Carina Rasse | Foto: aau/Müller

Immersed in a sea of words: Poetic metaphors

It’s a familiar situation: We gaze at a poem and wonder – what was the author trying to express? What was his or her intention in using that specific metaphor? And how should we, as readers, interpret it? Over the next two years, Carina Rasse, holder of the DOC-scholarship awarded by the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and currently working at the Department of English, will explore how metaphors emerge and how they are deciphered by readers.

Carina Rasse has specialised in contemporary lyrical works, so that she can interview authors about their creative processes associated with metaphors. In a first step, she approached fifty authors in the English-speaking world and asked the following questions: How would you describe your metaphors? What role do they play in your works? How do you go about creating metaphors? Thirty poets responded. One of them, the American-Canadian poet and assistant professor James Arthur, has invited Carina Rasse to visit him at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where she will attend Arthur’s Creative Writing classes in February 2020. This will give her the opportunity to gain first-hand experience of how aspiring poets create metaphors. Furthermore, various insights provided by the authors during the interviews gave rise to interesting questions, which Carina Rasse would like to pursue further. This work doesn’t merely involve isolating specific terms as metaphors within poems; rather, the poem as a whole should often be understood metaphorically. Lakoff and Johnson’s Conceptual Metaphor Theory, which is predominately used for the examination of metaphors in the field of linguistics, cannot alone serve this purpose, as poems are too complex. For this reason, Carina Rasse will be devoting the months ahead to refining an innovative theoretical-empirical concept, which will allow a more profound exploration of the object of her investigation.

Launching this project, Carina Rasse, who had previously specialised in literary aspects of English and American Studies, has now forged a link to linguistics. Her interest in languages was influenced in part by her family background. Russian is her second mother tongue, while English, Italian and Latin were added during her school years. “Nonetheless, studying poems allows me to stay true to literature as well“, she tells us during the interview. Her work is supervised by Alexander Onysko. Thanks to the Young Scientists Mentoring programme at the University of Klagenfurt, Carina Rasse was able to gain the support of the renowned cognitive psychologist and leading metaphor scholar Raymond W. Gibbs as her mentor.

Carina Rasse completed both her Bachelor’s degree and her Master’s degree in English and American Studies in Klagenfurt. The Master’s degree in “Media and Convergence Management” added a valuable second pillar. However, as she tells us, research remains her primary aim: “Drafting and submitting the project proposal was quite a challenge, but the effort certainly paid off.” The ÖAW-DOC scholarship for the project titled “Poetic Metaphors: Creativity and Interpretation” will allow her to devote all her energy to her scientific endeavours for a period of two years.

A few words with … Carina Rasse

What would you be doing now, if you had not become a scientist?

I would probably be working as translator or interpreter.

Do your parents understand what it is you are working on?

For the most part. I discuss my work frequently, especially with my mother.

What is the first thing you do when you arrive at the office in the morning?

I greet my colleagues and deal with my e-mails.

Do you have proper holidays? Without thinking about your work?

I do think about work occasionally while on holiday. It doesn’t bother me, though, as fresh impressions often lead to interesting new ideas.

What makes you furious?

Deceitfulness and dishonesty.

What calms you down?

Going for a walk with my dog.

Who do you regard as the greatest scientist in history, and why?

For my research area, the people to name are George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, who radicalised the connection between language, thought and experience, and who showed that the basic structures of our daily activities are metaphorical in nature.  For me, personally, my supervisor, Alexander Onysko, and my mentor, Ray Gibbs, are great scientists in many regards.

What are you afraid of?

I fear loss.

What are you looking forward to?

I am excited about spending time with my colleagues and with students; I am also looking forward to developing new projects, attending conferences, and teaching courses.

Degree programmes at the Department of English

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