeds to reduce texts to a referential meaning" (5). Afterwards, he claims that endless interpreting reduced [literary texts] to the level of documents, and this robbed us of that very dimension that sets them apart from the document, namely, the opportunity they offer us to experience for ourselves the spirit of the age, social conditions, the author's neuroses, etc." (13). The most loaded word in Iser's lexicon is reduction, and the charge that criticism "reduces" texts to "the level of documents" is the one leveled now at New Historicism. On this poin t [ser seems prescient. However, he does not ask why the interpretive activity exists at all. If, as he said earlier, "text interpretation has increasingly become an end in itself" (x), he fails to see what might explain it. Of course, "literary competence" (Culler 114) suggests that there is a very powerful convention in reading literature: assume there is universal meaning in a text about the human condition in general rather than the persona's life in particular. On the one hand, this convention may provoke the search for "hidden meaning" that Iser so despises. On the other hand, we seem to be built cognitively to analogize between text and world, between one story and another. Simply put, we cannot not interpret. It is entirely natural to discuss or imagine what a story might mean for us.
Iser unfortunately never defines reading as natural. He focuses instead on his hero, the implied reader, which "is a construct and in no way [is] to be identified with any real reader" (Act 34). His avoidance of real readers, unlike Holland's (e.g., Five Readers Reading), relegates to the stratosphere all of Iser's discussions of reading. This was the Achilles' heel of 1970s reception theory: its true object of study eluded definition. Moreover, Iser's mystifying style makes The Act of Reading rather unreadable. He often avoids direct quotations from the literary texts he turns to for examples, reporting indirectly instead what Fielding wrote in the passage in Tom Jones under discussion (214). This tactic, which robs us of the chance to run Iser's reading experiments for ourselves, is used again in Prospecting when Iser reports on a passage from Oliver Twist rather than giving us Dickens' words directly (Prospecting 14). Also perplexing in The Act of Reading is the endless menu of items that Iser feels exist only "in the text" (21), never in our minds. Among them are the wandering viewpoint; theme; horizon; blanks or gaps; connections or connectability; images of the first and second order; image-building processes; consistency-building processes; strategies; and repertoire. By "repertoire" Iser means conventions but, as usual, he eschews the common term (69). Later he states, "In narrative texts we tend to find four basic types of perspective arrangement, which we might call counterbalance, opposition, echelon, and serial" (100) without really explaining what such metaphors mean. In the end, we never know what to make of all of Iser's structures. Iser follows Ingarden in holding to the belief that "the structure of the literary text consists of a sequence of schemata" (227), but he apparently thinks that these schemata are mind-independent while assuming at the same time that our recognition of them makes their "realization" possible. More importantly, we never know what these structures or schemata mean for re al people reading real books.
The aesthetic is another of Iser's problems. In general, he sees the aesthetic as that which is created only when a reader reads a text; it has no prior existence. At one point he states, "Aesthetic value ... is like the wind-we know of its existence only through its effects" (70) although elsewhere he writes, "If aesthetic and everyday experiences are bracketed together, the literary text must lose its aesthetic quality and be regarded merely as material to demonstrate the functioning or nonfunctioning of our psychological dispositions" (40). Now, cognitive critics see literature as a demonstration of "our psychological dispositions." However, this does not make literature "merely" into "material" for proving this disposition, nor does it imply that cognitive criticism merely "reduces" literature to cognitive science, as some (Dimock; Tsur "Event") apparently fear. But Iser cannot be pinned down on the "aesthetic." In reference to Mukarovsky's view that poetic language deviates From standard language, Iser says this "orthodox deviationist theory is evidently highly puristic--what is aesthetic in art is presumably nonaesthetic in real life" (88). On the one hand, it is bad to bracket together the aesthetic and the everyday. Only elite cultural artifacts, not the everyday, are aesthetic. On the other hand, it is good to join the aesthetic in art to the aesthetic in real life. To do otherwise is "highly puristic." Such waffling continues when Iser aims to distinguish everyday language from literary language. At one point he writes, "The verbal structure of literary speech--especially that of prose fiction-is so similar to that of ordinary speech that it is often difficult to distinguish the two" (62). Here Iser finds the dichotomy between "literary" and "everyday" language to be rather false. Later on, however, it becomes a useful dichotomy for his argument when he finds little similarity between the two (183). Problems like these no doubt left readers in the 1970s confused to say the very least.
