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Elroy Humbert

on 17 October 2013

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Transcript of Metaphor

A figure of speech like allegory or metonymy or personification, metaphor gives 'clearness' and 'liveliness' to the expression of our thoughts. As such a trope, metaphor is "an applied comparison between two things of unlike nature that yet have something in common."
Corbett and Connors, Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student

Aristotle suggested that metaphor is the "transference of a name from the object to which it has a natural application" to something else, thereby creating "an unusual element in the diction" that is not normal in "ordinary speech." That movement of a name might be "from either genus to species or from species to genus or from species to species or by analogy."

Traditional views of metaphor as mere ornament or embellishment (things a poet does) is typically seen to contradict a "plain style." Such views limit metaphor to forceful but ultimately fanciful (non-serious, unnecessary, perhaps even deceitful) language.

metaphor: n. application of a name or descriptive
term to an object to which it is not literally applicable (e.g. a glaring error ... i.e., an error cannot literally "glare" at you).
Oxford English Dictionary

f. Gk "metaphora" > META (with or after) + PHERO (bear/transfer)
classical rhetoricians classified figures of speech as TROPES or SCHEMES ...
simile, a kind of METAPHOR, uses "like" or "as" to directly, and obviously, express similarity or resemblance between two things ...

e.g.: "My mistresses eyes are nothing like the sun"

In this example, the speaker (ironically?) compares eyes to the sun
schemes, in contrast, such as alliteration or parallelism, deal with patterns of words ... things like word order (cf. alliteration, assonance, apposition, parallelism, etc.)
In the Philosophy of Rhetoric, I. A. Richards identifies two structural elements or ideas in metaphors:

TENOR: the subject or concept that the vehicle illustrates

VEHICLE: this is the figure that carries the weight of the comparison

If the tenor and vehicle are impossible to distinguish, the statement is likely literal; if they are distinguishable, you are dealing with a metaphorical comparison or association
"It is the east, and Juliet is the sun
Consider the following example:

"What should such fellows as I do/crawling between heaven and earth?" asks Hamlet.

In this case, Hamlet might in fact know, quite literally, how to crawl, but there are many other things that crawl--worms, insects, babies, crabs, etc. Each of these "figures" suggests something about Hamlet or helps us imagine or grasp an aspect of his character (in this case, as is confirmed elsewhere in the play, his rather negative view of himself, his dilemma, and his "fellow" man as worm-like (an assertion or attempt to interpret the metaphor in the context of the play, one that would need to be supported with carefully analyzed textual evidence...)

HAMLET is the tenor, and CRAWLING is the vehicle ... it tells us something about Hamlet's character and situation (it TRANSFERS or CARRIES meaning about him).
tropes are figures of speech like allegory or irony or personification or metaphor that "turn" or change the sense or meaning of a word, typically in a non-literal (illogical) way ...
Metaphors are not only used in literature, in poems and novels; they are ubiquitous ... used regularly in everyday life, in business contexts, in scholarly culture:




THINK outside the BOX



I am a MAC
I am a PC
rhetorical critics who study metaphors analyze what metaphors "do" in a text, an ad, or an image--making inferences (drawing conclusions) about this (often illogical) relationship between the tenor and the vehicle (i.e., we all know that no one lives in a pigpen and humans are not literally worms or computers).

rhetorical critics, we might say, interpret metaphors by assessing and analyzing the values they conceal or reveal, the IDEOLOGY (beliefs, principles, ideals, values) "behind" metaphors, i.e., how and why they "work"...
WAYNE BOOTH, "Metaphor as Rhetoric"
Booth suggests that classical and current definitions of rhetoric are so general (metaphors are figurative devices) that they are almost meaningless: "there is no human expression," he writes, "that would not be metaphoric in someone's definition." Common sense, for Booth, dictates that metaphors might well be "full-fledged" (Ricouer) or "motivated" or even inescapable (de Man); perhaps a better question to ask about them, then, is "Which are the good ones?"

For Booth, this is a question about evaluation, about the effectiveness or quality of the metaphor. The "good ones," he asserts, tend to "trope" or "turn" literal meaning into non-literal meaning, into associative thinking that leads to questions of intention and purpose (why the metaphor is good, what content is being transferred from one perceived object to another? how? why? what does the metaphor "do"?).

