Attentional windowing in David Foster Wallace’s ‘The Soul Is Not a Smithy’

Chloe Harrison

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    This chapter looks at the specific linguistic choices made by the producer of literary language; how he has chosen to represent the narrative, and the effects elicited by these choices. As Langacker’s (2008a) Cognitive Grammar model lacks a specific counterpart for linguistic gapping, this analysis applies the CG notion of profiling alongside Talmy’s (2000) theory of the windowing of attention to David Foster Wallace’s short story ‘The Soul Is Not a Smithy’, which appeared in his short story collection Oblivion (Wallace 2004: 67–113). ‘The Soul Is Not a Smithy’ is primarily concerned with the windowing of attention – often quite literally. The story focuses on an unnamed narrator, who recounts a traumatic event from his childhood. The event in question was a ‘hostage situation’ at comprehensive school, which involved a substitute teacher (Mr Johnson) experiencing a mental breakdown which caused him to write ‘KILL THEM’ (Wallace 2004: 87) repeatedly on the board. However, the narrator’s account describes in greater specificity the daydream he was having at the time, which was centred on a blind girl Ruth, her dog Cuffie, and her life with her family. The story concludes by describing through a newspaper account how Mr Johnson was shot by police troops, and finally finishes by outlining the fact that, ultimately, the narrator wanted to recount his relationship with his father, and his fear of entering the workplace as an adult.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationCognitive Grammar in Literature
    EditorsC. Harrison, L. Nuttall, P. Stockwell, W. Yuan
    Place of PublicationNew York
    PublisherJohn Benjamins Publishing
    Number of pages16
    ISBN (Print)9789027234063, 9789027270566, 9789027234049
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2014


    • literary language
    • cognitive grammar
    • windowing of attention


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