In Prospecting, Iser gathers his essays from the 1980s although the first two are from the 1970s. He opens again by attacking reductionism and interpretation. The history of literary criticism, Iser tells us, held that "interpretation was always legitimate if it reduced the text to meaning" (3). His point: to understand what a text means is to misread it and reduce it to something vile. However, reading for Iser is apparently all about "discovering links and working out how the narrative will bring the different elements together" (11). He says this without accepting that readers, not texts, are the agents bringing the "elements together" as they read. Clearly, Iser never wanted to posit agency and intentions where cognitive scientists like Daniel Dennett (Intentional) or critics like Norman Holland ("Where?") say they belong: in the brains of human beings. For example, Iser first says that "the fact that the novel does not set forth its own intention does not mean that no intention exists," but then he wond ers: "Where is it to be found?" (16). Humans are never the answer for Iser. In contrast, he is very direct when claiming that "an exclusive concentration on either the author's techniques or the reader's psychology will tell us little about the reading process itself" (31). If the minds of readers or writers are not to be studied, whose reading process does Iser think he is theorizing? Whereas Holland saw reception theory as possible only with an empirical grounding, Iser preferred to turn it into something stratospheric. Bluntly put, when Iser says, "Now we are in a position to qualify more precisely what is actually meant by reader participation in the text" (40), he cannot be trusted.
If readers matter little to Iser, and the mental operations of those readers even less, then his reception theory rings hollow. This is precisely the feeling of Holland and Wayne Booth in their interview with Iser in chapter 3 of Prospecting. The most important question Holland puts to Iser is the following: what counts as evidence if empirical psychological evidence is ignored in favor of evidence from phenomenology or philosophy? To this crucial question Iser replies that "a phenomenological description allows us to focus on processes of constitution that occur not only in reading but also in our basic relations to the world," and that his theory is based on an "idealized model" that must, by its nature, remain abstract (49). Iser implies here that his method aims to shape a theory that is more about the world and less about texts. Now this is very interesting. It might even have lead Iser into social semiotics, especially given Holland's point that in reception theory "it is awkward to suppose that we sud denly reverse our entire cognitive system when we shift from fact to fiction" (48). Iser, however, does not pursue this line of reasoning. Booth, for his part, also poses a crucial question. He admits that his own descriptions of the implied author in The Rhetoric of Fiction were not thorough enough (59). Then he asks Iser what he means by "implied reader" since it seems that such a reader "is always a double figure" (59). Iser agrees that the implied reader is a double figure (i.e., a reader-in-the-text and a reader). Then he argues that the implied reader has less to do with the "reader-in-the-text," and more to do with what happens "whenever we perform the role assigned to us by placing ourselves at the disposal of someone else's thoughts, thereby relegating our own beliefs, norms, and values to the background" (63). Here Iser aligns an implied reader with a real reader, but he evokes the very concept of a passive reader that he dislikes so much. As we saw with his answer to Holland, with this reply to Boo th he warms to the idea of a passive reader because it reinforces the agency of the text. While Barthes may have wanted to play down the agency of the author in favor of the agency of the reader, Iser plays up the agency of the text at the apparent expense of the agency of the reader. On this point Iser is consistent in most of his writings. As for Fish, he retracted his interview questions to Iser although Iser still prints his answers to Fish at the end of this chapter in Prospecting. Without Fish's questions, however, the context for Iser's answers is incomplete.
Despite the mystification that plagues Iser's style, Prospecting is his most readable work. It also contains some of his most engaging ideas. Wright felt that "Fish is at least fun to read" whereas Iser was not (540), but this is unfair. By the late 1980s Iser's style dramatically improves when he stops trying to explain the reading process. For example, in Prospecting he writes:
Since literature as a medium has been with us more or less since the beginning of recorded Lime, its presence must presumably meet certain anthropological needs. What are these needs, and what does this medium reveal to us about our own anthropological makeup?
These are the questions that would lead to the development of an anthrupology of literature. (264)
Here at last is a lucid and fascinating Iser. "We need fiction" (265), he argues, because the function of fiction "is to explain" (267), to allow us to impose order over chaos in life. We have no knowledge of our birth or our death but we know that we will die. The difficulty of making sense of life thus leads us to stories or fictions as ways to learn about our lives, about what happens between birth and death. Fiction therefore functions as a form of "masking" and "unmasking" (268), which permits us to distinguish the "world of the text" from "the world it represents" (272) and to understand therefore our world more clearly. At the center of the life of the mind, then, fiction is vital, not ornamental. As Iser puts it, "literary fictionality appears to be a paradigmatic manifestation of the imaginary" (277). Here Iser makes a promising foray into literary anthropology, the main subject of his next book.
