"Literary Universals and Lexical Processes in Poetic Imagery"

Patrick Colm Hogan


I begin with a brief overview of the nature of literary universals, distinguishing universal features from features specific to particular traditions and from features which may be seen as distinctive of individual works. From here, I take up imagery in particular, noting some universal principles of literary imagery. The bulk of the paper, however, addresses tradition-specific features of such imagery. Focusing on a particular, illustrative example from Sanskrit, I argue that tradition-specific features-including features that are interpretively opaque to readers outside the tradition in question-result from the combination and particularization of universal features. In other words, the differences between literary traditions should not be set in opposition to universals, but seen as the product of universals. We do not rightly understand these differences if we do not analyze the universal principles that they manifest. Following this, I consider how these universal principles and their tradition-specific manifestations may be understood more concretely in terms of processes on the mental lexicon. In conclusion, I turn to the issue of individual poetic idiosyncracy. Here too I argue that superficial differences result from combinations and specifications of universal principles-in this case, universal principles re-applied to tradition-specific features. By way of illustration, I consider a famous haiku by Basho, and Basho's well-known dialogue on that poem. In connection with this, I outline some of the cognitive/lexical processes underlying this "second order" specification and synthesis of universal principles in poetic idiosyncracy.


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