Posted by Joseph Adamson on September 4th, 2012
Body of Vision (University of Toronto Press, 2013) reconsiders fundamentals of Northrop Frye’s theories of meaning, literature, and culture in the light of related current approaches that have taken his insights in very different directions. It develops branches of Frye’s thinking by proposing partial syntheses of them with cognitive poetics and with contextualist theories of cultural history and ideology, seeking to retain the best of all worlds. Case studies of texts and genres work out promising connections in detail.Three related aspects of Frye’s work are explored: meaning and thought, culture and society, and literary history. Chapter 1 connects Frye’s theory of meaning and poetic metaphor with those developed in cognitive linguistics and poetics by George Lakoff, Mark Johnson, and Mark Turner. Chapter 2 applies this synthesis to the metaphoric world of Dante’s *Divine Comedy*. Chapter 3 links Frye’s approach to the relations among literature, society, and ideology with that of cultural theorists Roland Barthes and Stuart Hall, and with Lakoff’s cognitive account of metaphor and framing in political thought and discourse. It characterizes the contrasting conservative and liberal worldviews represented in Hobbes’s Leviathan and Rousseau’s Social Contract. Chapter 4 considers relations between general principles of literary cognition and particulars of texts and contexts in history. Frye’s approach is compared with Patrick Colm Hogan’s study ofemotional and literary universals, and with the new historicism of Stephen Greenblatt and Louis Adrian Montrose. The pastoral is examined as a genre that appears decidedly dated in many ways, yet is still capable of communicating powerfully.
Michael and the University of Toronto Press have kindly given us permission to post an excerpt. Here is the first chapter:
Cognition, Meaning and Culture
“Systems That Won’t Quite Do”: Schematic Structure in Literary Metaphor, Myth, and Models
I do not think of the Anatomy as primarily systematic: I think of it rather as schematic. The reason it is schematic is that poetic thinking is schematic. The structure of images that C. S. Lewis in The Discarded Image calls “the Model” was a projected schematic construct which provided the main organization for literature down to the Renaissance: it modulated into less projected forms after Newton’s time, but it did not lose its central place in literature.
Northrop Frye, “Reflections in a Mirror,” 1966
Our first imaginary conversation proposes to reveal important parallels between Frye’s literary and cultural theory, on the one hand, and cognitive literary studies, on the other, which make it worthwhile to look at these theories in each others’ lights, so to speak. The most important parallels concern the relation of metaphors to one another and to the larger mental models giving structure to culture, literature, philosophy, science, and moral and political worldviews and ideology. Determining their points of agreement and divergence can indicate how they may be developed in concert, as supplementing, extending, and correcting one another’s claims and arguments about common concerns. From this vantage, I see Frye as elaborating some of the broader cultural implications of the conceptual approach to meaning, and the conceptual party as able to support certain versions of Frye’s theses about literature and culture by articulating the linguistic and conceptual details. (Putting them together, as I’ve suggested, we get more of the forest and more of the trees than we could with either one alone.) After a brief overview of some common aims, principles, and background, this chapter turns to detailed discussions of the former, then the latter. The ultimate aim is to describe in detail the possible forms of coherence across metaphors and their imagistic structures. This will prepare the ground for a study of metaphoric coherence in what Frye calls “literary cosmologies”, which are metaphoric storyworlds. To clarify, storyworlds, as David Herman defines them, are “mental models of who did what to and with whom, when, where, why, and in what fashion in the world to which recipients relocate [. . .] as they work to comprehend a narrative” (Story Logic 5). Literary cosmologies are metaphoric storyworlds in that they are structured by compounds of metaphors (i.e. many aspects of the storyworld are metaphorical, and as they interact with one another, the metaphors combine). The next chapter will use this chapter’s analysis to examine the metaphoric coherence of the cosmology of Dante’s Divine Comedy. The chapters following connect the cosmology to social mythology and to literary history.
The approach to figurative language and thought pioneered by George Lakoff, Mark Johnson and Mark Turner caught imaginations across the world, and I think it’s no exaggeration to call it revolutionary. At present it constitutes a flourishing research program that continues to invigorate many fields. It has roots in cognitive linguistics, which is also highly interdisciplinary, and claims a very broad scope, examining metaphor, figures, and narrative in many areas, including literature, philosophy, religion, anthropology, politics, mathematics, and particularly worldview and common sense. As with Frye, there is an impressive interdisciplinarity of sources and influences. Cognitive literary studies encompasses cognitive poetics, narratology, rhetoric, reader response, and more. Indeed, it may draw on any of the fields associated with cognitive science—not only linguistics but cognitive psychology, anthropology, and various divisions of neuroscience.
In fact, reception of the two theories is also comparable and can lead us into some of their common aims and assumptions. Early views of Frye tend toward hagiography or hatchet job, and the gamut remains narrow and polarized. In short, while many find Frye’s ingenious analyses, analogies, synopses and pattern perception highly informative, others find them over-ingenious and over-idealized. Discounting genial praise, general abuse, and frequent misunderstanding, Hamilton sees in serious critiques of Frye chiefly a distrust of his systematicity, a concern that abstraction away from contextualized particulars can be flattening of textual complexity and literary experience, and rejection of his totalizing ambitions (Anatomy 4-6). Dolzani notes the standard complaint of reductivism, and says that during the fifties and sixties Frye was attacked for being unscientific—not proving his patterns empirically there—and during the seventies and eighties for misinterpreting empirical findings—we easily find patterns because we are conditioned to do so. In the nineties sociological critique asks who decides on and interprets universals, and on what authority? (“Wrestling” 98). Cognitive critics are also oriented towards form and structure, general principles, and universals, and Lakoff and Turner and others have also been accused, in similar terms, of overstating their claims and simplifying their topics: reducing specifics to abstractions, flattening meaning and emotion, downplaying cultural and historical context, insufficiently distinguishing literal from figurative.