Just as the final chapter of The Implied Reader paved the way for The Act of' Reading, the final chapter of Prospecting paves the way for The Fictive and the imaginary from 1993. Whereas Wright felt that "Iser's footnotes are probably the most readable part of the book" (541), there are some fine chapters in The Fictive and The Imaginary. Iser begins with a warning that to see literature merely "as a means of promoting social enlightenment reduces it to the status of a document" (x), implying once again that reduction is bad. However, he notes, "Art appears to be indispensable because it is a means of human self-exegesis" (xiii). In place of the binary opposition of fiction and reality, Iser proposes a "triad" of the real, the fictive, and the imaginary (1). He does so to give life to the imagination and explore its engagement with fiction. Iser finds that we can come to some understanding of meaning if we accept that the "pragmatization of the imaginary" is brought about by an "expectation of meaningfulness" in literature (18), a concept again that echoes Culler's reading conventions. For Iser, the imagination is pragmatically driven to make meaning when encountering fiction even though the agent imposing intentions on the imaginary is allegedly not itself the imagination (223). All this fits in nicely with Iser's discussions of fiction in philosophy in chapter 3. He finds fiction to be indispensable for many philosophers (e.g., Bacon, Bentham, Vaihinger, Goodman) even when they disdain fiction. For Iser, in contrast, fictions are fine. They help people "operate beyond their limitations" (170), which readers of Steen and Richardson's volume might agree with. Fiction, Iser elsewhere states, is "the chameleon of cognition, which means that as a sort of repair kit for conceptualization, it must inevitably transcend the concepts it seeks to encompass" (l65). Although invisible, such a chameleon appears to be present even when it presumably functions only at a cognitive level.
On the history of "the imagination" as an aesthetic concept, Iser's fourth chapter is very informative. From Aristotle to Coleridge to Sartre, Iser thoroughly examines "the imagination" and "the imaginary." In "Text Play," the book's penultimate chapter, Iser tackles Caillois's four categories of games (i.e., agon, alea, mimicry, and ilinx) and tries to relate them to literature (259). We say "try" because no specific examples of literature are mentioned. Instead, these game types simply mean that when we read we can play texts like games and that the texts can play us as readers in return. From free play to counterplay, Iser finds the four categories interacting regularly whenever we read. Therefore, reading is a matter of "playing and being played" (271). Now, Wright said of Iser, "No one in the history of literary theory can have written so much with such seriousness on the subject of play" (540), but Iser is worth heeding here. When play in literature (Barthes' pleasure concept is mentioned) is defined as a vital aspect of literary anthropology, an important claim is made. Stories and games are universal. As such, they must be products of basic human psychology. If so, they need to be adequately theorized. By aiming to do so, Iser prefigures cognitive criticism's recent concerns with fiction, play, and evolution (Abbott; Richardson and Steen). In this manner, Iser's later work leads nicely to cognitive criticism.
3. A Review of Mark Turner's Work
In a number of publications, especially in the three books under review here, Mark Turner has developed an approach that combines linguistics, literary criticism, and cognitive science. He starts from the assumption that the study of so-called literary modes of expression in particular (i.e.. metaphor. analogy, or parable) will lead to detecting the mechanisms of thought in general. This impinges directly on literature's status and, concomitantly, on literary criticism's status: both need re-evaluation if we follow Turner. For Turner, everyday cognition and literary expression spring from the same principles of thought, which in turn derive from very basic interactions of the human body with its environment. Thus, the study of literature is--or ought to be--fundamentally similar to the study of how the human being (defined by Turner as "a mind in a brain in a body") thinks. From analyses of metaphoric modes of expression and understanding, Turner has moved further away from literature as the principal object of his investigations, becoming more of a cognitive scientist than a literary scholar (a view his recent collaborations with Gilles Fauconnier reinforces).
