Metaphor and the Hermeneutic Potential of Poetic Discourse

Part of the Analecta Husserliana book series (ANHU, volume 65)


I. Metaphor is one of those fundamental, but elusive aesthetic phenomena which continually invite reflection at the same time they resist understanding. Its function as an elementary mode of aesthetic communication, however, depends on more than just the indeterminate relationship between its component parts. These component parts are themselves fundamental components of thought and belong to different, though normally undifferentiated realms of experience: objective and subjective. All thought processes, all modes of signification, involve the co-presence of these two fundamental realms, though we are hardly ever aware of their presence as such, let alone their connection.1 Most theories of metaphor, like that of Paul Ricoeur in The Rule of Metaphor, tend to derive the function of metaphor from the way it combines “elements that have not been put together before”.2 Yet the function of creative metaphor lies in the way it shares an initial insight, mediating between realms that already have a prior connection, between the Real and the Imaginary, the objective and the subjective components of thought.3 Approaching metaphor in terms of tenor and vehicle or primary and secondary subjects, as useful as this has been, tends to obscure the subtle relationships that already exist between these objective and subjective components.4


Subjective Component Conceptual Thought Metaphorical Expression Aesthetic Theory Poetic Language 
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  1. 1.
    For Lakoff and Johnson subjectivism and objectivism “co-exist, but in separate domains”. Cf. Metaphors We Live By (Chicago, 1980), p. 189. Subject and object, however, are inseparable; they co-exist, but in the same domain. We only think they exist in separate domains, which is why we tend to overlook the preexisting connection between the component parts of metaphor.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Paul Ricoeur, The Rule of Metaphor,trans. Robert Czerny (Toronto, 1977), p. 33. I am arguing that metaphorical insight, the aesthetic mode of thinking that metaphor promotes, derives from the way it dissociates preexisting modes of thinking. Ricoeur considers only one half of the equation when he approaches metaphor as a preexistent given, even if we tend to respond to metaphor as if it were providing an entirely new of looking at things. In fact, however, metaphor represents a way of sharing an initial insight with others by dissociating this insight into its component parts. For those who possess the necessary prerequisites, the initial dissociation may itself be enough to provide the insight.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    For distinctions between the fictional and the imaginary see Wolfgang Iser, “Toward a Literary Anthropology” in Prospecting. From Reader Response to Literary Anthropology. (Baltimore, 1989) p. 232ff. In this collection of essays Iser does not discuss the fictional and the imaginary in relation to the real, although it is the fictional that regulates or mediates the relationship between the real and the imaginary.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    The references here are to Max Black, “More about Metaphor” in Metaphor and Thought,ed. A. Ortony (Cambridge University Press, 1979) and to I. A. Richards, The Philosophy of Rhetoric (Oxford, 1971) pp. 96ff. In both approaches the relation between the two terms is arbitrary, with the secondary subject or the tenor modifying the meaning of the primary subject or vehicle.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Paul Ricoeur, in developing his notion of metaphorical truth in connection with traditional conceptions of metaphor and mimesis, sees a vital relationship between the mimetic function of metaphor and the unreflected act involved: “Mimesis… does not embody just the referential function of poetic discourse… [but] connects this revelation of the Real as Act”, thus serving “as an index for that dimension of reality that does not receive due account in the simple description of that-thing-over-there”. Cf. Ricoeur, The Rule of Metaphor,p. 43. In Ricoeur’s conception of metaphor mimesis refers not just to the literal dimension, to an object being represented, but also to the very act of signification, which he views as a “blossoming forth” of the “dormant potentiality of existence” (p. 43). Ricoeur, however, does not exploit the potential inherent in this view, so Gerald Bruns’ critique of Ricoeur’s position seems on the whole quite valid. See Heidegger’s Estrangements. Language, Truth, and Poetry in the Later Writings (New Haven, 1981), p. 126f.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    See Metaphors We Live By,pp. 192ff. See also W. Iser, “Key Concepts in Current Literary Theory and the Imaginary” in Prospecting,pp. 192ff.Google Scholar
  7. Cf. Metaphors We Live By for a similar view: “We conceptualize the less clearly delineated in terms of the more clearly delineated” (p. 59). The less clearly delineated corresponds to the subjective component: it is what must be imagined.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    This is one of the metaphors Blumenberg uses to illustrate his conception of metaphorology in “Ausblick auf eine Theorie der Unbegrifflichkeit”, p. 440. Blumenberg’s point is that this metaphor accomplishes what neither the objective perception of a meadow nor the subjective act of imagining the meadow as a human face alone can accomplish. 11 See David Cooper’s remarks on indeterminacy and metaphor in Metaphor (Oxford, 1986), pp. 70ff.Google Scholar
  9. 13.
    The image of a drum or drummer, for example, is particularly appropriate in this ante-bellum period of American history because of Thoreau’s unpatriotic refusal to accept the government’s stand on slavery. Although he does not discuss this explicitly in Walden,his willingness to commit civil disobedience as a means of protesting unjust laws was common knowledge. The source of the phrase “I march to the beat of a different drum” is a song by Linda Ronstadt, “Different Drum”, which reflects among other things the cult of individuality in the 1960’s.Google Scholar
  10. 14.