Without going into great detail, we can fashion one response for both: reductionism need not follow. Neither theory purports to explain everything about particular texts. Both address a clear need for larger perspectives by creating frameworks capable of bringing together arrays of related phenomena. Fine-grained facts may be the most immediately evident to the senses, especially with art, which trains and rewards heightened sensitivity to nuance. But they are not the only facts, and they do not vitiate the need to address those of larger, coarser grain. Indeed, if Frye and the conceptual party are right about the importance of conceptual systematicity (or schematicity) in the creation of resonance for myth and metaphor, then their theories offer an explanation for some of the most powerful, and most specifically artistic effects of literature—an explanation of a kind that is unavailable to the scrutineer of surfaces. As Frye puts it, “Many who consider the structure of my view of literature repellent find useful parenthetic insights in me, but the insights would not be there unless the structure were there too” (“Reflections” 145).
The business I envision for this chapter, then, is using Frye’s literary theory to conjoin two kinds of “cognitive criticism” deliberately oriented to explanations that make essential but not greedily reductive use of cognitive research. On the one hand there is the kind represented by Mark Turner (Reading), David Bordwell (“Case”, “Contemporary”) and Noël Carroll (“Prospects”), who demur from both isolated textual “readings” and sweeping self-ratifying annexations of texts and theories by “grand theory”, to focus on “middle-level” topics and problems specific to the arts. These critics aim to describe the commonplace background knowledge of readers and viewers, and explain how it underpins readers’ experience and interpretation of texts and films. On the other hand, there is the kind represented by Reuven Tsur, who distinguishes cognitive poetics from cognitive linguistics by the former’s focus on explaining specifically poetic “effects” (“Aspects” 279-81). Yeshayahu Shen (“Cognitive Constraints”, “Metaphor”) makes a related distinction between approaches to the nature of poetic (especially figurative) structures. Against the various approaches that highlight the creativity and novelty of poetic discourse, his approach highlights the need of such discourse to conform to cognitive constraints, in order to be communicable. Poetic discourse must both conform to, and interfere with, cognitive processes (cf. Semino and Steen). Indeed, for Ray Gibbs Jr. the “paradox of metaphor” everywhere, not just in literature, is that it is “creative, novel, culturally sensitive, and allows us to transcend the mundane while also being rooted in pervasive patterns of bodily experience common to all people” (“Metaphor” 5). As I hope to show, Frye’s approach examines the special structures and processes specific to literature, but he does so by comparing and contrasting that literary cognition with non-literary cognition.
Frye’s work has a “grand theory” way of evoking a vast horizon of implication. Such ambition has an honourable pedigree. In the early part of his career, a number of influential scholars, under the aegis of anthropology and comparative religion, were studying very large-scale symbolic cultural models, including cosmologies, that integrated myths, symbols, and rituals. Frye’s particular focus was on “the identity of mythology and literature, and the way in which the structures of myth, along with those of folktale, legend and related genres, continue to form the structures of literature” (WP xii). Frye’s aim of describing what Jung called the “grammar of literary symbolism,” ultimately deriving from Giambattista Vico, was shared by Robert Graves, Joseph Campbell and others, and influenced by Frazer, Spengler, and Cassirer. Such a grammar would be the basis of all artistic thought and expression. For some, it shaped culture more generally, including philosophy, science, and everyday life. Frye thought of this search for a “coordinating principle” for criticism as seeking something analogous to the principle of evolution in biology, which, beginning with the “assumption of total coherence” in the subject could then treat wholes (species) as parts of individuals (humans / works) (Salusinszky, “Towards” 237). The totality that was first conceived as a “language of poetry” or “grammar” of symbolism later developed into an “order of words”, then a verbal or literary universe (233).
Frye struggled all his life to work out a “total form” of such a grammar (Dolzani, “Introduction” xix). Total forms are in questionable taste at the moment. I will take a tangential approach to them, rather than arguing directly about them. Occupying a middle level, I will argue that cultural cognitive models exist that are larger, more plentiful and more coherent than has yet been recognized, that they are grounded in natural perceptual and conceptual structures, and that they have important roles in cultural thought and experience. The focus shifts to the principles behind specific total forms, as some of Frye’s reflections do:
All my critical career has been haunted by the possibility of working out a schematology, i.e., a grammar of poetic language. I don’t mean here just the stuff in FS [Fearful Symmetry] & AC [Anatomy of Criticism] & elsewhere, but the kind of diagrammatic basis of poetry that haunts the occultists & others. Whenever I finish a big job I seem to return to this . . . In other words, once again I have a hope of reviving or making precise and detailed suggestions about—let’s say the diagrammatic basis of schematology. (NB12, 335, 1968-70, qtd. in Dolzani, “Book of the Dead” 23)
There are analogies of Frye’s analogies in statements of the aims and ambitions of cognitive linguistics. Lakoff, comparing metaphoric dreaming to speech, writes, “our metaphor system might be seen as part of a ‘grammar of the unconscious’—a set of fixed, general principles that permit an open-ended range of possible dreams that are constructed dynamically in accordance with fixed principles” (“How Unconscious”). Fauconnier and Turner compare their theory of thought as “conceptual blending and integration” with evolutionary theory, making a point of denying its reductiveness while arguing for its value in connecting presently disparate studies of universal human cognition and cultural particulars (e.g. qualitative social science with interpretive social science, in Turner, Cognitive Dimensions 11-12, 56-59; cf. Fauconnier and Turner, The Way We Think 91). Moreover, while Frye discusses the relation of metaphor to mathematics (AC 350-54), today’s cognitive theorists have also found a major role for metaphor and other imaginative operations in the history and understanding of mathematics (Lakoff and Núñez, Fauconnier and Turner, The Way We Think).