Death is the Mother of Beauty. Turner's first book in 1987, makes a strong claim for a "modern rhetoric" for ordinary processes of thought and language by exploring in particular the construal and understanding of kinship metaphors (like the one by Wallace Stevens that lends the book its title). In contrast to traditional rhetoric, Turner sees metaphor as "not merely a matter of words but [...] rather a fundamental mode of cognition affecting all human thought and action, including everyday language and poetic language" (3-4; Turner's emphasis). The study of metaphor, whether in proverbs or literature, should thus yield major insights about mechanisms of thought. Following linguistic tradition, the utterance is Turner's raw material for reconstructing the thought processes that gave rise to it. What he says about literature here will satisfy most literary scholars: "Good literature is powerful because it masterfully evokes and manipulates our cognitive apparatus;" and "There are certain things about the human mind that we can see best by looking at literature. [...] What the writer has to teach us cannot be learned except by studying literature, and it is the literary critic, not the cognitive psychologist or linguist, who is trained to study literature" (9). As we shall see, now that literary criticism seems less important to him, there are reasons to doubt that Turner would still subscribe strongly to that view today.
Here Turner does see literature as special, but it is special not in terms of which thought processes it uses but in how it uses them. Literary critics, he argues, mistakenly see literature as separate from other activities that involve thought:
[T]he critic ordinarily skips over those places where a text seems straightforward or a reading natural, unless some insight can be introduced that will complicate the straightforwardness or alienate the naturalness. But this critical jump skips the harder and prior question: How can a text ever seem straightforward? (Death 10)
To get at the very mechanisms that reveal how a text can be understood in the first place, Turner designs an approach that could be termed "conceptual structuralism," since he searches for the underlying patterns, or deep structures, that allow individual metaphors differing on the surface level (in this study, particular kinship metaphors) to be produced, processed, and understood. Clearly, Turner is "interested in the patterns of meaning that run through all these kinship metaphors. These patterns of meaning transcend local textual manifestations because they are part of our cognitive capacity for metaphor and our cognitive models of kinship, derived from our participation in our linguistic and literary communities" (13). But what distinguishes Turner from most structuralists, as George Lakoff points out in the book's foreword (x), is that he rejects the simple strategies of semantic analysis that dominated older approaches to metaphor, like the study of semantic feature distinction. Instead, Turner maintai ns that the processes involved in metaphor can be described as the "blending," "mapping," and "projecting" of conceptual domains onto and into each other. These are terms Turner commonly uses.
One problem here is that Turner--like Iser or, indeed, anybody dealing with understanding language--studies highly automatic and unconscious strategies of information processing. As these are inaccessible to conscious inspection, describing individual operations of the mental apparatus in true detail is hardly possible. Instead, and perhaps fittingly enough for Turner's approach, he coins metaphors (e.g., blending, mapping, projecting) for these processes. Now, he does name the operations of the mental apparatus more specifically than Iser does, but how these processes function is hard to explain. While Iser may be excused for turning to psychological models of a previous paradigm given that he wrote his books before the cognitive turn reinvigorated the study of the human mind, (4) Turner surprisingly seeks little support in cognitive psychology for his views although he has the advantage of writing in the context of a vibrant research scene in cognitive studies. Thus, Turner sometimes tends towards a philoso phy of language more than a psychology of thought. But where Iser underspecified his concept of the reader, Turner consistently claims plausibility for his approach by simply including everyone. Whenever he describes what readers/hearers do when thinking or speaking or reading, he always speaks in the first person plural: "we" project from bodily experience to abstract domains, "our" conceptual apparatus is shaped in this or that way, and so on.
The building blocks that constitute "our" ability to express and understand a wide range of phenomena, according to Turner, are conceptual metaphors such as CAUSATION IS PROGENERATION and EVENTS ARE ACTIONS, in which two conceptual domains collide and are then used, for instance, to make. causal statements. By positing the existence of such basic metaphors, Turner answers the thorny philosophical question of causality. Still, his approach seems undecidedly stuck between what we may term "universalist" and "culturalist" positions. On the one hand, he says that "[a]rtifacts aside, culture is embodied in the mind" (13), which implies that--given the universality of our biological "hardware"--culture must be embodied in the mind in the same way in every culture and in every mind. On the other hand, he later says, "the major insight of cognitive anthropology [is] that in order to study culture one must study cognition, that is, the conceptual structures employed by the members of that culture" (14). This part seem s to signal an awareness of cultural diversity in patterns of thought, but Turner seems little interested in those. Even if we accept that the bodily entrenchment of thought points to a universally unvaried mental apparatus, would it not be more interesting still to study how and why members of particular cultures may employ conceptual structures differently from members of other cultures? While Turner might have imagined that members of cultures uncomfortable with his constant use of "us" and "we" would read his book, he might not have imagined that students of national literary traditions (or other manifestations of a particular culture) may rightly wonder how to negotiate between universalism and culturalism.
