Copyright © 1987. The American Journal of Semiotics. All Rights Reserved.
Metaphor, Recognition, and Neural Process
We are interested only in robust metaphor i. e. metaphor which is not dead. Dead metaphor is no more (or less) problematic than non-metaphor. The process by which metaphors die is no doubt of interest in historical linguistics, but that is not our topic.
Our account of metaphor is in the interactionist tradition of I. A. Richards (1936), Max Black (1962), and Paul Ricoeur (1978). Thus in talking of Achilles as being a lion in battle one isn't, for whatever reason, using "lion" to substitute for "Achilles" nor even as a term of comparison with Achilles. Rather, one is bringing the two terms into an interaction which foregrounds a similarity, fighting fury. In describing this interaction, Black uses the metaphor of filtering; the concept "Achilles" is "filtered" through the concept "lion". By calling on recent work in the neurosciences, Karl Pribram's (1971, 1981a, 1981b) concept of neural holography, we suggest a neurological basis for metaphor: the brain creates a new concept by the metaphoric process of using one concept as a filter--better, as an extractor--for another. We suggest further how the understanding of metaphor can call on the special capacities of the two cerebral hemispheres, capacities that have been reviewed recently by Bradshaw and Nettleton (1981), Sperry (1982), and Springer and Deutsch (1985) . The linguistic capacity of the left hemisphere is augmented by the capacity of the right hemisphere for analysis of images. We are thus responding to Paul Bouissac's (1981) call for semiotics to begin grounding its models in the neurosciences.
The neurological basis that we propose brings us to a specific characterization of metaphor's utility. Humanistic scholarship unanimously recognizes that literature helps readers to understand human emotions. We describe a nervous system with parts that have no names, and so are inaccessible to language. (And what is inaccessible to language is all but inaccessible to awareness.) But the poet can find metaphors that render these obscure parts accessible and eventually understandable. The obscurity of much that is emotionally significant-- the difficulty humans have had in becoming aware of their own feelings and their reactions to the feelings of others--is a puzzle we cannot solve, but this obscurity and this difficulty help to account for the place of literature in culture.
An early attempt to ground one science in another must be speculative and requires a considerable investment in theoretical apparatus to connect the levels of the two disciplines. This essay is no exception. Our equipment includes contrasts between indicating and conveying meaning, between physiognomic (analogue) and propositional (digital) representation, and between focal and residual elements of thought. The distinction between indication and conveyance concerns the relationship between the sign and its referent. The relationship is systematic in conveyance, inchoate in indication. The two other distinctions concern the structure of the mental representation, i.e. the signified (Saussure) or the interpretant (Peirce). In our model, metaphor is a means of indicating residual physiognomies. The burden of the remaining sections is to give meaning to that statement by explaining the technical terms on a neurological basis.
Indication and conveyanceThe distinction between indication and conveyance concerns the way signs are linked to referents in discourse. Let us begin, if not with a metaphor, at least with an analogy.
Consider the physicist examining photographs of what went on in the cloud chamber of his accelerator. He sees various dots, clouds, lines, and squiggles. He takes these as indicating the presence of subatomic particles. If, however, the photograph turned out to have such labels as "alpha particle" and "beta particle" printed on it, we would say that it conveyed the presence of those particles. Similarly, one can indicate, e. g., anger, through tone of voice or facial expression; but to convey it one must name it--"I'm angry."
In order further to refine the distinction we need to say something about the unconscious, not the Freudian unconscious which exists through repression and whose contents can be made conscious when that repression is lifted, but the sort of unconscious which constitutes perception and cognition. The eye, through which we see the world, cannot see itself. The mechanisms of language, through which we articulate our understanding of the world, of ourselves, even of language, are not, nonetheless, directly available to language; if they were, then linguistics, instead of being an arcane and abstract academic specialty, would be common knowledge. We can construct theories about the mechanisms of perception, recognition, and cognition, but we cannot inspect those mechanisms in the direct way we can inspect, count, and measure our toes and fingers. We are not directly aware of those mental processes through which we are aware of the world.