To turn to somewhat more specific parallel aims and principles, the aim of describing and explaining meaning by describing and explaining “structure” in language and literature is central to both Frye and the conceptual party, and it also has a long history of scholarly attention. Frye’s structural-totality approach reacted against both an extreme documentary historicism that dissolved individual texts in a welter of “objective” contextual detail, and the extreme ahistoricism of New Critical indifference to text-extrinsic details. His postulates are also idiosyncratic relative to the structuralist and post-structuralist tenets dominant through his later career, but I think this helped him avoid the excesses that contributed to their eclipses. Frye acknowledges an affinity with structuralism, the movement that came to analyze so many fields according to an idea of “a kind of structural unconscious,” distinct from subjectivity and intention, that governs semiological expressions of all kinds (Ricoeur, Rule 319). He sympathized with the “direction” of structuralism towards interrelating different subjects non-imperialistically (SM x), but did not follow its specific principles. He speaks of structures of narrative and imagery rather than of conceptual binary oppositions. As a result, he did not contract the problems that plagued structuralist linguistics and its posterity, and was unaffected by its eclipse under the Chomskyan revolution in linguistics.
In a related way, Fauconnier and Turner see the twenty-first century as the “age of the triumph of form” in “mathematics, physics, music, the arts, and the social sciences”, in which knowledge reduces to “a matter of essential formal structures and their transformations” (The Way We Think 3). But form is not substance, and they seek “the human power to construct meaning” that lies behind form, in the conceptual processes that constitute identity, integration, and imagination (6). Some cognitive critics make efforts to recuperate in a cognitive vein the insights of earlier critics who examined the role of literary structure and form in relation to knowledge and experience. For example, both Spolsky (“Cognitive Literary”) and Steen and Gavins admire Culler’s efforts to characterize “literary competence” in structuralist terms, and the latter allude to precedents in Czech Structuralism, Russian Formalism, and semiotics (5-8). Indeed, while Culler’s notion of “literary competence” in Structuralist Poetics is based on an analogy with Chomsky’s approach to “linguistic competence”—i.e. the ability to understand an unlimited number of grammatically correct sentences (any number of literary texts, on Culler’s analogy)—his account of that competence as consisting in knowledge of literary conventions, and his characterization of those conventions, are strongly influenced by Frye. We might recall as well that Frye’s original title for the Anatomy was Structural Poetics.
Going farther back, both Frygean and cognitive poetics have significant family resemblances to Aristotle’s Rhetoric and his Poetics, with their analytical focus on the relation of the structure of narrative plots to audience knowledge and response. Speaking of the cognitive study of art, language, and literature in relation to rhetoric, Turner declares that “if Aristotle were alive today he would be studying this research and revising his work accordingly” (“Cognitive Study” 10). Ellen Spolsky places Frye, along with other major scholars of structure, in this tradition:
The claim that the ultimate goal of literary theory is to tell a story about the human mind can be traced back to Aristotle and, in modern criticism, to Northrop Frye. In his Anatomy of Criticism (1957), Frye claimed that the generic forms of literary works have a psychological reality that is separable from what he dismissed as ‘‘the history of taste.’’ Literature, he assumed, displays the structure of the mind, the same claim Claude Levi-Strauss had made for the material culture of Brazilian peoples in Tristes Tropiques (1955) and that Noam Chomsky was making for syntax in Syntactic Structures (1957). Whatever empirical data are studied, syntax or poems, face painting or pottery, the goal is ideologically humanist: the proper study of humankind is the human mind. (“Darwin and Derrida” 47)
Accordingly, the present study also moves along these lines, participating in such efforts at recuperation in a cognitive key of critics with formalist-structuralist leanings. This offers something against the charge that cognitive approaches downplay their historical roots and affiliations (Richardson and Steen accept this critique from Adler and Gross) by noting possible common sources for ideas about spatial structure in metaphor and its bodily basis. And it will help bring into focus consensus, contention, and yet-uncharted regions of contact between Frye and cognitive poeticians.
As for post-structuralism, Hamilton perhaps overstates in saying that “Post-structuralism seems inevitably post-Frye: he appears to belong to an earlier tradition, the assumptions, premises, and values of which have become alien” (Anatomy 7). It is true that Frye has been rebuked for sitting out the apotheosis of Theory. Leroy Searle supplies a glaring instance. He says, bizarrely, that “the way that theory [Frye’s Anatomy] was put together, while it now seems parochial, relied almost exclusively on work done in departments of literature” (“Afterword” 856). And then:
Frye’s recommendation of “naïve induction,” to try to find in literature alone an account of literary meaning, now appears not only naïve but precritical. One simply cannot proceed in ignorance of logic and philosophy, innocent of linguistics, isolated from intellectual history and anthropological learning and reflection, just as one cannot presume to be immune to practical and political considerations in reading and writing of any form. (858)
Searle may not be accusing Frye of ignorance of philosophy, linguistics, intellectual history, and anthropology (it is hard to imagine how anyone who has read Frye could lay this charge), but only arguing that readers (presumably only professional readers) need these things to analyze literary meaning. In any case, there is considerable irony in the fact that, in sticking with his simple categories of myth and metaphor, Frye has turned out to be more prescient about meaning than those who pushed the assumptions of Saussurean structuralism into all the post-structuralist paradoxes of sliding and disintegrating signification. (We will examine the connections and contrasts among a spectrum of these views of thought and meaning in more detail in later chapters.)
There may then be a further irony in an attempt to relate those simple categories to a movement in cognitive science and linguistics, especially given the cautions issued earlier about the pitfalls of connecting disciplines. But cognitive science has repeatedly found that what is simple for humans in their everyday lives can turn out, at lower levels of analysis, to be enormously complex. Speaking is easy for us; language is very complex. Seeing things is easy for us; vision is very complex. Moving across a room is easy for us, but such movement is very complex. As long as we are careful about how we connect myth and metaphor with the sciences of mind, the simple with the complex, we may be rewarded with clarification of both.
