Enthusiasm, Play, and “Cool”

Idea: Young animals of countless species have been observed engaging in play, exploring their environment, testing boundaries, and entering low-stakes simulations of behavior that will in adulthood become high-stakes (e.g. wrestling, hunting, dollhouses). In humans, playful exploration in this sense is associated with the sincere enthusiasm of discovery—young children can still be surprised or highly excited in the face of imminent newness. These patterns of behavior inevitably leave a trace in group epistemics; that is, there is a strong association in the culture, conscious or not, between  affects like enthusiasm or playfulness and the status of an organism with much to learn. Continue reading “Enthusiasm, Play, and “Cool””

Sontag v. Top-down Frames

The title of Sontag’s “Against Interpretation” is misleading, and regularly confuses readers who believe her “erotics of art” precludes interpretive dot-connecting and inference. This is not the case: the piece is more accurately titled “Against Allegorization,” or “Against Ideological Readings” — those hermeneutic approaches that set out to find “encoded” and symbolic meanings in a work of literature according to the reader’s personal schema. Continue reading “Sontag v. Top-down Frames”

Schematic Disruption

Cognitive poetics is one of the most exciting literary-theoretic subfields I’ve stumbled upon. So far as I can tell, Peter Stockwell, whose paper on resonance I’ve cited previously, is one of cognitive poetics’ primary authorities, and has written an introduction to the discipline (Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction, 2002).

Stockwell summarizes “schema theory,” a composite of different theorists’ attempts to better grasp how readers bring interpretive contexts and frameworks to texts during a literary encounter. We can understand “schemas” loosely in the way Piaget, Kant, and Schmidhuber have all used it:¹ a mental framework and interpretive system into which new ideas are tested and assimilated. Synonyms for schema include frameworkworldviewway of seeinginterpretive filter, and mental modelContinue reading “Schematic Disruption”

Corpus as Concept: Poetic Sensibilities in Literary-Theoretic Discourse

There are two parts to an argument I want to make but lack the qualifications: 1) showing poetry, and poets in large, express, across their corpus, a worldview or way of seeing; 2) showing that literary-theoretic discourse actively leverages poets as concept handles in meta-level discourse (discourse about discourse; that is, to talk about how we talk about the world, to interrogate worldviews and discourses. Reading digs a channel, a channel dug with others’ words, through which communication can pass. Poets become stand-ins for sensibilities, the mystical, religious Blake held in opposition to the more level, moderate Wordworth (as in Kirsch’s Why Trilling Matters). Or the romanticism of Wordsworth held in opposition to the chthonic, darker Coleridge (as in Paglia’s Sexual Personae). Continue reading “Corpus as Concept: Poetic Sensibilities in Literary-Theoretic Discourse”

Poets are Intelligence Assets

As I understand it, the idea in Benjamin Hoffman’s “Poets are intelligence assets” is that there’s all this ambient information about specific cultural moments which is packed into a text unintentionally. My impression is past theorists have called this, loosely, “ideology,” though the word carries deep-politic connotations. “Worldview” may be a better term, but I’m not as familiar with the theory as I should be. Continue reading “Poets are Intelligence Assets”