The distinction between indication and conveyance concerns how these unconscious mental processes direct our attention to the world. The sign, which we think of as a mental process, involves two terms, signifier and signified (Saussure), or representamen and interpretant (Peirce). Where the referent is conveyed there is always a direct link between some signifier, said to be the name of or word for the referent, and some signified, which is the mental representation or schema, the concept, of the referent. With indication there is no concept, hence no name for it. Instead there is some pattern of bodily movement (facial expression) which indicates an emotional state (anger) or some pattern of speech (metaphor) which indicates a cognitive state (recognition of fighting fury) that need not be explicitly conceptualized for the indication to succeed.
Consider, for example, the difference between a story which is an example of charitable behavior and a philosophical account of what charity is. The story need never mention charity at all, but it will contain at least two persons, the agent and the beneficiary of the charitable action. The beneficiary will have some specific need, which the agent will meet without any thought of reward. The philosophical account will no doubt contain exemplary stories about charity but will go beyond that to call on some abstract theory about human motivation and mental processes. The philosophical account, which conveys the concept of charity, presupposes stories which indicate charity. One might think of those stories as the means by which charity is recognized-- perception linked with cognition--while the philosophical account is the means by which that recognizable object is examined.
Thomas Kuhn's (1970) account of the scientific paradigm provides another example of the distinction. According to Kuhn, the paradigm is like a mechanism of recognition, through it the members of the scientific community see and understand their world. But they are generally not explicitly aware of the assumptions embodied in their paradigm. They indicate this paradigm to students by having the students perform and study exemplary experiments. But they come explicitly to conceptualize this paradigm, to convey its structure to themselves, only in times of scientific crisis, when understanding has outgrown the paradigm. Revolutionaries in science outthink their predecessors and demonstrate their new power both by calling attention to the anomalous observations that the old paradigm cannot account for and by pointing out how foolish the old paradigm IS, once one comes to think about it rather than with it.
Indication thus seems to be a way the mind operates in complex states of affairs. Through indication we communicate what we cannot conceptualize. As a mechanism for indication, metaphor expresses intuitions--mental consequences of perceptions which one cannot formulate with the words and syntactic constructions of one's language. The signs which constitute the metaphor may form a complex structure, but the sense of the whole is simple. The process of conveyance is analytical, charity is dissected and scrutinized, a scientific paradigm is dismantled into ontological and methodological assumptions. The components of a discourse which conveys its referent convey components of the referent. But the components of a discourse which indicates its referent do not indicate components of that referent.
Neurologically, the specialization of the left hemisphere for language can be interpreted as a specialization for conveyance. Initially it was thought that language was exclusively a left-hemisphere function. But that opinion is now known to be wrong. The right hemisphere does have some linguistic capacity, but this is limited to concrete situations and objects, and there is relatively little syntactic capacity (Bradshaw and Nettleton 1981, Springer and Deutsch 1985). This much capacity corresponds fairly well with indication. We might conclude that either hemisphere can indicate a state of affairs, but that only the left hemisphere can convey concepts.
Consider an example (which we treat in considerably more detail later): Achilles is a lion in battle. In I. A. Richards's terminology Achilles is the tenor, lion the vehicle, and courage, shall we say, is the ground which ties tenor and vehicle together. This ground is not explicit; rather, it is indicated by the entire expression. And the components of the predicate, lion and battle, do not indicate components of courage. Rather, these components are the means by which the predicate indicates courage, even as the predication conveys a comparison between Achilles and the lion.
The sense in which courage is the ground of this metaphor needs elaboration. Our elaboration will use distinctions between physiognomic and propositional representation and between focal and residual components of recognition. For now it is enough to understand that a metaphor indicates its ground, that the signifiers which, one after another, convey their signifieds, combine to indicate something which is not itself a mere combination of the signifieds, of the individual signs in the metaphor. In metaphor, as in so much else, the whole exceeds the sum of the parts.