The cognitive critics I will be considering in this chapter share still more specific similarities of aims, assumptions, and principles with Frye. Like Frye, the conceptual party generally seeks to disclose how conventional metaphors and models underlie thought, language, and literature. The conceptual theory of metaphor was born in George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s book Metaphors We Live By (1980). It soon developed rapidly in several directions. Johnson’s The Body in the Mind (1987) developed in detail the implications of the concept of “image schemas”, the central conceptual structure underlying metaphor that the earlier book had discovered. In the same year, Lakoff’s Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things worked out an extensive theory of thought (categories and concepts in particular) in terms of “idealized cognitive models” which are often metaphorical and image-schematic. Turner’s Death is the Mother of Beauty (1987) deals more directly with literature, examining poetic metaphor in terms of models deriving from conceptual metaphors using source domains of generation and kinship. Lakoff and Turner’s More Than Cool Reason (1989) is probably the most important and influential book on cognitive approaches to poetic metaphor. It analyzes how generic schemas behind metaphor enter into metaphoric elaboration, composition and coherence (chapter 2); how a text conveys a global effect as a whole statement that builds on local metaphors (chapter 3); and how large cognitive and cultural models such as the chain of being frame metaphors, establishing hierarchical and analogical relations among their elements (chapter 4). Turner’s Reading Minds (1991), subtitled “The Study of English in the Age of Cognitive Science,” focuses on the conventional unconscious conceptual patterns embedded in everyday language as the grounding of all special use of language and concepts in literary art.
Lakoff and Johnson and others have persisted in this general strategy of inferring relatively stable cognitive models underlying language, while expanding it by connecting it with other fields and topics. Frye also seeks larger patterns, or larger applications of patterns, often observing structural analogies across multiple specific models, which Lakoff and Johnson do not generally concern themselves with. And Words With Power does describe a vast composite metaphor: literary cosmology is understood specifically as the metaphorical structuring of the target domain of consciousness by a variety of scalar source domains (151)—thus the title of Part Two, “Variations on a Theme”. Also unlike Lakoff and Johnson, Frye discusses what Talmy (“Fictive Motion”) calls simultaneous “discrepant representations” of fictional and literal “ception”: “Just as myth says both ‘This happened’ and ‘This can hardly have happened in precisely this way,’ so metaphor with the ‘is’ predicate says explicitly ‘A is B’ (e.g. ‘Joseph is a fruitful bough,’ Genesis 49:22), and conveys implicitly the sense ‘A is quite obviously not B, and nobody but a fool would imagine that Joseph really was,’ etc.” (72). [. . .]
We now turn (to use the rhetorical figure that Frye dubs the “topotropism” [AC 336]) to a more detailed comparison and integration of the theories of metaphor and thought of the two parties.
1.1. Agenda of Comparison and Integration
I find seven principal points of agreement on thought and meaning in language and literature between Frye and conceptual metaphor theorists Lakoff, Johnson and Turner. It is these with which we shall be concerned:
- two linked processes are basic to conceptualization: first, sequentially scanning something occurring in time; then “summarizing” such processes in a “spatial” way
- metaphor is conceptual, not solely linguistic, as diverse linguistic expressions have an underlying systematicity
- metaphoric conceptualization relies largely on the spatial (“image-schematic”) structure of concepts
- image-schematic metaphoric structure is pervasive in thought and meaning, from micro-levels, in meanings of words (e.g. in etymology, and connectives like “in”, “and”, “on”, “over”, “through”, etc.), sentences, and rhetorical figures, to macro-levels, in cultural models, literary imagery and narrative, reason, philosophical systems, and cosmologies
- the basis for image schemas is the human body’s experience of interaction with a spatial environment (its overall structure, and the entities in it)
- meaning and interpretation (linguistic and literary) require linking texts with a context of metaphors and models conventional in language and culture
- a text’s power of “resonance” derives from the coherence of its metaphoric structure with such structures of knowledge, and with their grounding in experience
The two parties are divided by large differences of scholarly focus and style. Frye’s work, rooted in traditional humanistic scholarship, is much more concerned with religion, cultural history, the relation of culture to individual and social life, and with the details of individual authors and texts than are Lakoff, Johnson and Turner. He does not much engage their concerns with technical linguistic and scientific matters, such as syntax, logic, mathematics, the origins of language, or the relation of culture to brain science and evolution. But both sides at least touch on the specialties of the other.
We can also point to differences of detail within the common ground:
- Frye’s insights into conceptual systematicity in metaphoric models appear often, but are incidental to his explicit theory of metaphor, which concentrates on the psychological experience of “identification.”
- The conceptual party are more consistently and thoroughly schematic about perception, conception, and language, whereas Frye sees meaning as more conventional and contextual. For him, the meaning of the word “in” is determined by context, and does not have a basic (physical “container”) meaning (GC 59). Lakoff and Johnson argue that we have one word and one emergent concept “in” for various uses, but the image-schematic conceptualization of it is basic, and non-physical extensions are metaphorical (Metaphors 59-60).
- In literary and cultural metaphor, both propose that a fundamental organizing vertical “axis” metaphor grounds cultural developments like the Chain of Being. But Frye sees kernel concrete images (e.g. Jacob’s ladder) as primary (WP 158), organizing schematic images as verbal developments (164-67) (e.g. “the scale, or measurement by degrees”) (167), and theories (e.g. the hierarchical cosmology) as later rationalizations (167-70) (WP 158). Lakoff and Turner treat schematic metaphor (e.g. the metaphors of quantity and quality in terms of a vertical SCALE) as primary, cognitive models (e.g. the Great Chain) as built out of them, and concrete images as filling in metaphors and models (More, chapter 5).
- The conceptual party postulates conceptual parts and relations and processes—source and target, image schemas, figure vs. ground, scanning and summarizing, mapping, etc.—and so can investigate the details and principles of how composition of elements (linguistic and literary) are composed. Frye’s patterns generalize rudimentary metaphoric structure to cover several examples, and so stresses that his patterns are contexts not essences. This enables him to observe structural analogies across multiple specific models that the conceptual party overlooks (e.g. Freudian psychology and Marxist politics both invert the Chain of Being’s traditional top-down flow of causation and value).
