Cognition and Poetics: Minding Language and Literature

Jacob L. Mey


Extending the concept of speech act, as it has been developed in classic pragmatics, I have defined the ‘pragmatic act’ as an interactive communicative practice in which we determine, and are determined by, the entire context of communication (See Mey 2002, chapters 8 & 9). Applying this notion to poetics, I want to establish the concept of the ‘poetic act’ by which we create the fictional universe called the ‘poetic space’. The poetic (or more generally, the literary) space is where authors and readers meet; furthermore, the poetic (or more generally, the literary) pragmatic act creates the ‘chronotope’ (to use Bakhtin’s expression) that characterizes the poetic context in time and space. The co-creators of this chronotope communicate by using their ‘voices’, understood as the entirety of their time/space affordances as authors and readers, aka. producers and consumers of the literary product. I will illustrate my ideas by analyzing a few texts: a sonnet by the Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Fraga e sombra; an extract from Virginia Woolf’s novel Jacob’s Room; a work, Surfaces, by the contemporary US poet Peter Meinke; and finally a poem by the late US writer John Updike, entitled Commencement, Pingree School.

Full Text:



(school) Pingree School, South Hamilton, MA 01982

(school) Here is the ‘official’ version of the last stanza (from Updike’s Collected Poems:

Through greenhouse shade and rustle to receive

A paper of divorce and endless leave.

As each accepts her scroll of rhetoric,

Up pops a Daddy with a Nikon. Click.

(verse) See comment earlier. Twenty years later, Updike changed the line to produce a more civilized poetic effect, when he revised the poem for inclusion in his Collected Poems.


Bakhtin, Mikhail M. 1982. The Dialogical Imagination. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Bakhtin, Mikhail M. 1994. ‘The problem of the text in linguistics, philology and the human sciences’. In: C. Emerson & M. Holquist, eds., pp. 103-131. [First Russian publication 1976].

Byatt, Antonia S. 1996, Babel Tower. New York: Random House.

Drummond d’Andrade, Carlos. 1969. ‘Fraga e sombra’. In: Reunião. Rio de Janeiro, Livraria José Olympio Edit.

Emerson, Caryl & Michael Holquist, eds. 1994. Mikhail M. Bakhtin: Speech Genres and other late essays (trans. by Vern W. McGee). Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press. [1986]

Fludernik, Monika, 1993. The fiction of language and the languages of fiction. London: Routledge.

Fludernik, Monika, 1996. Towards a ‘Natural’ Narratology. London & New York: Routledge.

Fraser, Bruce & Ken Turner, eds. 2009. Language in Life, and a Life in Language: Jacob Mey – A Festschrift. Bingham, UK: Emerald Group Publishing.

Iser, Wolfgang, 1978. The act of reading: a theory of aesthetic response. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. (Original German: Der Akt des Lesens: Theorie ästhetischer Wirkung. München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag). [1976]

Kirkeby, Per, 1993. N.A. Abildgaard. Hellerup: Editions Bløndal. (Engl. transl. by Reginald Spink).

Lange, Kurt, 1941. Götter Griechenlands: Meisterwerke der antiken Münzkunst. Berlin: Gebr. Mann.

McHale, Brian, 1992. ‘Making (non-)sense of postmodernist poetry’. In: Michael Toolan (ed.), Language, Text and Context: Essays in Stylistics. London: Routledge. pp. 6-36

Meinke, Peter, 1991. Liquid Paper: New and Selected Poems. Pittsburgh, Penna.: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Mey, Jacob L., 2001. When Voices Clash: A Study in Literary Pragmatics. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Mey, Jacob L., 2002. Pragmatics: An introduction. Oxford & Malden, Mass.: Blackwell. (Second, revised edition). [1993]

Morson, Gary S. & Caryl Emerson, 1990. Mikhail Bakhtin: The creation of a prosaics. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.

Shklovskij, Viktor B., 1965. ‘Art as device’. In: L. Lemon & M. Reis, eds., Russian Formalist Criticism. Four essays. Lincoln, Neb.: University of Nebraska Press. [Original Russian title: Iskusstvo jak priëm. 1917]

Stanzel, Franz Karl. 1984. A theory of narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Original German Theorie des Erzählens. 1982]

Steffensen, Eigil. 1973. Nyere russisk litteraturkritik: Fra Plechanov til Lotman. Copenhagen: Munksgaard. [Newer Russian literary criticism: From Plechanov to Lotman]

Tsur, Reuven. 2009. ‘Defamiliarization revisited’. In: B. Fraser & K. Turner, eds. 2009. pp. 399-404.

Updike, John, 1973. ‘Commencement, Pingree School’. Original version in The New Republic, July 28 & August 4, 1973, p. 28. (Re-published, slightly revised, in Collected Poems 1953-1993. New York: Random House, 1995).

Woolf, Virginia,1978. Jacob’s Room. New York: Harvest Books. [1922]


  • There are currently no refbacks.