Special Issue on Mind, Cognition, and Structures
Table of Contents
Anthony Bak Buccitelli
Proceeding along similar lines, Bronner’s second essay, “‘I Hope You’re Well’: Magical Thinking in Digital Correspondence,” takes up the question of the “mindfulness” of repeated action, in this case the recent surge in the repetition of phrases such as “I hope you’re well” or “wishing you well” in online correspondence. He argues that uses of these phrases are not mindless actions or mere formalities, but rather represent cognitive responses to particular circumstances of human experience. Drawing on both practice theory and the structural concept of Einfache Formen, Bronner argues that wishing and hoping are primary forms of human expression, which in turn reflect underlying “magical thinking.” Yet, rather than construe this magical thinking as arising from ignorance, Bronner argues that it “can be viewed ethnographically and objectively as a form of rhetoric, designed to arouse sentiments or create a social bond rather than make true claims about actual human experience” (Bronner “I hope you’re well,” this issue).
In her contribution to this issue, Anna Konstantinova addresses a similar idea through a detailed study of a single proverbial phrase that has also flourished in recent online discourse: “Build bridges, not walls.” Konstantinova argues that proverbs “name important bits of experience succinctly and function as readymade tools in many communicative situations.” Therefore, they “satisfy the cognitive need to verbally structure the world and facilitate its interpretation” (Konstantinova, this issue). To accomplish her analysis, Konstantinova first works to develop “linguistic, cognitive, and discursive profiles” of the proverb: to “[i]dentify linguistic and cognitive prerequisites for its recent discursive currency,”, “[d]escribe the discursive diversity of the contexts it has appeared in,” and “[d]well on the formal aspect of the proverb’s discursive use.” Examining both its deployment in conventional proverbial forms and in a wide variety of retooled visual and/or parodic uses, Konstantinova makes the case that, while this proverb originated in much different circumstances in the middle part of the twentieth century, its current flourishing “is rooted in an underlying, universally understandable cognitive ideal supported by the current sociopolitical environment, which has made it a serviceable linguistic unit and accounts for its spread as a rational instrument of orientation in the sociopolitical landscape” (Konstantinova, this issue; see also Konstantinova 2019, 2020).
Proceeding with a similar concern for the linguistic and cognitive organization of discourse in and around vernacular expression, John Laudun takes up the task, in his essay “Narrative as a Mode of Vernacular/Folk Discourse,” to “develop a classificatory scheme, a typology, that gives folklorists more precise ways to describe the discourse we encounter across a broad range of activities and events” (Laudun, this issue). Laudun begins from the observation that many entextualized segments of discourse that achieve a position in the repertoires of individual narrators do not in fact meet the classic structural definition of narrative. Following the work of linguist Carlota Smith (1934-2007), he argues that, rather than seeking a remedy in “matching local designations of “story” with our analytical use of “narrative,” folklorists might usefully explore the wide variety of structural configurations in which “ideas, worlds, actions, actors, events, and states of affairs” are manifested in human discourse (Laudun, this issue). He observes that Smith’s typology of discourse modes as narrative, descriptive, argumentative, reportative, and informative could serve as a basis for developing a more fine-grained typology of vernacular discourse. By developing such a refined typology, folklorists could better acknowledge the ways in which entextualized discourse presented as “narrative” either stands in for or is intertwined with conventional narrative mode of speech; they could also come to better understand how speakers use certain discursive modes or shifts between modes to frame their talk in ways that are crucial to their cognitive and cultural apprehension.
In this brief introduction, I hope I have begun to sketch out some of the lines of intellectual continuity that run between the works included in this issue. Let me add one more line that I was struck by in preparing this essay: Western Folklore. As a careful reader may have already noted, the pages of Western Folklore for at least the past forty years have been a significant venue for the exploration of questions of mind and structure in folklore. I am very pleased that we are able to build on that long legacy with a special issue that will hopefully draw together and reinvigorate some of these crucial lines of thought.
Bartlett, Frederic C. 1932. Remembering: A Study in Experimental and Social Psychology. Cambridge University Press.
Briggs, Charles L. 2015. “Rethinking Psychoanalysis, Poetics, and Performance.” Western Folklore 74 (3/4):245–74.
Bronner, Simon J. 2006. “Folk Logic: Interpretation and Explanation in Folkloristics.” Western Folklore 65 (4):401–33.
⸻. 2007. Preface and Acknowledgements. In The Meaning of Folklore: The Analytical Essays of Alan Dundes, edited by Simon J. Bronner, vii-xv. Logan: Utah State University Press.
⸻. 2020. Preface to the Paperback Edition. In The Meaning of Folklore: The Analytical Essays of Alan Dundes, edited by Simon J. Bronner, vii-xvii. Logan: Utah State University Press.