Physiognomic and propositional representationThe distinction between physiognomic and propositional representation is like the distinction between a photograph of a scene and a verbal description of the scene. As such it is hardly a new distinction. Indeed, many today take for granted a physiognomic role for the right hemisphere of the cerebral cortex and a propositional role for the left. The distinction is important for our general argument because the filtering or extraction process which underlies metaphor is fundamentally, we argue, one involving physiognomic representations. The linguistic form of the metaphor is propositional. Hence metaphor is a device for regulating the interaction of propositional and physiognomic representations, that is to say, for recognition.
We assume the general position advocated by, e.g., Jean Piaget (1971) or Ulric Neisser (1976), that the nervous system actively creates inner representations of objects and events in the external world. These representations involve physiognomic and propositional processes.
Our sense of physiognomy, and our use of the term, come from Joseph Church (1966) who talks of the young child, not yet able to read, who can tell one record from another on the basis of the groove patterns on the records. Physiognomic recognition is holistic and analogic. A striking example of this is the "strange friend phenomenon". You encounter a friend and notice there is something strange about her, but you don't exactly know what. You scrutinize her and finally realize that, e.g. she changed her hair style. Or perhaps you don't figure out what changed and instead must be told. The initial recognition depended on a holistic, a physiognomic representation, not one which explicitly builds a full image from parts and parts of parts. If this initial recognition depended on a scheme which built the whole from the parts then there would be no trouble in discovering what had changed. The part would be found immediately. It is not, it takes time.
We argue elsewhere (Benzon and Hays, manuscript) that the initial discrepancy between your basic global physiognomic schema for your friend and her current appearance then leads you to consult a representation which is built up on physiognomic parts and parts of parts, one which is a propositional construction of those physiognomic parts. You then search for the part of parts where discrepancy is greatest, that will tell you what has changed.
Propositional mechanisms build complex representations by linking component schemas together in various ways. A verbal description of a scene entails the analysis of that scene into various components--"The green car is to the left of the oak tree and to the right of the woolly mammoth." The car must be extracted from the whole scene and greenness from the car, similarly the tree and the mammoth. And the spatial relationships between these objects must be made explicit. Notice further that for any but the simplest of visual scenes the amount of verbal description possible is endless-- would you care to describe each hair on the woolly mammoth? Consider an artist who is painting this scene; if he is of the contemporary neorealist school he might attempt to paint each hair. The sequence of motor actions through which an artist manipulates pencil, pen, brush, etc. requires propositional mechanisms. The sequence of postulates and theorems the mathematician uses to describe geometrical objects is a still more abstract propositional representation.
In general, an object can be given either a physiognomic or a propositional representation. Physiognomies are holistic and analogue. Propositions are analytic and digital. Perhaps because of the success of digital computation in recent years, or perhaps because of a bias in the Western philosophy of recent millenia, contemporary thought about neurology, psychology, and semiotics tends to adopt propositional models. Nevertheless, to us, physiognomies seem to be more basic, with propositional representations being derived from them (Benzon and Hays, manuscript, Benzon 1982). The most convincing evidence for the importance of physiognomic representation has been marshaled by Karl Pribram (1971, 1981a, 1981b) in his advocacy of neural holography (see also Arbib 1972).
Pribram has various reasons for proposing holography as a model for neural representations. The one most relevant in this context is that it is very good at recognition processes--you see a lion at the zoo, the circus, in a movie, or on safari and at once recognize it for what it is without regard to the background or situation. Metaphor leads to recognition. The interaction of tenor and vehicle enables us to recognize the ground. Neural holography allows us to see how-- to use Max Black's metaphor--the tenor (Achilles) is filtered through the vehicle (the lion) to yield that ground. But filtration is passive. The holographic process is more active. We pour hot water over coffee beans in a filter cone. The hot water extracts the flavor and brings out our beverage. We can best anticipate the holographic model by likening the vehicle (lion) to the hot water, and likening the tenor (Achilles) to the beans. The vehicle extracts the flavor (courage).
