Wahrnehmung—Wiederholung—Vertikalität. Zur Theorie und Praxis der Kognitiven Literaturwissenschaft by Von Sophia Wege (review)
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Wahrnehmung—Wiederholung—Vertikalität. Zur Theorie und Praxis der Kognitiven Literaturwissenschaft.
Von Sophia Wege. Bielefeld: Aisthesis, 2013. 532Seiten + 36 Abbildungen. €48,00.

The present book is the author’s Ph.D. dissertation at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, consisting of 11 chapters, 6 ‘theoretical’ and 5 ‘practical’ ones (see below). It is largely a plea for a “cognitive literary studies” (Kognitive Literaturwissenschaft). But not only a plea. In a good portion of the book, the author attempts to develop models for such a cognitive approach by applying the theories laid out in the first chapters to an analysis of individual works of literature. Chapters 1 through 5 start with an overview of the developments in cognitive studies of literature over the last 15 years. There is not much new in these chapters (somewhat frustratingly for those readers who are already familiar with these developments), as this is basically a review of the literature. But it is definitely the most comprehensive account of ‘cognitive poetics’ in the German language so far. The overview also culminates in an effort to bring all the various threads together in Chapter 6.

After an introductory chapter, Chapter 2 discusses general assumptions of cognitive studies about the relationship between culture and cognition. The third chapter then deals with new developments such as Bortolussi & Dixon’s Psychonarratology. Here the distinction (and the relation) between textual features and mental processing activities is highlighted. It is in this chapter that the author introduces the notion of CMF (“Cognitive Mental Functioning”), a notion she will further employ in the rest of her study.

I found the fourth chapter somewhat erratic. Five “components” of the interaction between text and reader are introduced: reader knowledge, phonetic level, cognitive processes, mental models, and effects and emotions. Why these—and no others—remains unclear to me. Chapter 5 is marked as a digression (the typical German Exkurs), treating repetitive structures in literary texts from an evolutionary perspective, largely following the work of the late Karl Eibl. It is in Chapter 6, however, that the author brings together the various threads she has been weaving over the preceding five chapters. As a summary I found this rather superficial. It is all well and good to assert: “Der Fokus der KLW liegt auf der Körperlichkeit des Geistes und [End Page 685] der Sprache (embodied cognition / mind)” (189). But as a signpost for future chapters, it would have been more helpful to outline what precisely is meant by “embodied.” It is now a widely used term, but that does not make it a less complex matter. I suspect many readers might find the summary more persuasive if this central concept had been given some kind of operational definition to be applied in the following chapters.

Furthermore, I found that this chapter epitomized the wavering attitude toward naturalism that one encounters so frequently in cognitive studies of literature. (“Naturalism” is defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as “philosophy and science as engaged in essentially the same enterprise, pursuing similar ends and using similar methods. Methodological anti-naturalists see philosophy as disjoint from science, with distinct ends and methods”—see http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/naturalism/#Sci.) On the one hand, cognitive poetics endeavors “eine kognitionspsychologisch gestützte Erklärung der Wirkung spezifischer Textmerkmale zu geben” (188, quoted from Köppe/Winko 2008, 301). But how can that be, if the effects (“Wirkung”) of such textual features have not been investigated empirically? Such cognitive shoring boils down to a post-hoc rationale for what are essentially the analysts’ own projections about the presumed effects of textual structures. Presumed they must be, since analysts really don’t know real readers’ reactions. Is this actual progress? The future will show, but I remain skeptical. There are theoretical implications in the position of cognitive poetics, summarized by Wege as “antimetaphysische, antiidealistische, aber auch antiobjektivistische Naturalisierung des Geistes” (195). The first two are certainly to be welcomed, but why include the third? If you take the world to be explored in a scientific way, you must also recognize that this world has an objective status as ‘real.’ Why repudiate this objective nature of what...