The Poem as Icon: A Study in Aesthetic Cognition

Oxford: Oxford University Press (2020)
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Poetry is the most complex and intricate of human language used across all languages and cultures. Its relation to the worlds of human experience has perplexed writers and readers for centuries, as has the question of evaluation and judgment: what makes a poem "work" and endure. The Poem as Icon focuses on the art of poetry to explore its nature and function: not interpretation but experience; not what poetry means but what it does. Using both historic and contemporary approaches of embodied cognition from various disciplines, Margaret Freeman argues that a poem's success lies in its ability to become an icon of the felt "being" of reality. Freeman explains how the features of semblance, metaphor, schema, and affect work to make a poem an icon, with detailed examples from various poets. By analyzing the ways poetry provides insights into the workings of human cognition, Freeman claims that taste, beauty, and pleasure in the arts are simply products of the aesthetic faculty, and not the aesthetic faculty itself. The aesthetic faculty, she argues, should be understood as the science of human perception, and therefore constitutive of the cognitive processes of attention, imagination, memory, discrimination, expertise, and judgment.
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