Holography is a photographic technique for making images. A beam of laser light is split into two beams. One beam strikes the object and is reflected to a photographic plate. The other beam, called a reference beam, goes from laser to plate directly. When they meet, the two beams create an interference pattern--imagine dropping two stones into a pond at different places; the waves propagating from each of these points will meet and the resulting pattern is an interference pattern. The photographic plate records the pattern of interference between the reference beam and the reflected beam.
The image recorded on the film doesn't look at all like an ordinary photographic image it's just a dense mass of fine dots. But when a beam of laser light having the same properties as the original reference beam is directed through the film an image appears in front of the film. The interaction of the laser beam and the hologram has recreated the wave form of the laser beam which bounced off the object when the hologram was made. The new beam has extracted the image from the plate.
Holography is, as its name suggests, holistic. Every part of the scene is represented in every part of the plate. (This situation is most unlike ordinary photography, which uses a good lens to focus infinitesimal parts of the scene onto equally infinitesimal parts of the plate. ) With such a determinedly nondigital recording, certain mathematical possibilities can be realized more easily--we are tempted to say, infinitely more easily. For example, convolution. Take the holographic image of a printed page, and the image of a single word. Convolute them. The result is an image of the page with each occurrence of the word highlighted. We can think of visual recognition as a kind of convolution. The present scene, containing several horses, is convoluted with the memory of a horse and the present horses are immediately recognized. We can think of recognition this way, but we must admit that this process has not been achieved in any machine as yet.
Further, it is possible to record many different images on the same piece of film, using different reference beams. The reference beams may differ in color, in angle of incidence, or otherwise. We can think-- although again we cannot cite a demonstration--of convoluting such a composite plate with a second plate. If the image in the second plate matches any one of the images in the composite, then it is recognized. For metaphor we want to convolute Achilles and the lion and to recognize, to elicit another image containing not Achilles, not the lion, but just that wherein they resemble one another. Such is the metaphor mechanism--but that must wait until the next section, on focal and residual schemas.
Of course, the human brain does not contain photographic plates and lasers. In Pribram's model the holographic mechanism is realized in the interactions taking place in the complex interfaces between neurons in the cortex (see also Benzon and Hays, manuscript) . The important point is that a body of evidence and argument supports the assertion that holograph-like processes are the fundamental means of mental representation. These processes are ideal for representing physiognomies for they are holistic and analogic.
Finally, while our examples have been visual, there is nothing about the neural holography model which restricts it to the visual world. Pribram has presented evidence of holographic encoding for hearing and movement (1971). He clearly thinks of neural holography as a general model for cortical processing--sensory, motor, and memory. As far as we can tell, all tissue in the cerebral cortex has basically the same microstructure (Mountcastle and Edelman 1978). This would imply that the basic neural representation process is the same at all places in the cortex, that it is holographic.
Physiognomic and propositional modes of thought have been correlated, respectively, with the neurological processes of the right and left cerebral hemispheres. The physiognomic mode, for which holography provides an appealing model, has most often been linked to the right hemisphere, which is superior in dealing with spatial relationships and plays a role in the perception of emotion (Springer and Deutsch 1985). Our importation of holistic modes of neural processing into a discussion of metaphor may even be justified by evidence that the right hemisphere plays a role in the understanding of metaphor. Persons with appropriate right hemisphere damage tend to be very literal when they interpret statements about, for example, sour grapes (Springer and Deutsch 1985). Nevertheless, we would emphasize the plausibility of holistic processing on both sides of the brain.
The propositional mode is generally linked with the left hemisphere. But naming is anterior to propounding. And a name is itself a pattern of sounds as perceived and as articulated. Presumably this sound pattern is perceived by a neural schema, recognized by another. A third schema may be needed to link the two. This complex we may call, as a whole, the phonological schema of the name. And this schema, by Pribram's hypothesis, would be holographically structured. The name is a physiognomy before it names anything. It is a name because it points to, calls up the schema of some object or state of affairs. The name, a left brain schema, indexes the image, a right-brain schema.
