New book by SU professor emeritus links literature and cognitive science
New book by SU professor emeritus links literature and cognitive scienceJuly 22, 2009Rob Enslinrmenslin@syr.edu
The role of memory and metaphors in literature is the subject of a new book by Nicolae Babuts, French professor emeritus at Syracuse University. “Memory, Metaphors, and Meaning: Reading Literary Texts” (Transaction Publishers, 2009) is an original study of the human condition through the twin lenses of cognitive science and literature. The book marks the culmination of decades of study, drawing on Babuts’s knowledge of 19th-century French language and culture, as well as his familiarity with the English, Italian and Romanian literatures.
“Memory, Metaphors, and Meaning” is based on the premise that people process texts the same way they explain the physical world-in small segments that Babuts calls dynamic patterns, or metaphors. “Metaphors are not only rhetorical constructs, but also instruments of discovery and paths to knowledge,” he explains. The Syracuse resident says that when people read, they integrate stimulus sequences with corresponding patterns in memory to recognize and interpret segments of text. Memory, in turn, produces meaning from these patterns. Central to this process are metaphors, which are words, clauses or sentences transferred from one context to another in the form of figurative echoes. “Meaning is dependent on mnemonic initiatives,” he adds. “Without metaphors and, ultimately, memory, the world would be meaningless. Meaning lives through the collision of language and sensory data.”
This is not the first time that Babuts, who taught at SU for 30 years, has swum in cognitive waters. His two other books-“The Dynamics of the Metaphoric Field: A Cognitive View of Literature” and “Baudelaire: At the Limits and Beyond,” published by the University of Delaware Press in 1992 and 1997, respectively-demonstrate the scientific power of metaphors and narratives. “Literature explores the human condition, the mystery of the world, life and death, as well as our relations with others,” he continues. “Like science, it aims for an authentic version of the truth.” Babuts thinks that “Memory, Metaphors, and Meaning” will especially intrigue lovers of literature and cognitive science alike.
The French program is part of the Department of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics in SU’s College of Arts and Sciences. More information about the college is available at http://thecollege.syr.edu.
Information about Babuts’ book and Transaction Publishers is at http://www.transactionpub.com/cgi-bin/transactionpublishers.storefront/en/product/1-4128-1022-1.