Blending – A Brief Introduction 


          Conceptual integration is at the heart of imagination

                       (Fauconnier and Turner 2002: 89)


The model that Fauconnier and Turner suggest describes a process of conceptual integration of two or more items. The items in question are what Fauconnier and Turner call mental input spaces, or conceptual packets of information, knowledge, and association, which are constructed from personal experience and structured by schematic frames. In this model, which is applied below, the input spaces are then subjected to a ‘cross-space mapping that makes associations between materials in each input space. This results in a ‘generic space that captures the common elements of the two input spaces. The fourth stage of ‘blending allows a new mental space to occur – a blended space or the blend – that manifests both the combinations of elements from the generic space and the resultant emergent properties,


The blend develops emergent structure that is not in the inputs.… composition of elements from the inputs makes relations available in the blend that do not exist in the separate inputs. (Fauconnier and Turner 2002: 42)


Fauconnier and Turner (ibid.: 43) go on to say that completion brings additional structure to the blend and at this point the blend is integrated.

Albert Rothenberg has identified two forms of bisociation: the Janusian process, in which opposing ideas are simultaneously held in mind (Runco and Pritzker 1999: 2:103–8), and homospatial thinking, which is actively conceiving two or more discrete entities occupying the same “space”, a conception leading to the articulation of new identities (Rothenberg 1980, 18). Rothenberg has used homospatial thinking to explore the creation and reception of literary metaphors and visual art, in a way that will provide insight into IOUs bisociations (and multi-associations) and lay the groundwork for our consideration of conceptual blending.


In tracking the creative process of a writer who produces the metaphor, the branches were handles of stars, Rothenberg establishes that the metaphor did not arise from the writers observation of a visual analogy in nature, but rather:

In The Act of Creation (1964: 35–36), Arthur Koestler described creative thinking in terms of bisociation’:

the creative act … always operates on more than one plane … a double-minded transitory state of unstable equilibrium where the balance of both emotion and thought is disturbed.

For Koestler (ibid.: 38), the combining of two planes – described as frames of referenceassociative contexts, or matrices of thought – is the basis for creativity in comedy, invention, and art. Bisociation entails the discovery of hidden similarities (ibid.: 27) between frames that also maintain their difference. A kind of intellectual illumination – seeing something familiar in a new, significant light' (ibid.: 383) arises from the skilful collision of separate domains. We see a commonplace, simple manifestation of this in the kind of joke in which we are jolted from one frame of reference to another by means of a word that can activate either frame but which we have been set up to read/hear in a particular way:


A: What sort of Christmas are you going to have?

B: Oh, it will be very quiet – just me and the turkey.

A: What about Boxing Day?

B: Ah, thatll be just me. The turkey goes to his brothers house.1


The phrase just me and the turkey evokes a lonely Christmas dinner for one, but turns out to refer to the speaker as one half of a couple, the other being either a person to whom B refers by a derogatory slang term or, indeed, a pet turkey with the ability to go visiting family by itself! The humour arises in the sudden jarring from one associative context to another.

He was sitting at his desk and was attracted to the words ‘handle’ and ‘branch’, because of their assonantal qualities, together with an interestingly similar shape of the physical entities themselves. In his mind, he brought the words and the physical entities into the same ‘space’ – because he felt they ought to be together – and for a fleeting moment they seemed hazily fused and superimposed. He then experienced a vivid impression of the letters ‘a’ overlapping in the two words and tried to conceive of what might connect them. Only then was the idea of stars generated, not before. (Rothenberg 1980: 18)

To see this integrative process in action, let us apply Fauconnier and Turners model to a creative metaphor – again, one supplied by Rothenberg:


the road was a rocket of sunlight


Here, we could say that input one is road and input two is rocket. When I [Middleton] map correlations between these two conceptual packets, I see some similarity in the shape of a road in perspective and the shape of a rocket and its trail; I also connect them through the ideas of travel and speed. The mapping allows me to create a generic mental space in which these elements are all present. Blending goes a step further and now I superimpose the rocket onto the road, enmeshing the two inputs via the access points of commonality I have identified. In the final stage of completion, I recruit the rays of light from the rockets fire to act as the sun on the road. The blend is now integrated as I have arrived at a completed image that makes sense of the two inputs. The metaphor works because it encapsulates a meaningful integration that we can sense and even analytically deduce to be logically coherent.


This complex series of processes explains the mechanism by which a range of mental acts – from the construction of figures of speech to artistic metaphors – is achieved (Fauconnier and Turner 2002: 51). Fauconnier and Turner (ibid.: v) write,


Almost invisibly to consciousness, conceptual blending choreographs vast networks of conceptual meaning, yielding cognitive products that, at the conscious level, appear simple.


It is because the mechanics of conceptual integration take place outside our conscious awareness that the results of cognitive blending can appear to us with the apparent suddenness of insight or intuition. Referring to Koestleract of creation, Fauconnier and Turner (2002: 44) tell us that,


What comes into consciousness is the flash of comprehension. And it seems magical precisely because the elaborate imaginative work is all unconscious.


Fauconnier and Turner also note that understandings arrived at in this way may carry a greater sense of depth than those cognised through a step-by-step analysis, because, at the moment of creation, ‘the entire integration network is still active in the brain, even if unconsciously (ibid.: 57). Important as this insight into unconscious levels of cognition may be, we should also note, as Rothenberg (1980: 17) has been at pains to demonstrate, that for artists, ‘a conscious and intentional type of process’ also plays a significant part.

IOU frequently deploys images that are constructed around bisociations: propeller-ski-shoes, a lawnmower-bicycle, tea-strainer-driving-goggles, a ‘police lawn-mower (complete with radio and flashing blue light)’ (Mason 1992: 140). Creating visual metaphors and framing something familiar in a new light are common tropes in art, but in IOU these functions are performed with a very particular flavour, for the illumination of which Koestler writes is far from complete. Even if incongruous couplings and ambiguous visual metaphors generate a sense in the viewer that there is some meaning in them, that meaning is rarely disclosed nor easily available to be discerned. Rather than creating a shift into a surprising new associative context, as in the joke above, the couplings suggest but do not resolve the transaction. There is an incompleteness in the IOU experience that viewers must engage with on their own terms. The disturbance of thought which Koestler recognised is fructile and generative.

1. This joke is found in Middleton’s memory, but also probably originates from The Two Ronnies, a comedy sketch show starring the double act of Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett that was popular on British television in the 1970s and 1980s.


Such superimposition of discrete (even random or serendipitous) elements within a shared space accounts for creative discovery and aesthetic art in a range of cases considered by Rothenberg. Conceptual space also plays a key role in Fauconnier and Turners (2007: 37) model of cognitive blending, itself a development of Koestlers bisociation. A brief look at the mechanism Fauconnier and Turner propose, in conjunction with Rothenbergs model of artistic creativity, will allow us to develop a perspective on the nature of IOUs creative process and output.