We are thus led to a holographic account of the linguistic sign. The signifier is a word, a name, realized by auditory and articulatory schemas. The signified is also a schema. And the sign, which is constituted by the signifier and the signified, is a third schema responding to both the signifier schema and the signified schema.
Further, propositional thought organizes names in syntactic patterns. In speech, vocal contours (timing, loudness, pitch) have much to do with the expression of syntax. We can think of these patterns, again, as physiognomic schemas, which are holographically recorded. What is then characteristic of the left hemisphere is its capacity to manage the organization of auditory-articulatory schemas, nesting and manipulating them in powerful ways that accomplish so much by virtue of their naming relationship. The right hemisphere correspondingly nests and manipulates schemas of vision and bodily movement, organizing space. By this account, propositional representation is a secondary process (Benzon and Hays, manuscript).
Finally, let us imagine that the left brain has a means of forming physiognomies over propositions--the intuitive sense of wholeness one gets from reading a good essay, poem, story, etc. suggests that there is an irreducibly physiognomic component in the meaning of these propositional structures. These physiognomies could be subjected to metaphoric extraction to yield very abstract metaphors. Thus we have the possibility of a layered interaction of physiognomic and propositional processes, with metaphor being possible at every level from the most concrete to the most abstract.
Focal and residual schemasThe essential idea is that in constructing a representation of some object (regardless of whether the representation is physiognomic or propositional) you want to use a process which first gets the essential points, quickly and easily, and only then goes after the details. For example, statisticians need ways to characterize the distribution of some quality pertaining to the items in a collection, e.g. scores of students on a test, weights of apples, life expectancy of citizens at birth, etc. A most essential characteristic of a distribution is the mean value (average) of the items in it. But the mean tells you nothing about the range of variation of items in the distribution. To characterize variation, statisticians often take the square of the difference between each item and the mean; the square root of the average squared difference is called the standard deviation. The mean is the focus of the analysis while the standard deviation from that mean is the first residual.
A rather different problem comes from astronomy. We have observations about the motions of the planets. But how do we order these observations into a geometrical model of the solar system? Ptolemaic astronomers chose as their focus a circle whose center was the earth. If all the observations for a given planetary body can be accounted for by assuming a geocentric circle of a given radius, then that circle adequately explains the observations. If not then add a residual: choose another circle whose center is on the circumference of the focal circle. The planet is assumed to move along the circumference of the residual circle while the residual circle moves about the focal circle. If this isn't enough, then construct a second residual circle moving about the first residual. And this is how Ptolemaic astronomy went, accumulating a large number of residual circles for each planetary body.
Copernicus simplified this process by making the focal circle heliocentric.As a result, fewer residual circles were needed. Then Kepler came along and argued that the focal curve should be an ellipse and not a circle. This so simplified matters that residual circles were no longer necessary. The moral of this story is that a judicious choice of a focus cuts down on the number of residuals needed.
Now consider, e.g., that Chippendale chair you so admire. Whether you see it in the brightness of the noon sun or the dimness of a weak incandescent light at night, whether you are relatively close to it or far from it, whether you look at it from the front, side, rear, from above or below, you recognize it as the same chair. The image it presents to the retina varies widely across these various conditions, but you always see (that it is) the identical chair. Plato dealt with this problem by postulating a realm of unchanging Ideas; real objects, with their varying appearances, are simply copies of the Ideas. Platonic Ideas are focal schemas while phenomenal appearances are modified by various residuals.
We, however, are not Platonists. We are concerned with the human mind and its mechanisms for representing the external world. The representations must account for the incoming sensory data; to account for the sensory data is to determine what objects and events in the world are responsible for those data. Our representations are built up over long periods, we have to learn to cognize the world before we can recognize what is in it. In the case of the Chippendale chair, we can imagine a focal image for the chair. To extract the image of the chair from the incoming sense data we need this focal schema plus various residual operators which modify the focal schema according to lighting conditions, distance, and angle of sight. When appropriately combined, the focus and its residuals will match the incoming sense data and the object will be identified as that represented by the focal schema. (If no one has demonstrated a machine that can use convolution to recognize a horse in a holographic picture of a pasture by convolution, it may be because existing machines have no way of managing the residuals.)