- Frye agrees that fundamental concepts and beliefs are metaphorical, but celebrates self-consciously mythical and metaphoric “vision” as a shareable alternative to stock response and divisive “positions.” For the conceptual party, poetic metaphor goes beyond and even questions ordinary metaphor (More 67-72), but their stress is on how metaphor structures automatic everyday thought.
- Lakoff and Johnson say individuals have multiple worldviews (Philosophy 511). Frye recognizes openness, plurality, and fluidity within and across models, mythologies, and the individuals who hold them, but tends to talk in terms of single mythologies or worldviews for individuals and cultures.
Midway along the journey of our lifeI woke to find myself in a dark wood,for I had wandered off from the straight path (67),
A bounded space with an interior and an exterior is an [. . .] extremely skeletal and schematic image. Sometimes we map this image-schema onto other images, such as our relatively rich image of a house [. . .] or the outline of a country on a map. But we can also map [it] onto abstract target domains that themselves do not inherently contain images, such as wakefulness, alertness, and living. [. . .] When we understand a scene, we naturally structure it in terms of such elementary image-schemas. Prepositions are the means English has for expressing these schematic spatial relations, [. . .] [which also] structure abstract domains, as in “in love,” “out of power,” and so on. (Lakoff and Turner, More 97-98)
- a culture’s metaphors interconnect, forming systems;
- the broadest system is a world or cosmos;
- that world is personal, charged with forces and values;
- such systems are organized by body-based orientational metaphors;
- and literary power comes from a work’s resonance with these systems.
A great number of prepositions are spatial metaphors, most of them derived from the orientation of the human body. Every use of “up,” “down,” “besides,” “on the other hand,” “under” implies a subconscious diagram in the argument, whatever it is. [. . .] Very often a “structure” or “system” of thought can be reduced to a diagrammatic pattern—in fact both words are to some extent synonyms of diagram. [. . .] All division and categorization, the use of chapters, the topotropism [. . .] signalled by “let us now turn to” or “reverting to the point made earlier,” the sense of what “fits” the argument, the feeling that one point is “central” and another peripheral, has some kind of geometrical basis. [. . .] I question whether it is really possible to make B depend on A without in some measure hanging it on, or involve B with A without in some measure wrapping them up. (AC 335-36)
For centuries the theory of music included a good deal of cosmological speculation, and the symmetrical grammar of classical music [. . .] makes it something of a mandala of the ear. We hear the resonance of this mandala of possibilities in every piece of music we listen to. Occasionally we feel that what we are listening to epitomizes, so to speak, our whole musical experience with special clarity: our profoundest response [. . .] [is] something like “This is the voice of music”—this is what music is all about. Such a sense of authority [. . .] comes mainly from the resonance of all our aural experience within that piece of music. [. . .] The classic or masterpiece is a source of such a response that won’t go away [. . .]. Anatomy of Criticism presents a vision of literature as forming a total schematic order, interconnected by recurring or conventional myths and metaphors, which I call archetypes. [. . .] I am providing a kind of resonance for literary experience, a third dimension, so to speak, in which the work we are experiencing draws strength and power from everything else we have read or may still read. [. . .] [T]he strength and power do not stop with the work out there, but pass into us. (SM 118-19)
may not be growing out of a personal metaphor. We often run into diagrammatic illustrations, like the divided line in Plato’s Republic, and other diagrams are implied by the connectives used. Some things are higher and other things lower; on the one hand we have this, on the other hand that; some data are inside us and others outside. Metaphorical connectives of this kind suggest the orientation of a human body in space. (13)
Words With Power also modifies Anatomy’s argument, dropping the terms “archetype” and “anagogy” but maintaining focus on the context of “total form”. First, literature is analyzed in terms of three “factors of the poetic”: a narrative of the loss and regaining of identity, a pattern of imagery creating an argument that separates a world of metaphorical unity from its demonic opposite, and a rhetoric of example and illustration (WP 121). Second, Frye thematically specifies the central cosmic pillar: “We may say, with many qualifications, that images of ascent are connected with the intensifying of consciousness, and images of descent with the reinforcing of it by other forms of awareness, such as fantasy or dream” (151). Third, he distinguishes between “the set of images that form the metaphorical kernels of the vision”, and the “hierarchical cosmology” of nature as a structure or system, which derives from it (158-59), and is primarily ideological rather than poetic (“In the foreground of these cosmologies are the structures and ideologies of social authority that they do so much to rationalize” ). Its three aspects are more fully articulated as the cosmological chain, the quasi-scientific Ptolemaic cosmos, and Frye’s preferred four-level theological version (166-70). Fourth, he argues that literary imagery and structure derive from four “primary concerns” based in the body but developing spiritual aspects: “the concern to make and create, the concern to love, the concern to sustain oneself and assimilate the environment, with its metaphorical kernel of food, and the concern to escape from slavery and restraint” (139). Further, following a narrative is closely related to a journey, so his earlier observation of diagrammatic skeletons underlying conceptual systems (120) gets linked with the quasi-visual “‘thematic stasis’ or simultaneous apprehension” prompted by the end of a narrative movement, and the specific vertical structure of the diagram: “as there is no more narrative to keep us moving ahead, our perspective shifts to an up-and-down vertical pattern. Out of this emerges the central metaphor of the axis mundi, a vertical line running from the top to the bottom of the cosmos” (151).
