Abstract. An inadequate grasp of the role of imagination has vitiated understanding
cognition in western thinking. Extending a project initiated with George Lakoff in Metaphors we Live By (1980), Mark Johnson's book The Body in the Mind (1987) offers the claim that all thinking originates in bodily experience. A range of schemata formed during our early experience manipulating a physical world of surfaces, distances, and forces, lays the foundation of later, more abstract modes of thought. In presenting his argument, Johnson lays special stress on the qualities and dynamics of the image schemata, the (generally unnoticed) metaphoricity of the transformations underlying abstract thought, and the new significance that should be attributed to the imagination, which is the general term Johnson wishes to claim for the mental processes he expounds.
In this paper I draw attention to the importance of Johnson's insights for understanding
literary response. In particular, I will show how a typical procedure of literary
texts involves bringing to awareness image schemata of the kind that Johnson describes.
At the same time, several problems in Johnson's account which limit its usefulness
will also be examined: an undue reliance upon the spatial properties of schemata;
a conflation of dead with live or poetic metaphors; and a neglect of other bodily
influences on thought, especially kinaesthetic and affective aspects. These problems,
for example, limit the usefulness of Johnson's attempt to build on Kant's theory
of imagination. In comparison with Coleridge, who also attempted to build on Kant,
Johnson is unable to overcome the formalism of Kant's theory. Coleridge's account
of imagination, I will suggest, provides a better foundation for examining the
bodily basis of meaning, while remaining compatible with Johnson's intentions
and his more valuable insights.
The Body in Literature: Mark Johnson, Metaphor, and Feeling (1997) (external full text).
Maintained by Francis F. Steen, Communication Studies, University of California Los Angeles