Now consider a face. Everything we said about the chair applies here as well. But the expression on the face can vary widely and the identity of the face remains constant. This variability of expression can also be handled by the mechanism of focal and residual. There is a focal schema for face-in-neutral-expression and then we have various residuals which can operate on the focal schema to produce various expressions. (You might want to recall D'Arcy Thompson's coordinate transformations in On Growth and Form 1932.) We tend to discard presentation residuals such as lighting and angle of sight, but we respond to expression residuals.
Our basic point about metaphor is that the ground which links tenor and vehicle is derived -from residuals on them. Consider the following example, from Book Twenty of Homer's Iliad (Lattimore translation, 1951, ll. 163-175)--it has the verbal form of a simile, but the basic conceptual process is, of course, metaphorical:
From the otherIn short, Achilles was a lion in battle. Achilles is the tenor, lion the vehicle, and the ground is some martial virtue "proud heart and fighting fury". But what of that detailed vignette about the lion's fighting style? Whatever its use in pacing the narrative, its real value, in our view, is that it contains the residuals on which the comparison rests, the residuals which give it life. The phrase "proud heart and fighting fury" is propositional while the fighting style is physiognomic. "Proud heart and fighting fury" may convey something of what is behind the fighting style, but only metaphoric interaction can foreground the complex schema by which we recognize and feel that style.
The cognitive problem is to isolate the physiognomy of style, to tease it apart from the entities which exhibit that style. Recall the strange friend phenomenon where the problem was to isolate that aspect of the friend which had changed from the total physiognomy. In the case of Achilles and the lion we have two complex physiognomies, each extended in space and time. Metaphoric comparison serves to isolate the style, to allow us to focus our attention on that style as distinct from the entities which exhibit it.
This comparison involves two foci, Achilles and the lion. The physical resemblance between them is not great--their body proportions are quite different and the lion is covered with fur while Achilles is, depending on the occasion, either naked or clothed in some one of many possible ways. The likeness shows up in the way they move in battle. A body in motion doesn't appear the same as a body at rest. The appearance presented by the focal body is modified by the many residuals which characterize that body's movement-- twists and turns, foreshortenings and elongations (for an account of motion residuals, see Hay 1966). The movements of Achilles and the lion must differ at the grossest level, since the lion stands on four legs and fights with claws and teeth, while Achilles stands on two legs and fights with a spear or sword. But their movements are alike at a subtler level, at the level of what we call, in a dancer or a fighter, their style. Residuals can be stacked to many levels. "Proud heart and fighting fury" may be a good phrase to designate that style, but it doesn't allow us to attend to that style. Homer's extended simile does.
The physiognomies which are being compared are thus quite complex, Achilles in battle and the lion in battle. The foci, Achilles and the lion, don't match, but the residuals of some suitably subtle level do. The lion's vignette is established in the mind and then Homer presents us with Achilles and Aeneas in combat. Achilles's combat is filtered through the vignette, as Max Black would put it; or the lion's vignette extracts the style with which Achilles goes into combat, as we would put it.
Remember that a hologram can contain many images on a single surface, and think of a holographic plate on which are recorded, all at once, the focal Achilles together with movement residuals and subtler residuals of style. These are so many separate images, but all of them together constitute an image of Achilles in battle. Likewise, think of a second plate carrying a manifold image of the lion. Now think of the convolution of these two plates. The likeness emerges strongly, and the likeness is that of style. In our example, Homer's metaphor, the foci are dissimilar. The style is foregrounded. If the audience had never before given attention to courage, they do so now. The ground is thus created in the metaphor process.
This analysis applies only to robust metaphor. The link between signifier and signified in dead metaphor (e. g. the mouth of the river) is the same as that in nonmetaphorical language. But for robust metaphor, even that which isn't as elaborate as the Homeric simile, the signifier is a complex verbal proposition, the figure, while the signified is the pattern of residuals which is the ground. This pattern of residuals is isolated in the mind only through the process of metaphoric comparison. Metaphor indicates that pattern, allows us to attend to it.