Turner is convincing when analyzing kinship metaphors. He has an impressive wealth of material and he distills from his analyses the major inference patterns derived from kinship notions, the major uses of kinship metaphors, and the mappability constraints on concepts. From Milton's Paradise Lost to Spenser's Faerie Queene to Hesiod's Theogony. Turner demonstrates that underlying kinship metaphors provide powerful tools for grasping how things in the world spring from other things. According to Turner, such texts make sense to readers because readers come to them already equipped with a set of subconscious conceptual structures of understanding that they automatically apply to the texts. The mechanism only grinds to a halt when readers must execute unexpected, anomalous inferences, which may reveal the very existence of certain cognitive processes.
Reading Minds, Turner's 1991 book, is insightfully subtitled The Study of English in the Age of Cognitive Science. Rather than analyze the status quo of a new discipline, Turner instead points scholars towards some future activity that may or may not end up hem" called thc "study of English." Starting from where his previous book left off, and reiterating many of the basic arguments put forward there, Reading Minds aims to reform the professional study of English, to "anchor" or "ground" it in the study of the human mind. According to Turner, "what the profession lacks is a concept of language and literature as acts of the everyday human mind. If we had such a concept, our grounding activity would be the study of language and literature as expressions of our conceptual apparatus" (6). This study of mind-through-language-and-literature overlaps with questions of prime importance also for reception theory: "The most amazing phenomenon our profession confronts, and the one for which we have the least explanation , is that a reader can make sense of a text, and that there are certain regularities across individual senses made of a given text. How do readers do that?" (19). To answer this question is not easy. Iser tried and failed. Turner, however. finds answers in metaphoric processes and analogical reasoning, which hint at his approach's wide applicability. (5) In order to demonstrate that "[r]eason and poetic thought are not mutually exclusive" (20), Turner again analyses numerous examples of how a few basic metaphors and image schemas (i.e., "skeletal forms that structure our images" ) both enable and constrain a wide variety of thought processes found in everyday thought and literary expressions.
Turner argues powerfully for a new and exciting interdisciplinary project in the humanities, but the formulation of his appeal may be detrimental to his aims. Whereas Iser abstractly mystifies, Turner concretely demystifies by piling specific example on top of specific example. While he thus dispels certain doubts his readers might derive from counterexamples that spring to their minds, the reading can get tedious. Furthermore, Turner's argumentation style is frequently syllogistic. You either have to follow each premise or you will be unable to follow the rest of the argument. (6) Also, his attempts to anchor certain mechanisms of thought in the setup of the body and its relations to the world can stretch the point. For instance, his claim that the process that allows us to infer from the generic to the specific is grounded in the right-left symmetry of the body (70-74, 89) simply begs the question. In contrast, whenever he turns for support to cognitive science, his points acquire more plausibility--even if the study of the brain has so far yielded frustratingly little reliable information about how specific understanding processes function. Although cognitive-psychological investigations of the mind may still be incomplete, Turner ignores the sprawling research available from fields like inference and discourse processing, or cognition and emotion, to name only a few that, surely, have something to say about the very processes Turner deals with.
The cognitive turn notwithstanding, what may disappoint the literary scholars among Turner's readers is how unlikely it is for the study of literature (see pages 149 and following) to be radical]y altered or made subservient to the study of thought. This is not to say that there are no highly promising lines of inquiry here. As Turner demonstrates, individual phrases lend themselves most easily to a cognitive-rhetorica] analysis. Since poetry may be the genre where metaphoric modes are most densely employed in short segments of language, poems are the most obvious material for analysis. But a more complex level to which his approach could be applied is the "level of a controlling conceptual connection" (conventionally called extended metaphor) such as "the connection between conversational wit and sex in Much Ado About Nothing" (149), or connections between business transactions and courtship in many English comedies of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. On an even broader scale, mapping, projecting, and blending probably all play roles in genre studies. However, Turner stops short, stating, "I leave it to the reader to imagine the forms such a literary critical project might take" (150). This may add little to our understanding of literature apart from recognizing that literature is probably both less special than many would like to think and more universal or stable across time and space. The one question Turner should tackle in Reading Minds is why human minds should need literature in the first place. About this, Turner and Iser should have had an important conversation circa 1990 given Iser's attempts to answer this question. Perhaps the obstacle was "literature" itself, although Turner's definition of it is unclear. For instance, if "[p]oetic thought is part of everyday thought; poetic language is part of everyday language;" and if "what is poetic derives from what is everyday;" and "[t]o understand what is poetic, we must understand what is everyday" (49), then why claim that "(I]iterature is the high est expression of our commonplace and linguistic capacities" (4) or refer to "great writers" at all (13, our emphases)? Within the cognitive approach's theoretical framework, one may well argue that we are built to make evaluative judgments on the basis of conceptual metaphors equating quantity with quality (along the lines of basic metaphors like HIGH IS GOOD, LOW IS BAD). However, this will not relieve us from the duty to spell out--if we want to use them after all--our criteria ("highest" or "great") for excellence or what we mean by "literature." While this is something Turner could have addressed earlier (Death 78-79) by avoiding terms for literature like "high," "low," "good," or "bad," these issues need addressing since they are crucial to Turner's critique of E. D. Hirsch and the canon wars in the last chapter of Reading Minds.