Along the same lines, for the conceptual party too, image schemas are rarely experienced as independent entities. They also stress the role of spatial connectives (especially orientational ones) in organizing groups of metaphors, and the way schemas interconnect in patterns of force to structure our worlds:
By virtue of such superimpositions our world begins to take shape as a highly structured, value-laden, and personalized realm in which we feel the pull of our desires, pursue our ends, cope with our frustrations, and celebrate our joys. Much of the structure, value, and purposiveness we take for granted as built into our world consists chiefly of interwoven and superimposed schemata [. . .] (Johnson, Body 125-126)
Guiding this interweaving is a class of metaphors that
does not structure one concept in terms of another but instead organizes a whole system of concepts with respect to one another. [. . .] [M]ost of them have to do with spatial orientation: up-down, in-out, front-back, on-off, deep-shallow, central-peripheral. These spatial orientations arise from the fact that we have bodies of the sort we have and that they function as they do in our physical environment. (Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphors 14)
Happy, Conscious, Health and Life, Control or Force, More, Good and Reason are UP, whereas Sad, Unconscious, Sickness and Death, Lack of Control or Force, Less, Bad and Emotion are DOWN (15-17). Metaphors manifesting these relations cohere with the deepest values of a culture. They are not a collection of separate cases, nor the result of mere convention. Metaphors using the other spatial relations pairs as listed have a roughly positive-negative charge (cf. Krzeszowski, “Axiological”). So “coherence among metaphors is a major source of the power of poetry”, and the resonance of a work depends on the coherence of its metaphors—with each other, with their grounding experiences, and with the culture’s metaphoric system (Lakoff and Turner, More 56-89). Let us inspect the forces of these metaphoric worlds. I suggest that image schemas are the main elements of the literary cosmos, and in that cosmos (as with other metaphor systems) they are superimposed and interwoven to organize it and its attendant tradition of narrative and imagery.
1.5. Image-Schematic Metaphor in Literature
Johnson’s survey of image schemas explores their “pervasiveness in our experience,” their internal structure, and their “range of metaphorical elaborations [. . .] in our understanding of more abstract domains” (Body 117). We can see how he covers some of the very patterns that Frye analyzes in terms of concrete image “kernels,” schematic structure, ranges of metaphors based on structural variations, and how they interconnect. Let us survey some of these, building from the simple to complex.
Johnson identifies typical characteristics that follow from path structure, and are often projected in metaphor. Motion along a path from one point to another means “you have passed through all the intermediate points”; because humans have purposes in traversing paths they tend to impose directionality on them, and move from point A toward point B; and we can map temporal dimensions onto them, so that further points along the path are reached later in time (114).
Physical journeys embody paths, and of course very many stories involve a journey of some kind. The “quest” kind departs from a familiar starting point like “home”, to head towards a distant, exotic place, confronting various perilous obstacles along the way, in order to find some special person, place or thing. Frye’s discussions are much denser and richer than a sketch emphasizing schematic qualities shows. The Anatomy elaborates in considerable detail on the quest-romance’s mythological and historical roots, various forms, and analogies with ritual and dream (AC 186-96). But it is the recognition of the schematic form that underpins those rich analogies. Words With Power discusses the journey’s metaphoric connection with following a narrative, and then with the idea of a “way of life”. The journey has variant forms in straight versus divergent and narrow versus broad ways, “the choice-of-Hercules or Y journey”, which produces a haunting “road not taken”, the interrupted journey, the involuntary journey, the meandering romantic journey of continual discovery, and in quests that become cycles or spirals. Jesus’s “I am the way” explodes the metaphor, of “the effort to go there in order to arrive here”, because the goal of the quest, Jesus himself, is already present (WP 90-96).
Frye does not specifically say that the journey/ quest can map onto any action whatever (and action in general), by instantiating the PATH image schema, as Lakoff and Johnson do with their analysis of the metaphor Actions are Movements (Philosophy 187-94). But he does note that “The word ‘way’ is a good example of the extent to which language is built up on a series of metaphorical analogies”, as it can mean “a method or manner of procedure, but method and manner imply some sequential repetition, and the repetition brings us to the metaphorical kernel of a road or path”, with its related meanings in straight, winding, or funny “ways” to do something, and so on (WP 91).
The action that ends by returning to some original state is another great organizing pattern in literature. It is said to be based on the important cycles in nature: day, month, seasons of the year, stages of life etc. Also cyclical are Frye’s model of cultural history (Anatomy, Essay 1), his four seasonal archetypal mythoi (Essay 3), and his maps of genres (Essay 4). Conceptualizing a CYCLE seems to involve symbolizing an event as a PATH configured such that the SOURCE is also the GOAL (cf. Cienki, “Some Properties” 12). Certainly cyclical journeys must describe physical paths (e.g. leaving home then returning), even if fictional, but many other literary cycles need not. Natural cycles, actions with little motion, and narration itself, may all have qualities that are only metaphorically cyclical. Like Frye, Johnson represents a cycle as a circular motion, but does not stress the relation of circle to cycle. His many examples, natural (bodily and environmental) and conventional (various elements of clocks and schedules) show that our cycles are multiple and overlapping, and may harmonize or clash (Body 119-21). Cycles are primarily temporal, and separable from spatial motion, though these very often co-occur (e.g. going to work every morning, coming home every evening).
1.5.3. Axis/ Scale
For Johnson, the SCALE image schema, the concept of a vertical axis, is the basis for all the metaphors that take UP as meaning MORE of some quantity or quality, and DOWN as meaning n LESS. Quantitatively, we can add or take away from groups of objects or amounts of substances (making them go up or down). Qualitatively, “we experience objects and events as having certain degrees of intensity” like brightness, heat, force, feeling (Body 122). In general, we experience the world “partly in terms of more, less, and the same” (122) and this abstract sense of amount or degree is the basis of the schema. A SCALE can be symbolized as an ascending PATH. But unlike PATHS, SCALES imply a fixed directionality, a cumulative character, and a normative character (122-23).
For Frye, the “vertical line running from the top to the bottom of the cosmos” (WP 151) is a metaphor of a scale of human value, or desire. It does not exist in nature, and hence appears to be based on the body’s vertical orientation. This axis mundi is the most important schema in his work. He justifies his “total form” approach mainly by demonstrating its pervasive and coherent role in literature and culture. It is essential to defining patterns of ascent, descent, arc and spiral. Some essays also suggest that the axis mundi organizes narratives and genres by functioning as a continuum: groups of specific images can be ordered along it into a whole, defining their locations, and relations among them (e.g. SM 160-67, on antimasque and masque characters experiencing levels of being from chaos to divine cosmos by physical movement or metamorphosis, and SM 162 on the similar alchemical symbolism, in terms of transformation of substances, of upwards transformation of the soul from original sin to original identity).