Metaphor, for Booth, connotes (suggests) a kind of "truth," one that is indeterminate but still intentional and effective, not to mention situational or contextual, and one that deserves careful study...

In Booth's view, a metaphor is successful when it meets the following criteria: "an unusual or surprising comparison of two things, part of a communication in a context that reveals a predetermined purpose that can be paraphrased, intended to be recognized and reconstructed with stable, local meanings that can thus be evaluated as contributing to that purpose"
metaphors are conceptual devices that govern our minds and our language; "we have found ... that metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action. Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature."

"Our concepts structure what we perceive, how we get around in the world, and how we relate to other people ... If we are right in suggesting that our conceptual system is largely metaphorical, then the way we think, what we experience, and what we do everyday is very much a matter of metaphor."

"The essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one thing in terms of another."

"Human thought processes are largely metaphorical."

"The heart of metaphor is inference" ... i.e., we draw conclusions based upon sensory motor domains (space, objects) and apply them to more subjective and abstract concepts (intimacy, emotions, justice, etc. "Because we reason in terms of metaphor, the metaphors we use determine a great deal about how we live our lives."
--Metaphors We Live By
FRYE: metaphor and identity
Metaphor, then, arises in a state of society in which a split between a perceiving subject and a perceived object is not yet habitual, and what it does in that context is to open up a channel or current of energy between human and natural worlds ...The starting point of metaphor ... [is] the sense of identity of an individual's consciousness with something in the natural world.
Northrop Frye, Myth and Metaphor

Frye describes metaphor as a statement that says "this is that" ... A is somehow associated with B, even though we all know that A is not "literally" B. This is the "troping" of the word and its "turned" meaning(s) that is involved in the "simplest and most direct" figure of speech we call metaphor.

Metaphor, Frye asserts, is one of the fundamental ways in which we relate to "things" in the world ... to the concepts and details that humans, with their "titanic will to identify," try to understand their world and themselves.

Metaphor, for Frye, is a cognitive and cultural process that is enacted most obviously in literature (a poetic process) and that acts as a "bridge between consciousness and nature"; metaphor, in other words, is a "microcosm of language itself," an attempt by man to unite "consciousness with what it is conscious of."
in the MAC/PC ad, notice of how the copy writers hired by Apple equate machines with humans (perhaps inverting the "normal" perception of humans being distinct from machines).

this metaphor makes us think of a particular computer (the tenor) by thinking about a kind of human (the vehicle, or in this case paired vehicles of the metaphor, a "cool" young man and a clearly "uncool" older man who is a business man or clerk).

we can further interpret the metaphor and its intention, its will to identify, as Frye would put it, by noting that the viewer identifies with the vehicle of his or her choice; the tenor of THE SUPERIOR COMPUTER (the one you should buy if you want to be cool) receives its meaning (the idea is transferred) from the figures of the two stereotyped men ... that is one interpretation of how the metaphor "works."

rhetorical analysis would reveal this relationship, advancing an interpretation of the text (the artifact, or ads) in question, how they play on viewers' conscious and unconscious desires, how they do their "work" ...
More recent perspectives see metaphor as more significant and fundamental to the ways that we think and communicate: e.g., Sonja K. Foss: "Metaphor is a basic way by which the process of using symbols to know reality occurs," a fundamental way in which we perceive and speak of the world. Metaphors, in other words, make phenomena in the world accessible.
neither classical nor new rhetoricians agree completely about what is or is not a trope or a scheme (an ornament or a figure), but most agree that a trope (like metaphor) is characterized by the "artful" substitution of one word or phrase for another
metaphors, according to Herbert Spencer, who cites Richard Whately on the subject, are superior to simile because readers enjoy "catching the resemblance for themselves" but also, as Spencer opines, because of their "great economy": using metaphor, a few words can create a vivid and memorable comparison (a picture, it turns out, is worth a thousand words)

metaphors involve a kind of "conceptual" carrying: they treat something as if it were something else (money is a nest egg, a sandwich is a submarine, etc.). The editors of the Harper Handbook of Literature suggest that there are four ways to make metaphors:

1) Simile: He was like a peacock.
2) Plain Metaphor: He was a peacock.
3) Implied Metaphor: He swelled up and displayed his finery.
4) Dead Metaphor: He strutted.