The distinction between the mind as engaged in everyday activities and the mind as engaged in literary activities is further deconstructed in 1996 in The Literary Mind. While the back cover of The Literary Mind in paperback refers to it as a Cognitive Science book and not a Literary Studies one, should we judge books by their covers? The Literary Mind at first seems daring to the uninitiated, but it will not surprise those familiar with Turner's previous books. He argues throughout that the mind is fundamentally literary because the very processes that enable human beings to think are ones that have so far, erroneously, been associated only with literariness. Turner extends his study to what he regards as a "fundamental instrument of thought" (4): the capacity to think in stories, or narrative imagining, and the projection of one "story" Onto another (a process he calls "parable"). Propositions like these are repeated throughout the book: "the mental instrument I call narrative or story is basic to human thin king" and "the mental instrument I call parable has the widest utility in the everyday mind" (7). As was the case with the basic metaphors and generic image schemas that Turner, in his previous books, saw as We basis for more elaborate and specific metaphorical usage, there seem to exist here prototypical stories and core narratives of simple actions executed in a spatiotemporal continuum, which are the building blocks of more elaborate thinking. For Turner. these narratives are involved in the (unconscious) mental activities of predicting, evaluating, planning, and explaining. As with metaphors, stories are grounded in the individual's interaction with the world:
It is not possible for a human infant to fail to achieve the concept of a container, for example, or liquid or pouring, or flowing, or a path, or movement along a path, or the product of these concepts: the small spatial stories in which liquid is poured and flows along a path into a container. (14)
Turner then demonstrates convincingly how such basic spatial stories and other underlying mental structures (prominently image schemas) enable both literary and non-literary thought. There are also chapters on mental space blending, an idea Fauconnier and Turner thoroughly presented recently in The Way We Think to describe the interaction and construction of new concepts in the mind. Blending as a theory describes the products of mental actions and tries to specify the related psychological processes. However, when Turner says for instance that "[b]lended spaces do cognitive work in the strongest sense" and that "[t]hey provide inferences, emotions, and novel actions" (74), just how the blended spaces "provide" the inferences and so on remains unsaid. Also, after reading three books by Turner, we are still confused by his use of similar terms. Whereas in Death is the Mother of Beauty Turner sticks to the term metaphor, in Reading Minds he uses analogy as "a blanket term to cover all cases in which we understa nd one concept in terms of another concept" (Reading 121). However, in The Literary Mind, he eschews metaphor and discusses parable instead.
These terms or processes, according to Turner, give rise not only to narrated stories, but also to language and grammar. Still, in all this the reader may suspect that the term literary is superfluous. If everything humans do with their minds can be called literary, then "literature" becomes synonymous with "thought" and literary texts with "thoughts in books." Summing up his chapters on blending, Turner reiterates his creed: "processes that we have always considered to be literary are the foundation of the everyday mind. Literary processes like blending make the everyday mind possible" (115). To use the word literary for processes that cannot be distinguished by belonging exclusively, not even predominantly, to literature, seems rather strange although Turner switches very easily between literature, proverbs, and everyday expressions in his use of examples. However, the literary examples tend to be very striking. They include parables (in the old-fashioned sense), fables, riddles and the like--texts that har dly constitute most of literature. What do we specifically learn about, say, the realist novel? Here Turner makes some wise observations about how novels enable and demand the construction of mental spaces for following the shifting points of view, and he also indicates that it is only in blended mental spaces that literary characters come alive (for both observations, see chapter 7). However, those interested more in the "literary" rather than the "mind" might desire more of this type of exploration than Turner offers.