Lakoff and Turner similarly recognize a “highly articulated version” of the Great Chain of Being, based on the SCALE and still existing through a wide range of world cultures, “as a contemporary unconscious cultural model indispensable to our understanding of ourselves, our world, and our language” (More 167). They analyze the component conceptual metaphors, commonsense theories, and communicative principles that define several versions of it. Though they do not discuss movement along the Chain, they examine analogical linking across levels, as in proverbs—when, for example, animals are compared to people (“when the cat’s away, the mice will play”), or sense is compared to thought (“blind blames the ditch”). Because the Chain metaphor is applicable to our knowledge of everything it contains, “it allows us to comprehend general human character traits in terms of well-understood nonhuman attributes; and, conversely, it allows us to comprehend less well-understood aspects of the nature of animals and objects in terms of better-understood human characteristics” (172).
Much more could be said about how these thinkers use these and other schemas. SPLITTING is also important for Frye, part of the fundamental narrative pattern of dialectical movement towards separating opposed worlds. CONTAINER manipulations are characteristic of his thought and rhetoric. For example, the frequent use of “interpenetration” (see note 27); “Suppose we turned this explanation inside out” (GC 64) and similar locutions. They are also important in various kinds of literary patterning. Translating image-schematic Biblical expressions has far-reaching implications: the kingdom of God is entos hymon, which could be translated as “within you” or “among you”, but entos as “within” you is more psychological, whereas “among” you is more social (54-55). The account of the psychological derangement Adam and Eve undergo in Paradise Lost superimposes force vectors as “drives” onto containers as selves:
When appetite is perverted into passion, the drives of sex and hunger are perverted into lust and greed. Passion operates in the mind as though it were an external force. [. . .] The distinction between lust and greed is that lust is a vice turned outward and affecting other people; greed is a vice that turns inward and affects oneself. (RE 72-74)
We now bump up against a central issue for extended literary discourse with its complex imagery, Let us consider the issue of how simple image schemas interconnect into more complex constructions.
1.5.4. Sine Waves and Narrative Arcs
For Johnson, circles represent temporal cycles whose end state is the same as their initial state; but the “climactic structure” of our experience of cycles, their “character of build-up and release”, is best represented by a “sine wave with its periodic ‘rise’ and ‘fall’” (Body 119-120). The axis schema also allows Frye to describe action in terms of patterns of movement between high and low points. It is essential to his understanding not just of ascent (anabasis) and descent (catabasis) narratives (e.g. SeS chapters 5 and 4, and WP chapters 5-6 and 7-8), but also implicitly of “cyclical” and other actions. The Anatomy distinguishes upper and lower halves of the natural cycle, then associates the upper with romance, the lower with “realism” or experience, and movements down and up with tragedy and comedy (AC 162). The Bible’s narrative structure is a “manic-depressive chart,” taking its protagonists from experiences analogous to heaven to those analogous to hell, and back again repeatedly (GC 169-171). Overall, since it leads towards a “deliverance,” the Bible has a “U-shape,” which “recurs in literature as the standard shape of comedy, where a series of misfortunes and misunderstandings brings the action to a threateningly low point, after which some fortunate twist in the plot sends the conclusion up to a happy ending” (169). By contrast, “The inverted U is the typical shape of tragedy [. . .]: it rises to a point of ‘peripety’ or reversal of action, then plunges downward to a ‘catastrophe,’ a word which contains the figure of ‘turning down’” (176). Hence comic and tragic “arcs” are halves of Johnson’s sine wave.
Much hangs on the validity of characterizing complex actions in such schematic terms. Johnson’s account of cyclic experiences already assumes this extra dimension of actions—everyday actions of varying duration and complexity—characterized simultaneously according to ontological structure (i.e. participants, roles, relations, basic actions) and to patterns of intensity and value (i.e. build-up and release). His relatively simple sine-wave can apply to various integrated personal experiences in the world (such as a kick, jump, throw, etc., but also sex, listening to a song, a party, etc.), but it is already an example of superimposed and interwoven schemata. Frye’s sine-waves etc. apply to much more extensive and complex patterns of literary narrative, so the question is about the legitimacy of seeing the latter in terms of the former. However, such reading is itself an integrated personal experience, and traditional notions of story “movement”, “flow”, “arc”, and conflict-tension-rising action-climax-denouement, imply that the “structure” of the work is inseparable from the emotional force-dynamic structure inspired in the reader. A perhaps related point is that it is not uncommon to frame large-scale experience in such terms (e.g. periods of our lives, or of histories of various kinds). So I see no obstacle in principle to developing this connection.
Spiral movements interweave in a highly integrated single image several major image schemas and at least four orientation-direction vectors: forward along a PATH, vertically along a SCALE, CYCLICALLY around a sequence of parallel sets of stages, inward toward a CENTRE, and possibly through nested CONTAINERS. Frye notes that simple upward movement is closely linked to
the immensely long tradition in ritual and literature of ziggurat imagery, where the theme is the climbing of a tower or a mountain representing the hierarchies of being. This latter is as old an archetype as civilization affords: it is the basis of Dante’s Purgatorio, and is going strong as ever in Yeats, Eliot, and Ezra Pound, whose “Dioce” goes back to Herodotus and his description of the original towers of Ecbatana and Babylon. [. . .] In narrative poetry the sequence usually goes up some kind of spiral climb. (SM 162-63)
This pattern perhaps shows best the importance of coherently interconnected image schemas in forming distinctly cultural archetypes that a.) cohere with a wide range of other patterns of image and narrative, b.) cohere with a range of basic, major conventional metaphors, and therefore c.) recall, resonate with and integrate our total literary experience; but d.) have no plausible basis in ordinary experience, seeming to derive instead from the imaginative/ aesthetic impulse to integrate multiple metaphoric images as fully as possible. Hence the spiral or ziggurat is not recognized as an image-schematic compound or grouping by the conceptual party, and marks the distinctive purview of culture.
