«Thesis presented to the Faculty of Arts of the University of Zurich for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy by Mark Staff Brandl of USA and ...»
Sharpe's Contemporary Aesthetics: A Philosophical Analysis.14 I learned from all these and more. However, most crucially, I found the greatest revelation in the cognitive linguistic approach of George Lakoff and others and in the antithetical revisionist theory of Harold Bloom. Combined, they accorded genuinely with my experience of art while also electrifying me with new possibilities for understanding art, its production and its producers. Cognitive linguistic theory was first widely introduced in
Lakoff and Mark Johnson's Metaphors We Live By15 and Lakoff and Mark Turner's More than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor.16 Bloom presented his theory initially in a trilogy of books beginning with The Anxiety of Influence.17 Trope and Struggle Although also first appearing in the late 80s, cognitive metaphor and the embodied mind concept took until the turn of the millennium to begin affecting the practice and understanding of creators and scholars. Cognitive linguistics, especially the subdivision of it which I will use the most called cognitive metaphor, is largely based on the ground-breaking work of George Lakoff and his two collaborators, Mark Turner and Mark Johnson. Lakoff, who began as a student of Noam Chomsky, initiated research which led to the creation of an important interdisciplinary study of metaphor, now generally called cognitive linguistics.
Theorists involved in this approach advance the hypotheses that metaphor is the foundation of all thought, that linguistic elements are conceptually processed and that language is chiefly determined by bodily and environmental experiences.
The desire for an imminent fundamental change linked to a new understanding of trope is indeed in the air, not only for me; ever more frequently, artists and authors have begun to refer to metaphor and cognitive metaphor theory. For example, Frank Davey, a Canadian poet with an involvement in theory, states the following in an interview with Héliane Ventura in
the journal Sources:
Lakoff and Johnson suggest that many of our habitual metaphors are connected to our culture's ideological investments.... To some extent their work appears to be related to various projects of Deconstruction, in that they raise to consciousness the hidden assumptions of banally figurative language. Political and economic metaphors, they write, "can hide aspects of reality," "they constrain our lives," they "can lead to human degradation." But they also argue that ordinary language is necessarily metaphoric, that cultures need the conceptual frames of metaphor to provide perspectives and coherence.
And I recall that as well they examine metaphors around women—women as food ("a real dish") or as fire ("hot babes," "hot stuff," "kiss of fire," "torrid romance" etc). It's this... kind of metaphor that I play with in Back to the War in poems such as "The Complaint," or "Sweets," or "The Fortune Teller."... The 'link' that metaphor requires isn't foregrounded in [my poems] but is merely latent until it is made by the reader....18 Likewise, art critic Barry Schwabsky writes of the influential New York painter
Jonathan Lasker in ArtForum magazine:
Jonathan Lasker once told me he thought the Minimalists had been trying to make an art without metaphor, and in fact had succeeded; but the point having been proved, he continued, there's no longer any urgent motivation to produce more metaphor-free work.19 Cognitive linguistics and Bloom's revisionism were a revelation to me. I found Bloom's notion of agon to supplement Lakoffian conceptions splendidly. Bloom sees the primal activity of the creative life as one of struggling with and overcoming one's influences by revisionistically, willfully and yet imaginatively misunderstanding them. In cognitive linguistics and agonistic revisionism, I discovered theories which read true to my experiences and additionally offered openings to the world, criticizing the solipsism and sophistry of much other current literary theory by, among other strengths, subsuming their rivals' insights.
It can now be seen that the Late Modernist attempt to undermine metaphor, as described by Schwabsky and Lasker above, although necessary at that time, did not actually function as expected, but was rather a negational, metaleptic trope in itself. Moreover, Davey expresses a perception that there is a continuation between Derrida and Lakoff, an opinion both controversial and, surprisingly, held by many. In his eyes as a working poet, he finds aspects of Deconstruction and cognitive metaphor to be akin, something that both factions would heartily rebuff. The continuum containing both these theories is that of the free play of tropes.