This model is more than a little prescriptive and formulaic, yet it can be a helpful. Language, we are reminded, is in many ways a tissue of "dead" metaphors--metaphors we take for granted or accept or use without thinking about them: i.e., we forget the illogical or surprising nature of the comparison they make, we forget the conceptual work they do; we forget the arbitrariness of what they transfer or carry; poets and novelists work, in one sense, to "revive" old metaphors or create new ones ...
Sonja Foss: metaphors are "ways of knowing"; they proceed by comparison and emerge "from the interaction of associated characteristics of the tenor and vehicle"

using metaphors as units of analysis, the critic
formulates a research question and selects a rhetorical artifact to work upon
selects a metaphor or group of metaphors to work on in that artifact
analyzes the artifact

the analysis involves four steps:
examination of the artifact's dimensions and context
isolation of the selected metaphors in the artifact
sorting (classifying/dividing) the metaphors into groups or patterns according to ehicle/tenor
analysis of the metaphors to discover how they function for the rhetor and the audience

... an effective research paper on metaphor answers the research question posed in the introductory frame with persuasive and compelling analysis of metaphorical evidence.
Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice
Some possible "questions" a rhetorical critic might ask:

what ideas are revealed and what ideas are concealed as a result of the metaphors used?
what image do the metaphors convey of the tenor (or tenors) of the artifact?
what do the metaphors suggest about the worldview of the rhetor?
do the metaphors used by the rhetor facilitate or hinder the accomplishment of the rhetor's goals?
are the metaphors in questions effective? economical? memorable? How? Why?
what attitudes or values underwrite the metaphors, and how do these attitudes and values shape the audiences' attitudes and motivations to act?
are the metaphors internally consistent? if not, what is the effect of the inconsistency?
how are the metaphors organized in the artifact? do they occur primarily in a particular place in a text (early or late)? do they recur throughout the text? does one metaphor dominate the others because of its placement in the structure?
do the metaphors change over time? how? and by what apparent pressures?
Booth nicely summarizes extant discussions of metaphor, from "Aristotle to Whatley" (see pp. 56-58):

1) Good metaphors are active, lending the energy of animated, active, and detailed things in the world to more abstract things or concepts (cf. ideas+details).
2) Good metaphors are concise and economical (fewer words are better than more words).
3) Good metaphors are appropriate: grand or trivial, they focus our attention on what is at hand or in question.
4) Good metaphors are accommodated to the audience: they resonate or fit with the audience to whom they are originally addressed ... they "work" for or are meaningful to a particular group in a powerful and specific way.
5) Good metaphors build a proper ethos for the speaker: they help the speaker to connect with his or her audience, and they ensure his or her character as someone to be trusted.
Booth concludes by noting that metaphors are important (essential) in our individual and cultural lives in numerous, subtle, and surprising ways: "Any criticism that attempts to discriminate among the problems and possibilities in [any metaphoric] assemblage will not be easy and it will not be precise. It will be neither univocal in its method nor certain in its conclusions. It will itself be part of the process it studies."

That process, for Booth, in the most general terms, is how we make make meaning in language and how we understand our worlds and ourselves, how we "use words to do things" as individuals and cultures--whether scientifically, poetically, linguistically, rhetorically, historically, economically, and so on ...

Booth: "All serious study of anything is, no doubt, life-justifying. But there might be a special flowering about a criticism that pursued the two kinds of ethical criticism I have just adumbrated: discriminating among the characteristics and cultures that metaphors build, in the belief that the quality of any culture is in large part the quality of the metaphorists that it creates and sustains."
Northrop Frye
metaphor & identity
(will, intention, identification)
Wayne Booth: metaphor & evaluation (quality, function, effect)
Lakoff & Johnson
metaphor as concept
(language, perception, life)
metaphor & rhetoric?
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