4. Differences and Similarities
Despite our critical reviews, we agree that Iser and Turner merit attention. That their books are discussed rather than ignored in our profession demonstrates their relevance. However, their approaches differ in many aspects. Let us first sum up these differences and then examine the similarities. In general, they differ in their views on agency, intentionality, aesthetics, consciousness, and language. For Iser, despite his initial aim of giving the act of reading its due in literary studies, agency resides first with the text, then with the reader. For Turner, on the contrary, agency is always with humans, never with objects. As Richardson states, "Agency for Turner is not a problem but a given" (41). In contrast, Iser often assumes texts have as much if not more agency as readers (Implied 279), an assumption perhaps rooted in a hermeneutical tradition that aimed to understand the text, not the reader's mental processes. Another point of difference is intentionality. Iser never defines reading as a goal-ori ented or intentional action. For Turner, all cognitive action is goal-oriented and intentional: the human mind in a human body in a human world must make sense of that world if the person is to survive (as Turner so often states). Reading, making sense of the signs around us, is one such survival strategy. While Iser would like to accord literature a special function in this setup, for Turner literary acts occur at the same level as other acts of cognition and so literature is anything but special.
These two stances are reflected in the views of Iser and Turner on aesthetics and language. Iser wants sometimes to believe the aesthetic and the everyday are different, while Turner holds that the two are inseparable. For Turner, literature is cognitive and the mind is literary and boundaries between the two are artificial. For Iser, the literary is neither ordinary nor everyday. Iser also feels that reading modern fiction is somehow different from reading other things:
The [reading] process has become even more complex in the twentieth century novel, for here the discovery concerns the functioning of our own faculties of perception. The reader is meant to become aware of the nature of these faculties, of his own tendency to link things together in consistent patterns, and indeed of the whole thought process that constitutes his relations with the world outside himself. (Implied xiv)
Turner, in contrast, echoing formalism's notion of defamiliarization, would say that all kinds of art forms (and not just modern fiction) make us aware of perception and cognition. Also, our tendency of making meaning in consistent ways and our awareness of that practice are two different things. Finally, whether or not we are fully conscious of our habit to make links has little to do with the real connections we make when actually reading texts. Many cognitive, operations involved with reading probably always remain in the unconscious. Indeed, Turner's distrust of "slow, stupid consciousness" in The Literary Mind is unequivocal. For Turner, the beauty of the mind is that it works so well so fast and so easily to make meaning because consciousness stays out of the way. Interestingly enough, Iser seems to have sensed as much when writing about the wonder of indeterminacy: "As we work out a consistent pattern in the text, we will find our 'interpretation' threatened, as it were, by the presence of other possi bilities of 'interpretation,' and so there arise new areas of indeterminacy (though we may only be dimly aware of them, if at all, as we are constantly making 'decisions' which will exclude them)" (Act 287). If Iser is right here about our dim awareness, then he again has something in common with Turner. However, when he holds that the "literary work itself must be thought of as a consciousness" (Act 293), he may again part company with Turner.
Despite their differences, both Iser and Turner are after all investigators of the human mind. It is not surprising therefore to detect similarities between them. Iser' s view in The Implied Reader, that we have a "tendency to link things together in consistent patterns" (xiv) when we read, is supported by Turner's theme of "connections" throughout Reading Minds. Clearly, there are affinities between the two. Iser also scores a scoop by saying in 1978 that meaning is not "hidden" in a text (13) while Lakoff and Turner only in 1989 would claim that "Meanings are [...] in people's minds, not in words on the page" (109). More similarities appear when we recognize that over the years different theoretical traditions use different names to talk about similar things. For example, what Iser calls "an integrated Gestalt" (Act 186) or the mind's "combining activity" (Fictive 181) is probably what Turner calls a "blend" or "blending." Likewise, what Iser calls "fictions" in 1993, Turner later seems to call "stories" i n 1996. Undoubtedly, further investigations into the overlap between cognitive rhetoric and reception aesthetics will show more similarities than those we mention here.