The fascination and excitement of encountering and applying new conceptual systems can lead to productive discoveries, both in the hands of creators and of scholars, whatever their final political status becomes. Applying novel theories can produce new discernments into literature and art contemporary with a given philosophy, but also into aspects of the nature of creativity across a broader time span.
Lakoffian theory offers an, at this time, atypical model, in that it acknowledges agency — that is, the individuals who make art experiences. This renders a chance to investigate into and speculate on the nuts-and-bolts of creation. The cognitive theory of metaphor is also unusual in that it is a theory more concerned with concepts than with words alone, thus fostering application to a wide range of art forms. An important facet of cognitive linguistic theory is that metaphors are embodied, that is, that mental concepts are constructed tropaically from bodily experiences. These foundational perceptions can furthermore lead to what he terms "image schemas," which can then be used to structure somewhat less physical events. This has potentially significant implications for the poet, the painter, the novelist, the critic and the scholar. It is indeed one of the main tools I have chosen to employ. In my dissertation, Lakoffian theory will be applied to the competitive discovery of trope within aspects of form in visual art.
Lakoff believes that a proper appreciation for metaphor cuts through the perpetual clash between the so-called "objective" view of trope (that it is purely literary, almost decorative) and the so-called "subjective" view (that it has no direct tie to experience). He promotes an alternative that stresses the centrality of metaphor to our thinking processes, and thereby to our language and other actions. Hence, I see cognitive metaphor theory similarly offering an alternative to Formalism and Poststructuralism by subsuming them both. This study will use theory derived from cognitive linguistics as a method of augmenting the range of poststructuralist thought and revivifying appreciation of the formal discoveries of authors and artists.
Barry Schwabsky, "Jonathan Lasker - Brief Article," ArtForum (September 2000). Cited from http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0268/is_1_39/ai_65649484.
Prelude 13 Cognitive metaphor theory proffers a mode of thinking which can be applied to the analysis and creation of art, while accentuating the efforts of the makers of these objects.
After the object-only orientation of Formalism, after the medium-only focus of Deconstruction, this may lead to a feeling of liberation, of agency. Nevertheless, this is a theory which brings with it a new sense of the burden of the past. Whereas the Formalist Modernists felt free from the past and the Deconstructivist Postmodernists are endlessly tangled in an inescapable present, authors and artists as viewed through cognitive metaphor theory are directly responsible for fashioning their own tropes through the processes of extension, elaboration, composition and/or questioning. This they accomplish in and through the formal parameters of their work, with enough cultural coherence to be able to communicate, but enough originality to be significant. Important tropes cannot merely be selected from a list; they are discovered and built out of revisions of cultural possibilities, in fact, fought for and won. Thus Harold Bloom's theory of antithetical revisionism also
contributes an important component to this paper, as he writes:
But again, why should someone crossing out of literary criticism address the problematics of revisionism? What else has Western poetry been, since the Greeks, must be the answer, at least in part. The origins and aims of poetry together constitute its powers, and the powers of poetry, however they relate to or affect the world, rise out of a loving conflict with previous poetry, rather than out of conflict with the world.... This particularly creative aspect of a kind of primal anxiety is the tendency or process I have called "poetic misprision" and have attempted to portray in a number of earlier books. 20 The heart of Bloom's theory of misprision is the concept of an indispensable, antithetical agon of each poet. With poetry being the chief artistic discipline for Bloom, the word poet may also be replaced here with artist, which is what I will do. Revisionism is exalted to the central fact of artistic creativity. Agon is Bloom's term for the conflict arising from the anxiety of influence. Each and every author must wrestle with his or her precursors, the ones who inspired them to be writers in the first place. In amendment of Bloom, though, this "loving conflict" also transpires with the world, as it involves tropes of bodily experience as outlined in Lakoffian theory. Creators seeking individual ways to convey their experiences within their media, are necessarily forced to fence with comparable expressions of similar experiences by their predecessors, therefore primarily with their predecessors' tropes.