    In The Genesis of Secrecy (Cambridge, Mass., 1979) Kermode is primarily concerned with narrative obscurity, but it is only a step from this view of narrative as inherently obscure to a view in which all modes of poetic and aesthetic discourse are, at least to some extent, inherently enigmatic. This is the view Adorno adopts in Aesthetic Theory,which, despite his concern with modern art and cultural questions, also reflects in its initial premises a Kantian perspective on art. Aesthetic Theory,trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor (Minneapolis, 1997).Google Scholar
  11. 15.
    Hans Blumenberg, “Ausblick auf eine Theorie der Unbegrifflichkeit”, p. 439.Google Scholar
  12. J.-P. Sartre, Imagination. A Psychological Critique (L’imaginaire) (Ann Arbor, 1962).Google Scholar
  13. 17.
    Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method,2nd ed. (New York, 1989), p. 246.Google Scholar
  14. 18.
    Truth and Method,pp. 246–7. The necessity of thinking or imagining the subjective side of this antithesis is part of what makes the idealism of Kant and the phenomenology of Husserl so difficult to grasp. For to do so means to dissociate oneself from the intuitively familiar world of objective consciousness. But this is precisely what creative metaphors and to varying degrees all modes of poetic and aesthetic discourse do: they perform however slightly or unnoticeably dissociative functions.Google Scholar
  15. 19.
    In The Hidden Order of Art (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1967) Anton Ehrenzweig distinguishes between different modes of thought in terms of differentiation. Creative thought, which Ehrenzweig calls “dedifferentiated,” combines elements of both undifferentiated and differentiated thought. Yet, Ehrenzweig refrains from explicitly viewing art as a mediating agent between these two realms.Google Scholar
  16. 20.
    See the early chapters in Metaphors We Live By. Google Scholar
  17. 21.
    There are numerous references to the fundamental metaphorical nature of thought in Metaphors We Live By,but the opening chapters provide an orientation.Google Scholar
  18. 22.
    See Hans Blumenberg, Arbeit am Mythos (Frankfurt, 1979), “Sprachsituation and Immanente Poetik” in Wirklichkeiten in denen Wir Leben. Aufsätze and eine Rede (Stuttgart, 1981); Schiffbruch mit Zuschauer. Paradigmen einer Daseinsmetapher (Frankfurt, 1979).Google Scholar
  19. 23.
    S. T. Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, ed. J. Engell and W. J. Bate (Princeton, 1983), p. 304. It is important to recognize that in Coleridge’s definition of secondary imagination he is quite explicit about the co-presence of conscious and unconscious processes: “The secondary I consider as an echo of the former, co-existing with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree, and in the mode of its operation” (BL I: 304 ).Google Scholar
  20. 24.
    See Immanuel Kant, Kritik der Unteilskraft,e.g. § 49 and § 53 for a discussion of aesthetic ideas. Kant’s aesthetic theory is difficult to reconstruct, however, Gadamer’s discussion of Kant aesthetics in Truth and Method is both admirable and very reliable.Google Scholar
  21. 27.
    Hillis Miller, Versions of Pygmalion (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 129ff.Google Scholar
  22. 28.
    See the early sections of the Kritik der reinen Vernunft (e.g. KrV A 33; A 77–8) for Kant’s discussion of the relationship between space and time. See also Alexander Gelley, Narrative Crossings, Theory and Pragmatics of Prose Fiction (Baltimore, 1987).Google Scholar
  23. 29.
    Kant, KrV B 181: “This synthesis of the manifold of sensible intuition, which is a priori possible and necessary, can be called figural (synthesis speciosa), in contrast to that which in view of the manifold of an intuition is thought of at all in the mere category, and is called intellectual syntheses (synthesis intellectualis)”. Kant distinguishes here between the “reproductive” imagination as opposed to the figural synthesis that is the basic for the procedure imagination.Google Scholar
  24. 30.
    By synthesis, in its most general sense, I understand the act of putting different representations together, and of grasping what is manifold in them in one (act of) knowledge…. Synthesis is that which gathers the elements of knowledge, and unites them to form a certain content. It is to synthesis, therefore, that we must direct our attention, if we would determine the first origin of our knowledge. Synthesis in general… is the mere result of the power of imagination, a blind but indispensable function of the soul, without which we should have no knowledge whatsoever, but of which we are scarcely ever conscious“. (Kant, KrV A 77–78, pp. 116–7 ).Google Scholar
  25. 31.
    Kant, KrV A 78, p. 112. See also KrV B 104: “The multifarious nature of pure perception is the first thing we must possess in order to be able to know all objects a priori. The synthesis of this multifariousness by the imagination is the second, but still provides no knowledge. The concepts which give this pure synthesis unity and consist alone in the representation of this necessary synthetic unity are the third prerequisite for the knowledge of an existing object, and depend on understanding.” Kant here is referring to knowledge of physical objects, but the synthetic relationships hold as well for abstract concepts. In fact, it is in abstract conceptual thought that metaphors play a truly significant role, as Susanne K. Langer has pointed out. Philosophy in a New Key. A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art,3rd. ed., (Cambridge, 1970), p. 136ff.Google Scholar
  26. 32.
    Hans Blumenberg, “Sprachsituation and Immanente Poetik” in Wirklichkeiten in denen Wir Leben. Aufsätze and eine Rede (Stuttgart, 1981), pp. 150ff.Google Scholar
  27. 34.
    In Metaphors We Live By Lakoff and Johnson distinguish between conventional and creative metaphors (p. 139ff); See also David Cooper on established metaphors (a term he prefers to dead) in Metaphors,pp. 53ff, 208ff.Google Scholar
  28. 35.
    Ernst Bloch, Tübinger Einleitung in die Philosophie (Frankfurt, 1970), pp. 334ff. Bloch’s sensitivity to ambivalence is readily observable in much of his writing, especially Spuren,the Tübinger Einleitung,and The Principle of Hope. Utopian thought, even in its most fundamental manifestation as hope, represents a way of dealing with ambivalence, with the still undifferentiated realm of future possibility. The role figurative language plays in Bloch’s writing, both as a mode and as an object of philosophical inquiry, demonstrates the extent to which he considers all aesthetic phenomena, including poetic language, as a means of coping with ambiguity.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CambridgeUSA

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