For instance, when talking about the reader "filling in gaps" in the reading process, Iser certainly comes close to Turner. As Iser writes, "changes in the reader's projections" are the only way a "successful relationship between the text and reader" can be established given the "gaps" or "blanks" found between text and reader (Act 167). Gaps are structures that "stimulate the reader into filling the blanks with projections" (Act 168), and given the connectionist framework in cognitive science that underpins Turner' straining in cognitive linguistics, the term pattern completion coined by early connectionists is may be synonymous with gap filling. Iser and Turner probably have more in common when it comes to the most general level of inquiry: the "literary mind." Iser prefigures Turner when he wonders, in a phrase Turner could have written, "what insights literature can open up into the workings of the human mind" (Prospecting 6). Whereas Turner worked from such an anthropological position from the start, Is er has worked his way towards it gradually. Still, Iser's concerns in the 1990s with literary anthropology foreshadowed cognitive criticism's current interest in evolutionary psychology and cognitive anthropology (Carroll; Steen; Storey).
5. Conclusion: Toward a Cognitive Reception Theory
By tracing cognitive criticism's roots in reception theory, we have tried to show how one follows nicely from the other despite the theoretical differences between Iser and Turner. Clearly, cognitive criticism has hidden roots in reception theory although Iser and Turner never cite each other and bibliographic holes exist. Another point of ours was to suggest that for reception theory to remain useful, it too must go cognitive now. This process is now underway based on work by scholars such as Gerrig, Miall, Miall and Kuiken, Oostendorp and Zwaan, and Zwaan. However, it needs to continue. For his part, Iser was on the right track by stating that the hard topic in research is "not what meaning is, but how it is produced" (Prospecting 65). Turner would agree, but the problem remains to be solved. Even so, Iser paved the way for a theory of literary reception to be considered. However, after the cognitive turn, the questions that Rezeptionsasthetik formulated in the past regarding the cognitive and emotional co nditions of reading, and the effects and constraints of literary reading, need to be approached once again. Old questions still need to be answered despite advances made recently by cognitive critics. Cognitive science in general may update reception theory, but cognitive psychology in particular should enable a cognitive reception theory to take shape. If Iser and Turner remind us of one thing, it is that such a renewal is both possible and necessary now.
(1.) This article was written in April 2002 at Universitat Tubingen. Craig Hamilton thanks the DAAD for its generous grant (Kennziffer A102/23707), which allowed him to collaborate with Ralf Schneider on his project Kognitive Rezeptionstheorie/Cognitive Reception Theory (CoRecT) in order to write this article.
(2.) Others have, of course, pointed Out strengths and weaknesses in both approaches. Our collaboration on this article is therefore a dialogue that crosses national academic traditions and education backgrounds. Therefore, Craig Hamilton reviewed Iser's work, while Ralf Schneider reviewed Turner's.
(3.) Iser's discussion of "horizon" (Act 96) suggests he was inspired by Jauss famous "horizon of expectations" (Jauss 88) concept although in his 1978 book he doesn't refer to Jauss' horizon concept, first introduced before Iser's book.
(4.) Less forgivable, however, is that Turner, like Iser, has reprinted books without updating them. Turner makes no attempt to ground the description of acts of reading in what recent psychologists have discovered about information processing.
(5.) For instance, Turner writes, "A cognitive approach to linguistic and literary acts could potentially serve as common ground for many different theories of literature, conflicting with none of them, however incompatible they might be with each other. [...] The cognitive approach to language would be conducive to those who study the cultural, sociological, and psychological models and mental processes that inform language" (Reading 22).
(6.) Here is a typical example of Turner's rhetoric: "The human person is patterns of activity in the mind and its brain. Culture, society, subjectivity, language, art, dance, and all the subjects of the humanities are patterns of activity in the mind and its brain. The study of the humanities is thus fundamentally, criterially, constitutively the study of the mind and the brain" (Literary 48).
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Craig Hamilton (Craig.A.Hamilton@nottinghamn.uc.uk) is a lecturer in English at the University of Nottingham, where he teaches cognitive rhetoric and poetics. He has published on Owen, Strand, Shaw, Joyce, Pound, HD, Lawrence, Wells, and Auden, among others. At present he is writing a book tentatively titled The Mind of W. H. Auden.
Ralf Schneider (firstname.lastname@example.org) is currently a lecturer in English Literature at the University of Tubingen. He wrote his dissertation thesis (University of Cologne) on a cognitive theory of literary character and is currently working on an introduction reception theory and on a book-length study of the influences of the media on the literary system in Britain.
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|Author:||Hamilton, Craig A.; Schneider, Ralf|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2002|
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