Conceptual Blending in Literary Representation
In The Literary Mind, Mark Turner argues that conceptual blending is a fundamental cognitive ability taking place at all levels of perception, of understanding, and of memory. Neurological evidence suggests that "there may be no anatomical site in the brain where a perception of a given object or a concept resides, and no point where the parts of the perception or concept are anatomically brought together." We are able to mentally manipulate seemingly stable representations of objects and concepts because every waking minute we engage in blending and reblending of fragmented records contained in multiple sensory and motor regions.
The same algorithm which underlies the around-the-clock cognitive blending regulates our interaction with a fictional narrative. Inputs from various domains are combined into tightly bound in time pockets of meaning which, in turn, reflect back onto parental domains, transforming them in the process. Any literary text is thus a staggeringly complicated compilation of the micro- and macro-level blends whose affective and evocative power is at least in part predicated upon this interesting -- stable, and yet relatively flexible -- structure of the parent domains.
Conceptual blending as a general, wide ranging, cognitive operation was discovered in 1993 by Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner, and they and their collaborators have since further developed the initial theory. From the start, this research was motivated by multidisciplinary data from cognitive science, linguistics, literature, sociology and psychology. It is now a thriving area of research for scholars representing a wide variety of critical approaches to literature, as demonstrated by the panel's presentation of four different applications of blending theory to literary and cultural analysis.
For further examples of this interdisciplinary approach, see the Conceptual Blending site.