1.5.6. Circular Diagrams
Frye describes some overall narrative movements with a clock-like cyclical pattern of descent and return, mainly in deeply traditional (not necessarily conservative) writings: Homer (AC 318-19), the Bible (GC 174-76), Milton (RE 18-21), and Eliot (TSE 77-79). And he famously proposes that his four mythoi (romance, tragedy, irony, comedy), as they correspond to the four stages of the romance quest, can be seen as aspects of a “central unifying myth” (AC 192). Frye’s diagrams recall mandala images, and the hypothetical “monomyth” sketched by himself, and by many others. These integrate “sine-wave” narrative patterns (with their assumed axis) with the cycle as return to source. The circular maps of mythoi phases and genres use different (non-sequential) spatial metaphors: the circle is a categorial spectrum, where similarity is proximity, contrast is opposition, and extremes are cardinal points.
1.5.7. The Poetic Cosmos
Consider an economical statement of Frye’s “literary cosmology” principle:
From the beginning the poetic imagination has inhabited a middle earth. Above it is the sky with whatever it reveals or conceals: below it is a mysterious place of birth and death from whence animals and plants proceed and to which they return. There are therefore four primary narrative movements in literature. These are, first, the descent from a higher world; second, the descent to a lower world; third, the ascent from a lower world; and, fourth, the ascent to a higher world. All stories in literature are complications of, or metaphorical derivations from, these four narrative radicals.
Explicitly for the first eighteen centuries of the Christian era, and implicitly after and long before that, these patterns of ascent and descent have been spread over a mythological universe consisting of four main levels, two above our own, and one below it. The highest level is heaven, the place of the presence of God [. . .]. Level two is the earthly paradise or Garden of Eden, where man lived before the fall. The associations of the word “fall” suggest that Eden is to be thought of as the highest point in the world, as it is geographically in Dante. Level three is the world of ordinary experience we now live in. Animals and plants seem to be well adjusted to this world, but man, though born in it, is not of it: his natural home is level two, where God intended him to live. Level four is the demonic world or hell, in Christianity not part of the order of nature but an autonomous growth, usually placed below ground. (SeS 97-98)
We are interested in this cosmology’s organizing structures, which are orientational image schemas that a.) supply major structure by linking many regions of the cosmos; b.) are interconnected coherently; c.) enter into general metaphors of value. Its chief metaphor is a SCALE of imaginative or spiritual DESIRE, projected onto an imagined world. I use Frye’s word “desire”, because it is meant to suggest a broader context wherein the physical, intellectual, emotional, moral, aesthetic and spiritual dimensions the SCALE implies are related to one another. As briefly mentioned, Krzeszowski shows that many other image schemas, especially orientational ones with opposing poles (like IN-OUT, FRONT-BACK, etc.), also have a roughly positive-negative charge, which is fairly stable across contexts of use, including when they are used in metaphors. He calls his image-schematic parameter PLUS-MINUS, and suggests that GOOD and BAD are the most general of axiological concepts, as being “least context sensitive”, and having the “largest scope of application.” They can emerge from “practically all preconceptual image schemata and refer to values at all levels of the axiological hierarchy” (“Axiological” 326). (Krzeszowski means a hierarchy of abstraction, from basic bodily experience to more complex actions to linguistic expressions, etymologies, and metaphors [310-11].) But Frye’s desire is more concrete and personal, and also includes good and bad in a broader sense, beyond the basic moral implications of those terms.
But it is difficult to untangle even such fundamental metaphoric images as this SCALE from others. Instead they are already compound: subworlds within the cosmos are ordered as regions distinguished by boundaries but linked as vertical levels. When we project into it an agent who moves and perceives and acts, this world becomes a setting for scenes, and some key principles of metaphoric narrative fall out. The metaphors ACTIONS ARE MOTIONS and STATES ARE LOCATIONS become available: movements within the cosmos afford (that is, allow or suggest but do not determine) certain intuitive meanings and valuations (e.g. movement forwards is progress beyond some prior state; movement upwards is change to some superior state). Further, specific images participate in or echo its structure (e.g. the ziggurat). Just as interconnected and superimposed image schemas give coherence to experience, so narrative and imagery based on that gives coherence and resonance to our experience of symbolic worlds.
To push his analysis to achieve the broadest meaningful generality, Frye focuses on the role of such central structures in creating coherences across works, and other areas of culture. But he recognizes that his very general model works like scaffolding, and that many other metaphors and myths find places within it. So it should be possible to examine how organizing structures beyond the axis mundi are integrated in that model and used in literature. For example, Frye’s “The Times of the Signs” contrasts the metaphoric values implied by Ptolemy’s geocentric cosmology with those of Copernicus’s heliocentric cosmology (SM 66-96). “The Drunken Boat” shows how another dimension of bodily orientation, the IN / OUT schema, has a structural role in the poetic cosmos that interacts with its UP / DOWN structure (StS 200-17). The interaction is revealed in the shift in Romantic cosmologies from looking outwards and upwards for the divine to looking inwards and downwards (cf. Ekberg, “Mental”, esp. her concluding remarks, 84-86). Words With Power returns to the point, discussing cosmological inversions in Blake, Rousseau, Marx, Freud, Darwin and others (172-74; 239-52, esp. 241-43, 248). At present, though, we want to examine how the central version of Frye’s model used in Dante’s Divine Comedy tends toward a maximally coherent integration of relatively few image-schematic metaphors, which greatly intensifies the work’s conceptual and emotional resonance. The first step here, however, is to ask how to assess metaphorical coherence.
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