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  • Deictic Projection and Conceptual Blending in Epistolarity
  • Vimala Herman (bio)

Among the many figurative modes of thought and forms of conceptual structuring that cognitive studies have made available, mental space projection and conceptual blending are particularly relevant for this study. Mental spaces can be projected, changed, and tracked as dynamic and continuous activity in discourse. Elements and partial structure from input spaces can be blended into new, original, and creatively constructed spaces. Blending processes are particularly valuable in helping us analyze the creative transformation in deictic scenarios that occur when deictic centers are imaginatively projected and transposed in discourse. This is particularly the case in the epistolary genre, which seeks to transmute the absences that are endemic to the genre into the presences of the face-to-face via deictic projection.

This essay seeks to explore the phenomenon of deixis, and in particular, its projected and displaced workings as it functions in the literary genre of epistolarity. Deictic projections require the displacement of the origo and its spatiotemporal coordinates into other imagined or remembered centers. Both memory and imagination are, of course, mentally constructed, and recent work in mental spaces and blending is used in order to explore the mediating power of mind in our understanding of deictic usages. The genre of epistolarity, as a genre of letters, makes highly creative uses of deictic projections. Deictic devices are employed to transform the disconnected mode of communication of letter writing, and its interpersonal and spatiotemporal absences, into the shared corporeal immediacies and presences of the deictic face-to-face. This essay details relevant aspects of [End Page 523] deictic projection, and mental and blended spaces, and then seeks to apply them to the epistolary sections of A. S. Byatt’s novel Possession.

Deixis and Projection

The standard characterization of the deictic scenario is that it is one that is face-to-face with the speaker as origo (Bühler 1990 [1934]; Lyons 1977: 637; Levinson 1983: 63). There can be alternative origos in alter-centered deixis, or speaker and hearer can be bracketed together as the common ground for deictic reference (Hanks 1990). There are different kinds of deixis and deictic usages—person, place, and time are the traditional ones to which discourse and social deixis have been added, and classifications vary (Levinson 1983; Green 1995; Hanks 1990). First- and second-person pronouns both singular and plural; demonstratives like this, that; adverbs of place like here, there; time adverbs like now, then, soon, recently; and verbs like come, go are usually cited. Deictic elements and reference are deeply anchored within the corporeal context of utterance that is shared by participants. Moreover, since deictic elements are “shifters” (Jakobson 1971), reference can change with different instances of use. Whoever appropriates the pronoun I as speaker will be the object of self-reference for the duration of speech. As Karl Bühler (1990 [1934]: 119) notes: “Everyone can say I and everyone who says it indicates a different object from everyone else; as many proper names as speakers are necessary to be able to make the transition from the intersubjective ambiguity of the single word I to the sort of unequivocalness of linguistic symbols that logicians demand.”

The referent of “you,” equally, will vary with change in addressee(s). This and that used to identify objects as proximal or distal will use the origo in context as the anchor point for spatial calculations; if used presentatively or to point to something, gesture would be necessary. The object to be identified will be accessed by the eye following the presentative or directional gesture in context. Temporal calculations of “now” and “then” will be grounded in the coding time of the moment of speech in context.

There are variations and elaborations of this standard account of deixis (Lyons 1977; Rauh 1981; Hanks 1990; Fuchs 1993). Among the more creative elaborations is Bühler’s deixis am phantasma kind (imagination-oriented deixis), which involves projections of deictic centers and the origo and its coordinates into absent or imagined contexts (Hanks 1990; Haviland 1996). Bühler described three subtypes. In the first, metaphorically, “the mountain comes to Mohammed”: the imagined objects, especially if animate and movable, “often...

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pp. 523-541
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Archived 2005
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