A PDF version of the program for the symposium can be obtained here.

The cognitive analysis of literary works and other aesthetic productions has opened new paths towards the integration of the knowledge that is developing in the cognitive sciences (including the neurosciences) into our understanding of human creativity and artistic enjoyment and appreciation. This approach strives to understand how words, rhythms, melodies, and visual patterns can stir the human mind and body with such intensity while, at the same time, delivering meaningful knowledge and ushering in new perceptions. Cognitive poetics is attuned to the dynamic of research in numerous fields and is, at the same time, challenged by the emergence of new creative media.

The purpose of this interdisciplinary virtual symposium is to further the exploration of a few selected research themes in cognitive poetics and to explore the application of interdisciplinary methods of literary analysis developed by this new approach to other media such as the visual, haptic, kinetic, and acoustic arts.

As a part of this virtual symposium, a three-day workshop (June 10-12, 2009) will endeavor to examine in depth the principles and methods of cognitive poetics, to take stock of the achievements of this pluri-disciplinary approach to literary studies, and to further explore and expand its comprehensive understanding beyond the realm of the language arts, thus fully exploiting the potential suggested by the term (poiesis=creation) that involves perception, cognition, imagination and emotion, in addition to mere construction, structuring, and codification.

Traditional rhetoric and poetics were initially elaborated with reference to classical literary texts. Aristotle and his followers were concerned with categorizing genres and identifying proper discourse strategies toward the goals of convincing, moving, creating fear or pleasure. They abstracted the structure of a “good” plot, and reflected upon the merits of imitation and imagination, and listed typical prescriptions for using language to these ends. The normative study of literary tropes and figures remained for centuries an important part of the Humanities curriculum. However, during the 20th century, semiotics emancipated the very notions of poetics from the realm of poetry and literature in general, and the concepts that were developed under this name became applicable not only to non-literary texts but also to images, painting, advertising, music and films, and every day forms of language uses. Expressions such as “the poetics of prose”, “the poetics of the press”, “the poetics of science fiction”, were, and are still commonly found.

Yet, these formalistic approaches considered structures as fundamentally disembodied and fell short of accounting for the deep involvement of the readers or the audience. As a reaction, the application of psychoanalytical theories to the understanding of literature endeavored to refocus critical attention on the body but, in spite of interesting insights that much broadened earlier author-centered psychocriticism, many perceived the attempts to bring Freudism or Lacanism in this epistemological landscape as being too peculiar, perhaps too clinical.

This later move was nevertheless symptomatic of a felt need to foreground the psychological dimension that an obsession with impersonal structures tended to overlook. The second half of the 20th century witnessed the emergence of a new paradigm in psychology: the cognitive sciences, which focused attention on mental states and processes rather than on externally observable behavior. It soon influenced some linguists who were longing for a vision of language that would be more comprehensive than the quest for disembodied syntactic algorithms which then dominated the field. The last three decades saw the progressive development of linguistic schools which brought in the purview of their methods of inquiry language used in context with all the richness of the cultural knowledge it encodes and the emotive and esthetic potential it carries. The iconicity movement brought to the foreground the crucial interface between perception and language (e.g., Bybee 1985; Haiman 1985a, 1985b). Following the landmark books Metaphors We Live By (Lakoff & Johnson 1980), and Mental Spaces (Fauconnier 1985), three influential works appeared in the same year (Johnson 1987, Lakoff 1987, and Langacker 1987). Cognitive linguistics has contributed to firmly anchor language in its mental, corporeal, social and environmental contexts. Classical and semiotic notions such as, for instance, categories, metaphors, iconicity, and style have been critically assessed and radically redefined in a way that foregrounds their centrality, and new notions have emerged such as mental space, collocation, prototypes, scripts and schemas, and text worlds, to name only a few.

Cognitive poetics is a developing epistemological movement in literary and media studies that takes stock of this theoretical shift, and exploits the new intellectual resources that this paradigm affords to study, understand, and explain literary texts as well as other forms of esthetic productions. It can be tentatively defined as an emerging multidisciplinary paradigm in its own right in the sense that it draws its inspiration and methods not only from cognitive linguistics and cognitive psychology, but also from cultural, social, and evolutionary psychology, notably the psychology of emotions and the semiotics of passions. The roots of this movement in literary studies can be found in earlier approaches that focused on the reader’s response but its scope and depth has been much expanded and renewed in the framework of the cognitive revolution. It also builds on some achievements of the late 20th century semiotics, notably in narratology, the “sémiotique des passions”, and the theory of iconicity. Like all nascent paradigms, cognitive poetics has its founders, its textbooks, and its exemplary works. It also has a challenging agenda.

After the posting of the position papers that were discussed during the symposium in June 2009, other scholars are invited to submit comments and papers to be added to this virtual version of the event that will remain indefinitely online.


Bybee, J.L. (1985). Morphology: A Study of the Relation between Meaning and Form. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Fauconnier, G. (1985). Mental Spaces: Aspects of Meaning Construction in Natural Language.. Cambridge: MIT Press.

–––––. (1997). Mappings in Thought and Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Freeman, M. (1995). “Metaphor Making Meaning: Dickinson’s Conceptual Universe”. Journal of Pragmatics 24.6 (643-666).

–––––. (1998). “Metaphors of Mind: Analogical Mapping in Teaching Poetry”. Pedagogical Quaterly of Cognitive Linguistics 1.1 http://pqcl.indstate.edu/ .

–––––. (2002). “Cognitive Mapping in Literary Analysis”. Style 36.3 (466-483).

Freeman Margaret, H. "The Fall of the Wall between Literary Studies and Linguistics: Cognitive Poetics." In Cognitive Linguistics: Current Applications and Future Perspectives. Ed. Gitte Kristiansen et al. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2006 (403-428).

Gavins, J. & Steen, G. (eds.) (2003). Cognitive Poetics in Practice. London: Routledge.

Haiman, J. (1985a). Natural Syntax. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Haiman, J. (ed.) (1985b). Iconicity in Syntax. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Johnson, M. (1987). The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, G. (1987). Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M.(1980). Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Langacker, R. (1987). Foundations of Cognitive Grammar. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Miall, D. (2006). Literary Reading: Empirical and Theoretical Studies. New York: Peter Lang.

Nänny, M. & Fischer, O. (eds.) (1999). Form Miming Meaning. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Stockwell, P. (2002) Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction. London: Routledge.

–––––. (2003). “Surreal Figures”. In Cognitive Poetics in Practice. Gavins, J. & Steen, G. (eds.). London: Routledge (37-60).

Tsur, R. (1992). Toward a Theory of Cognitive Poetics. Amsterdam: North Holland.

–––––. (1998). Poetic Rhythm: Structure and PerformanceAn Empirical Study in Cognitive Poetics. Bern: Peter Lang.

–––––. (2002). “Some Cognitive Foundations of ‘Cultural Programs’”. Poetics Today 23.1 (63-89).