graphic: source -- with thanks!

ENGL 569: Studies in Literary Criticism

Cognitive Poetics

David S. Miall

Winter term 2009, Wednesdays 1400-1650
HC 2.34

Office hours: TBA
email: David.Miall (at) Ualberta.Ca
Office: HC 4.27; tel. 2-0538

course description | texts required | schedule of topics | further reading | organization and assignments | ethical requirements

Course description

Cognitive poetics comprises a recently-developed set of approaches to literature based on advances in cognitive science. As a new approach to questions of literary form and reader response, it received its first major impetus from the proposal of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson that metaphor underlies all human thought processes; this initiated new interpretive practices by Margaret and Donald Freeman and others, and radical suggestions for situating the literary disciplines on a new foundation by Mark Turner. A wider set of approaches have since been proposed by Raymond Gibbs, Peter Stockwell, Alan Richardson, Lisa Zunshine and others, drawing on theory of mind (our ability to read others' minds), schema or frame theory, deixis, prototypes, blending theory, and other cognitive processes. In addition to describing the impact of a range of linguistic features on the reader, the approach also proposes new insights into narrative theory and the evolutionary significance of literature. The approach as a whole has a troubled relation to questions of interpretation, some scholars disclaiming this as an outcome of cognitive approaches. A few scholars in the field have carried out empirical work with readers to validate their concepts, such as Reuven Tsur, Catherine Emmott and Yeshayahu Shen. The course will provide a systematic and critical introduction to this rapidly developing area, while offering at the same time a wider perspective on the implications of recent developments in psychology and neuropsychology for understanding literary reading.

Texts required

Catherine Emmott. Narrative Comprehension. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999.

David S. Miall, Literary Reading: Empirical & Theoretical Studies. New York: Peter Lang, 2006.

Elena Semino and Jonathan Culpeper, Eds. Cognitive Stylistics: Language and Cognition in Text Analysis. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2002.

Peter Stockwell. Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction. London: Routledge, 2002.

Further readings from journals, etc., will also be required.

Schedule of topics

Please note: the following schedule is still provisional; I may make one or two minor changes as the term gets underway as we see how our interests develop. A short reading for the first class from Miall, Literary Reading (2006) is available online: see the link below in the first topic.

required readings
supplementary readings
1 Reading: some issues First we compare extrinsic and intrinsic approaches to reading, and suggest that the intrinsic has been neglected over the last few decades. The cognitivist approach may signal a return to the intrinsic, but this in turn raises some new issues: whose cognitive view should we follow, what do cognitive approaches accomplish, and do they encompass enough of the field? We will propose empirical studies as an important complement to cognitivism. The reading offers a preliminary survey of some key issues and a brief introduction to empirical method.
Miall (2006), 1. Introduction, pp. 1-4.  
2 Cognitivism: a preliminary survey In an overview of some of the promise and limitations of cognitivism, we consider the preoccupation with interpreting texts, the issue of literariness (whether literary texts are distinctive), and the neglect of feeling in the reader; we will also examine a history of the emergence of cognitive approaches up to 1999 that helps to place it alongside postmodern literary theory.
Miall (2006), 4. Interpretation, cognition, and feeling; Stockwell (2002), 1. Introduction; Crane & Richardson (1999). Richardson (2004)
3 Empirical studies Why are empirical studies required?. What are some of its main theoretical perspectives? We look at how these diverge from the historicist and interpretive trends in mainstream literary studies with its "hermeneutics of suspicion." Graesser et al. show why empirical studies are difficult to do, especially as there is no agreement on what defines an aesthetic response to a text. Miall, Ch. 3 provides a basic introduction to empirical method with several examples, while Ch. 7 (optional) provides an overview of the field as a whole, and Emmott offers a critical discussion of discourse processing. Ethical requirements for carrying out empirical studies will be discussed.
Miall (2006), 2. On the necessity; Graesser, Person, & Johnston (1996); Miall (2006), 3. Experimental approaches. Miall (2006), 7. The empirical approach; Emmott (1999), 3. A discourse perspective
Additional resources: Table of empirical studies. Ethical requirements; sample documents; and see note on ethics below
4 Cognitive linguistics A close focus on an influential branch of cognitivism, derived from the work of Lakoff and Johnson on metaphor as based on bodily schemata. It has become a major framework for analysing and interpreting literary texts. The Freemans are among the most prominent exponents of this approach. A critical commentary is provided in Miall (2006).
Freeman, D. (1993); Miall (2006), 10. The body in literature; Stockwell (2002), 8. Conceptual metaphor Richardson (1999); Freeman, M. (2002)
5 Blending theory Blending theory, or conceptual integration, is a recent development of cognitive linguistics; it claims to provide a theory of creativity and aesthetics derived from, but going beyond metaphor, drawing on all aspects of human experience to provide an understanding of language, mind, and body. It is claimed to have far reaching implications for locating literary understanding.
Dancygier (2006); Turner (2002); Freeman, M. (2006). Turner & Fauconnier (1999)
6 Deixis and situation models Deixis refers to the linguistic devices for locating a scene in time and space (words such as "here," "this," "now," etc.). This provides an important cognitive component of our reading, enabling us to locate ourselves ("deictic projection") within the world of the text. In discourse theory a number of deictic aspects are taken up by situation model theory and given experimental support.
Stockwell (2002), 4. Cognitive deixis; Galbraith (1995); Zwaan, Magliano, & Graesser (1995). Zwaan & Radvansky (1998)
7 Scripts, schemas, and frames The contextual knowledge required to understand a text is said to be embodied in the script, schema, or frame that we supply, drawn from our everyday experience (e.g., knowing how to behave when visiting a restaurant). Literary texts have typically been understood as adjusting or restructuring our schemata. Schema theory has also been regarded as limited as an account of reading, since it fails to supply an understanding of the role of feeling.
Stockwell (2002), 6. Scripts and schemas; Emmott (1999), 4. Creating fictional contexts; Miall (2006), 5. Feeling in the comprehension of literary narratives Jahn (1997); Emmott (1999), 5. & 6.
8 Feelings and empathy To what extent do feelings play a constructive role during reading? Do they embody processes that have not so far been the focus of cognitive studies? Here we consider a taxonomy of feelings in reading, and some potential functions that help direct the reading process.
Miall (2006), 6. Feelings in literary reading; Miall (in press); Oatley (1999) Kneepkens & Zwaan (1995)
9 Theory of Mind Our capacity to read the minds of others, which begins in early childhood, provides an important context for our response to characters in fiction -- their thoughts, feelings, and intentions. Narrative appears to evoke the same mechanisms that we deploy constantly to check out social conditions. The recent discovery of mirror neurons provides a mechanism for theory of mind and the emergence of a sense of self.
Zunshine (2003); Gallese & Goldmann (1998); Nelson (2003)  
10 Cognitive stylistics Recent advances in stylistics bring together linguistic analysis, cognitive science, and literary interpretation. The three example readings demonstrate analysis of "mind style" and characterization in narrative, and emotional effects in poetry.
In Semino & Culpeper, Eds.: Semino (2002); Culpeper (2002); Tsur (2002)  
11 Literariness Here we confront the question whether literary texts are distinctive, that is, whether we can identify special qualities that create literariness. An additional question is whether readers have to be taught to respond to literariness or if it is an innate capacity. Two empirical studies on literariness draw on the research on feeling and on self-reference. Zwaan (optional) provides a contrasting position suggesting that literariness is a frame that we adopt as readers.
Miall & Kuiken (1998); Hanauer (1998); Miall & Kuiken (1999) Zwaan, R. A. (1991)
12 The evolutionary context The universalist position of Hogan suggests that it may be worth considering the origins and functions of literary reading in an evolutionary framework. In Miall (2006), Ch. 12 I outline an evolutionary perspective based on a functional approach that I term dehabituation theory. Easterlin contrasts postmodern and evolutionary approaches to literature.
Hogan (1997); Miall (2006), 12. An evolutionary framework; Easterlin (1999) Dissanayake (1999); Boyd (1998)


