Cognitive Semiotics Seminar: The "political mind" and the "cognitive unconscious": a dead end of Lakoff's cognitive semantics? (Mena Diodato, Sapienza - Università di Roma)
As you can read in the abstract, our colleague Mena Diodato from Sapienza - Università di Roma, will present a highly stimulating talk, with the edge against the (infamous) notion of the "Cognitive Unconscious" in Cognitive Semantics. The event will be on zoom, with full open access. The only request is that you come in between 15:00 and 15:15 with your camera on! We need to see one another more (even if through a screen).
After the publication of Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think (2002) and of Don't think of an elephant! Know your values and frame the debate (2004), George Lakoff’s political insights have been hailed by American experts and politicians as a Copernican revolution, showing that “language matters” and that “when you control the language, you control the message, and the corporate media does the rest”.
However, from a theoretical perspective, Lakoff’s approach hinges on an impoverished conception of language which flattens out the complexity of the process of interpretation and comprehension (which is at the utmost when communication take place in a multi-layered media system). Lakoff’s brain-bound conception of meaning risks fuelling a behaviorist nostalgia: the “job” of frame and reframing values (i.e. meanings) results in a superficial mechanical operation, which recalls the classical theories of propaganda developed at the turn of 18th and 19th centuries. Moreover, now as then this operation seems to be subtracted from the sphere of consciousness, as speakers/voters are not (fully) aware of what happens in their minds/brains and their thoughts and behaviors are determined by a mysterious unspecified “cognitive unconscious”.
I will thus argue that, in spite of its success in the public arena, Lakoff’s analysis of the ways the “political mind” works leaves many unanswered questions that lead his cognitive semantic approach to a dead end.