Burns, Thomas A. 1977. “Folkloristics: A Conception of Theory.” Western Folklore 36 (2):109–34.
Jones, Michael Owen. 1982. “Another America: Toward a Behavioral History Based on Folkloristics.” Western Folklore 41 (1):43–51.
Konstantinova, Anna. 2019. “Time’s Up:” When Enough is Enough: the Proverbial Voice of Social Change. Proverbium 36:121-134.
⸻. 2020. “Love Trumps Hate”: Proverbial and Idiomatic Leitmotifs of the Anti-Trump Social Media Discourse. Proverbium 37:143-172.
Mechling, Jay. 2006. “Solo Folklore.” Western Folklore 65 (4):435–53.
Oring, Elliott. 1998. Review of Review of From Game to War and Other Psychoanalytic Essays on Folklore, by Alan Dundes. Western Folklore 57 (1):63–64.
Rubin, David C. 1995. Memory in Oral Traditions: The Cognitive Psychology of Epic, Ballads, and Counting-out Rhymes. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Sandstrom, Kent L., Gary Alan Fine, and Daniel D. Martin. 2003. Symbols, Selves, and Social Reality: A Symbolic Interactionist Approach to Social Psychology and Sociology. Los Angeles, CA: Roxbury Publishing Company.
Sutton-Smith, Brian, ed. 1979. Play and Learning. New York: Gardner Press.
Tangherlini, Timothy R. 2008. “‘Where Was I?’: Personal Experience Narrative, Crystallization and Some Thoughts on Tradition Memory.” Cultural Analysis 7:41-76. www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~culturalanalysis/volume7/vol7_article2.html
Young, Katharine. 2000. “Gestures and the Phenomenology of Emotion in Narrative.” Semiotica 131 (1–2):79–112.
⸻. 2002. “The Memory of the Flesh: The Family Body in Somatic Psychology.” Body & Society 8 (3):25–47.
The (Re)Cognition of Folklore: A History and Philosophy
Simon J. Bronner
ABSTRACT: The concept of cognition arose with the beginnings of European folklore scholarship. Debate concerned whether the creation of folklore in modern life is an embodied cultural response or an intentional mindful action. The folkloristic move away from cognition can be attributed to a philosophical empiricism in which only knowledge of externalized evidence gained through observation and collection is valid. The essay surveys alternative folkloristic philosophies and approaches oriented toward cognition. KEYWORDS: cognition, psychology, historiography, theory, philosophy
Folklore and Transmarginal Consciousness
ABSTRACT: Scientific psychology continues to chart the characteristics of altered states of consciousness, what William James called transmarginal consciousness, a world of exceptional mental states beyond the margin of our awake, everyday, taken-for-granted reality. People often use traditional practices of play and ritual to induce transmarginal states of consciousness. Neuroscience and evolutionary psychology suggest some important functions of temporary passages from the ordinary to the exceptional states, including triggering creativity. KEYWORDS: hallucinations, mysticism, trance, consciousness, play, ritual
“I Hope You’re Well”: Magical Thinking in Digital Correspondence
Simon J. Bronner
ABSTRACT: The ubiquitous practice of opening emails with “I hope you’re well” has sparked public debate on whether it is mindless or folkloric, i.e., mindful and purposeful. This essay addresses the issue by analyzing the cognition behind this and related expressions. Drawing on the concept of Einfache Formen and practice theory, the essay hypothesizes that the verbal enactment of hoping and wishing is psychologically significant in its framing of magical thinking at the core of folklore. KEYWORDS: cognition, psychology, magic, practice theory, digital culture, habit, Einfache Formen
“Build Bridges, Not Walls”: The Text and its Contexts
ABSTRACT: This paper discusses linguistic, cognitive, and discursive profiles of the popular dictum “Build bridges, not walls.” The compactness and vivid imagery of the proverb reflect a powerful cognitive ideal that is supported by the current US sociopolitical environment. These elements account for its widespread success as a rational instrument of orientation in the sociopolitical landscape. KEYWORDS: modern proverb, anti-Trump discourse, sociopolitical activism, proverb creation, cognitive ideal
Narrative as a Mode of Vernacular/Folk Discourse
ABSTRACT: This essay takes a granular approach to vernacular discourse that attempts to parse conventional folk narrative texts into passages that it ascribes as descriptive, narrative, reportative, informative, or argumentative. The goal of such classification at the microtext level is not only to describe folk narratives with greater accuracy but also to explore what parts of vernacular discourse previously less attended might warrant attention by folklorists. KEYWORDS: verbal arts, narrative, discourse, genre, genre analysis