Cognitive metaphor theory offers an important basis for the study of art and literature, in particular their formation. Bloomian agonistic misprision completes the portrayal of the process by which creators arrive at the cognitive tropes so described.
The theory of central trope which I will be developing within this dissertation is postmodern, as described. It is a model unfolding the construction by authors and artists of distinctive central tropes in the tangible forms and processes of their media. They achieve this by means of an agonistic struggle with predecessors' tropes, doing so in order to uniquely articulate personal perceptions and experiences. Such tropes in the hands of artists are both metaphoric and meta-formal, thus yielding the punning term metaphor(m) in my title. This word describes and embodies the core of the theory. For creators, artistic value is grounded in form, the way a work is made and its technical aspects. Yet, turning Formalism on its head,
these attributes in themselves are significant only due to their meta-properties as tools and modus operandi involving context, tropaic content and cultural struggle.
This Dissertation Cognitive metaphor theory will be put in the service of art and art historical theory. In this dissertation, then, I develop a theory of how meaning is embodied in Modern and Postmodern creativity. I view my hypothesis as the elucidation of a theoretical yet concrete tool with which artists create. Based in part on linguistic theory, metaphor(m) is a general theory of trope in art, which links content and form with historical and critical cultural awareness. I apply my theory to visual art, especially to painting and installation art. The artists include the famous and the less well-known, historical and contemporary, friends and foes, a smattering of all of these. (When I first wrote this Prelude, I had been studying and applying my theory to Charles Boetschi, Vincent van Gogh, Gerhard Richter, Wesley Kimler, Stuart Davis, Jackson Pollock, Donald Judd, Leonard Bullock, C Hill, Bill Viola, Robert Rauschenberg, Sigmar Polke, Lawrence Weiner, Marcel Duchamp, George Brecht, Jack Kirby, Gene Colan, Jonathan Lasker, Stephen Westfall, David Reed, Mark Francis, Mary Heilmann, Edith Altman, Annette Messager, Joseph Beuys, Richard Long and many others.
Who exactly would turn up in my dissertation I could not then say for certain. In the following, completed dissertation, readers will see who I settled on.) Topics include specific and close analysis of artworks and media. While the theory of central trope is in dialogue with a number of theorists and creators within my discussions, this dissertation is intended to be a work of performed theory, not an exhaustive monograph on a single artist nor a purely personal reflection. Rather, I test my thesis through the study of chosen subjects, while simultaneously working through the implications of the theory on my own art as manifested in the planning and creation of a painting-installation. In this way, I probe metaphor theory's bounds and limitations, as well as its depth and utility in the study of creative works. Thus my theorization is embodied performatively, and what is the creation of art, especially paintings, if not mentally guided bodily experience?
I am creating this dissertation in the traditional form of a book, but with the addition of an actual installation. If successful, both will manifest the process of creation displaying, in open performance, the slow but steady making and finding of a metaphor(m). However, much like Sigmund Freud's psychotherapy of himself, this may not be completely possible, opening my dissertation to the rich possibility of partial failure. In either event, it is a thoroughly dialogical approach to production, uniting performance and reflection in a manner perhaps best describable as a Deweyian double-loop learning procedure or a Gadamerian hermeneutic circle of understanding. Philosopher and education reformer John Dewey proposed that learning was more than the prevailing view described as error and then correction. He believed learning to be a reiterating process of testing, learning, correction and within retesting modification of the underlying goal could be altered, thus seeing it as two loops of correction. The philosopher of hermeneutics, Hans-Georg Gadamer proposes that understanding is accomplished by coming to a situation with preconceptions, testing these and then necessarily altering one's judgment, resulting in ever repeating circles through which one then deepens the comprehension of any whole through knowledge of its parts encountered in subjective yet open investigation.