Monday, July 28, 2008

what is metaphor?

Enjoy opaque writing? This is Galvano della Volpe's account of metaphor from Critique of Taste, initially citing Aristotle (parentheses and references omitted):

"In Rhetoric we are told that metaphor provides us with easy instruction and knowledge "through the genus" - in other words in so far as it is a general notion or idea. The same conception is repeated today, after Castelvestro and others by I.A. Richards when he summarizes the principle of metaphor as "a combination of general aspects". Again, in the Poetics Aristotle says that "the right use of metaphor means an eye for resemblances", that is, that "metaphors should be drawn from objects which are proper to the object, but not too obvious; just as, for instance, in philosophy it needs sagacity to grasp the similarity in things that are apart". Given these premises, Aristotle concludes by showing under the heading of Logic in the Topica that similarity in metaphor, "for those who use metaphors always do so on account of some similarity" is the same categorical norm as the similarity or sameness which regulates inductive, hypothetical and definitional reasonings. To limit ourselves to the latter, we are told that: "(The consideration of similarity) [=sameness] is useful for the assignment of definitions because, if we can see what is identical in each particular case, we shall have no doubt about the genus in which we must place the subject under discussion when we are defining it; for, of the common predicates, that which falls most definitely in the category of essence must be the genus"."

Two things are abstracted to the degree they constitute equivalents; this also means: such that each possesses a function common to both. Then potentially each can be decomposed into parts contrasting with or consonant with this function.


Le Colonel Chabert said...

what did you think of that book generally?

catmint said...


I found the first part polemicising against "romantic" type criticism accurate but not so important nowadays as something that needs to be refuted. The introduction to semiological method I found basically impenetrable. I read a thing by one of his students on the internet the other day describing his "tortuous style" so evidently it's not just me. I felt the same way when I first read Bachelard so this isn't a final judgement. I'm currently reading the section with examples against the theorists of "euphony" which is interesting and a pleasure to read. I don't think his methodology is objectionable. Having never properly studied literature I can't really value it as a foundation for materialist criticism against various doxas, but maybe it could work like this.

In relation to the other aspect of the book, the (implied) polemic against Lukacs, I would again agree with della Volpe. I can't do justice to Lukacs project in a blog comment but it's some way from the contemporary intuitive way of looking at books, (conditioned as it is by the norms of "bourgois society"). The series of literary articles on Lenin's Tomb I thought were really good, but it was interesting no one held to the old Lukacs position. Of course, this implicitly sanctions the kind of things Lukacs railed against: Joyce, Burroughs, Keruoac...

Le Colonel Chabert said...

But Lukacs appreciated Joyce without knowing it :

[I]t is not easy to think of any two novels more basically dissimilar than Ulysses and Lotte in Weimar. This is true even of the superficially rather similar scenes I have indicated. I am not referring to the – to my mind – striking differences in intellectual quality. I refer to the fact that with Joyce the stream-of-consciousness technique is no mere stylistic device; it is itself the formative principle governing the narrative pattern and the presentation of character. Technique here is something absolute; it is part and parcel of the aesthetic ambition informing Ulysses. With Thomas Mann, on the other hand, the monologue int√©rieur is simply a technical device, allowing the author to explore aspets of Goethe’s world which would not have been otherwise available. Goethe’s experience is not presented as confine to momentary sense-impressions. The artist reaches down to the core of Goethe’s personality to the complexity of his relations with his own past, present and even future experience. The stream of association is only apparently free. The monologue is composed with the utmost artistic rigour; it is a carefully plotted sequence gradually piercing to the core of Goethe’s personality. Every person or event, emerging momentarily from the stream and vanishing again, is given a specific weight, a definite position, in the pattern of the whole. However unconventional the presentation, the compositional principle is that of the traditional epic: in the way the pace is controlled, and the transitions and climaxes are organised, the ancient rules of epic narration are faithfully observed.

It would be absurd, in view of Joyce’s artistic ambitions and his manifest abilities, to qualify the exaggerated attention he gives to the detailed recording of sense data, and his comparative neglect of ideas and emotions, as artistic failure. All this was in conformity with Joyce’s artistic intentions; and, by use of such techniques, he may be said to have achieved them satisfactorily. But between Joyce’s intentions and those of Thomas Mann there is a total opposition. The perpetually oscillating patterns of sense- and memory-data, their powerfully charged – but aimless and directionless – fields of force, give rise to an epic structure which is static, reflecting a belief in the basically static character of events. These opposed view of the world – dynamic and developmental on the one hand, static and sensation on the other – are of crucial importance in examining the two schools of literature I have mentioned.

""romantic" type criticism accurate but not so important nowadays as something that needs to be refuted."

yes, and also in the climate of New Criticism as a bad answer, it is hard to imagine how very dominant that school was and how much it monopolised both terrains of common sense and of intellectual dignity. But the "subjective infinity" of the romantics shows up in Badiou's theses, despite the antiromatic posture. The very broad idealist Hegelianism della Volpe is out to root out no matter what guise it takes is very resilient.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

"The series of literary articles on Lenin's Tomb I thought were really good,"

sort of talking to the side of Lukacs etc, and aesthetics debates, being portraits of individual producers; the product is in a way presented just as the artifact of the condition. So not really incompatible with any of the various marxist approaches to culture product, just its not really relevant to the content roobin is conveying.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

1987, Moretti:

In the past two decades, there has been a complete change in the dominant attitude of Marxist criticism towards Modernism. Essentially, Marxist readings of avant-garde literature are increasingly based on interpretative theories—Russian Formalism, Bakhtin’s work, theories of the ‘open’ text, deconstructionism—which, in one way or another, belong to Modernism itself. This sudden loss of distance has inevitably paved the way to a sort of interpretative vicious circle. But what seems to me even more significant is the transformation which has occurred in the field of values and value-judgements, where recent Marxist criticism is really little more than a left-wing ‘apology of Modernism’. We need only think of such pioneer Marxist work as that of Benjamin or Adorno, and the extent of this cultural somersault is evident. Benjamin and Adorno associated ‘fragmentary’ texts with melancholy, pain, defencelessness, loss of hope; today, they would evoke the far more exhilarating concepts of semantic freedom, de-totalization and productive heterogeneity. In the deliberate obscurity of modern literature, Benjamin and Adorno saw the sign of some kind of threat; nowadays, it would be taken rather as a promise of free interpretative play. For them, the key novelist of the modern world was, quite clearly, Franz Kafka; today, just as clearly, he has been replaced by James Joyce, whose work is just as great, but certainly less urgent and ‘uncanny’.

Le Colonel Chabert said...

cont'd: By and large, I agree with the emphasis on the anti-tragic, or non-tragic elements of Modernism. What does not convince me at all, however, is the widespread idea that what we may call the ‘ironic’ dominant of modernist literature is subversive of the modern bourgeois world-view. ‘Open’-texts contradict and subvert organicist beliefs, there is no doubt about this; but it remains to be seen whether in the past century the hegemonic frame of mind has not in fact abandoned organicism, and replaced it with openness and irony. I will try to show that such is indeed the case, and that, although irony is an indispensable comp√≥nent of any critical, democratic and progressive culture, its modernist version has a dark side with which we are not familiar enough, and which may be even more relevant to Marxist culture than those aspects focused upon in the recent past.