Further Reading

Books and journal articles: 50 items

Literature, Cognition, and the Brain. See Bibliography, helpfully annotated.

Reader Response Bibliography: oriented towards empirical studies.

Organization and assignments

I expect the topics shown above to occupy one class session each, which leaves one session free. This will be designated as a day for students' in-class reports on their own small-scale empirical studies (see more below).

Jan 7 Reading: some issues      


1. A series of short papers, approx. 300-400 words, one each week (except Jan 7, Feb 18, and Mar 25), offering a reflection on the reading for that week. (Worth 25%)

2. An empirical study, based on some aspect of a theory of literary reading; probably involving several participants and some basic data analysis, either numeric or verbal. (Worth 25%). Note ethical requirements (see below). Written report due *Mar 25.

3. A term paper, due on the last day of class (Apr 8), on a topic of your own choosing related to the course. Approx. 2500 words. (Worth 50%)

Jan 14 Cognitivism: a preliminary survey  
Jan 21 Empirical studies  
Jan 28 Cognitive linguistics  
Feb 4 Blending theory  
Feb 11 Deixis and situation models  
Feb 18 Reading week / no class  
Feb 25 Scripts, schemas, and frames  
Mar 4 Feelings and empathy  
Mar 11 Theory of Mind  
Mar 18 Cognitive stylistics  
Mar 25 *Empirical study reports  
Apr 1 Literariness  
Apr 8 The evolutionary context  

Note. Your empirical study must be completed and ready for presentation in class on March 25 -- you will offer a brief verbal report of 10-15 minutes, accompanied by Powerpoint if appropriate. If using a Powerpoint, this should be emailed to me the previous day. You will also submit a short written report on your study the same day (2-3 pages). In order to be ready to present in time, you should begin planning your study after the class session on January 21, then solicit participants and carry out the study well ahead of the March 25 deadline.

Ethical requirements

Carrying out your own empirical study is a requirement of completing this course. As this will involve working with human participants, we will review the ethical requirements for the conduct of such research. This includes guidelines for how to solicit participants, how to inform participants of their rights, how to obtain informed consent, how to debrief participants, and how to ensure confidentiality. These issues will be discussed in class with the help of the Tri-Council Policy Statement on research ethics.

In addition, if ethical preparation of a reseach proposal is new to you, please visit the tutorial and carry out the training available there (it will take about 2 hours to complete). All students must be aware of current ethical guidelines, and ensure that they are followed when carrying out their own projects.

return to Miall home page

Document created May 9th 2008 / updated December 15th 2008