Taken in isolation, the scenes compared in metaphor have the foci and their attendant residuals intermingled in one complex schema. On the composite surface that we imagine, the one devoted to Achilles in combat, there is a focus (neutral Achilles) as one image, there are motion residuals (twistings and turnings of arms and legs) as another image, and higher-order residuals (fighting style) as a third image, all recorded on this one surface. When memory draws on this surface in a simple way, everything floods back at once. Only when the vehicle scene is used as an extractor on the tenor scene is the residual ground isolated as a distinct perceptual, cognizable object. The residuals of style are extracted because the match between lion focus and Achilles focus is too weak, and so is the match between lion movement and Achilles movement. This newly isolated physiognomy, the image of a fighting style, is then applied to the tenor. The complex figural signifier is a proposition which regulates the interaction of physiognomies so that a new physiognomy can be isolated, a new state of affairs attended to.
We can see roles for both hemispheres in the understanding of metaphor. The left hemisphere deals with the propositional structure in which the poet expresses the metaphor, and the right hemisphere deals with the images the poet calls up. That is to say, the left hemisphere structures the figural signifier, while the right hemisphere extracts the signified ground. The holographic convolution of composite images is a model for the right brain process. Our theory of metaphor is thus about one mode of interaction between the two hemispheres. The propositional capacities of the left hemisphere are being used to organize complex perceptual and cognitive operations in the right hemisphere.
We know that our statement lacks detail. We can only offer metaphors for crucial stages where neuroscience cannot yet supply definite information about micro and macrostructures of the brain. And we rely on Pribram's holographic model which is more a topic for debate than an accepted theory itself
Still and all, our account of metaphor explains why the emotional elements of life are hard to recognize even though we feel them, even though they trigger our reactions (they are residual, not focal), why literature needs imagery (because the physiognomic recording of a scene brings along the residuals), and wherein lies the poetic virtue of indicating what cannot yet be conveyed (foregrounding leads to conceptualization, which in turn makes possible rational consideration). For us, these results justify the speculation.
With the basic terms of our theory now explicated, let us consider an example in which metaphor is compounded of metaphor so that higher-level metaphors are built from terms which are themselves metaphors. Our example comes from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet , I.v. 46-51 (Bryant's edition) where Romeo has just seen Juliet for the first time at Capulet's ball:
O. she doth teach the torches to burn bright!This passage breaks down into four propositions. In the first Juliet is a teacher of torches, a metaphor. In the second she is a jewel on the cheek of night, metaphor. The third proposition introduces a financial metaphor, rich and dear, and uses it to put her beyond this earth. The fourth and final proposition is an analogy, asserting Juliet's difference from her fellows.
The initial metaphor is surely intended to indicate the quality of Juliet's radiance. We have two metaphors compounded:
1a) Juliet is a torch,In the first Juliet is the tenor, the torch is the vehicle, and brightness is the ground. The physical brightness of the inanimate torch is transferred to Juliet, where it becomes understood as the (spiritual) radiance of a living person.
In the second metaphor (1b) the interaction between teacher and pupil, with Juliet in the teacher's role, is the vehicle. The torches are the tenor. This metaphor works actively to confer animation on the torch. The torch is alive, actively receiving the influence of Juliet's instruction. Life is the ground of (1b).
The torch thus serves as vehicle in the first metaphor, indicating Juliet's radiance, and as tenor in the second metaphor, where their animation is indicated. This interaction is a higher order metaphor in which the second metaphor, torches are pupils, provides a vehicle for the first, Juliet is a torch, taken as tenor. In this higher order metaphor light (tenor) is life (vehicle). This metaphor is quite abstract. Light is concrete, though elusive, while life is an abstract concept-- though living things are concrete enough, their quality of life is abstract. Hence the ground of this metaphor will be abstract; soul or spirit is perhaps an adequate approximation.
This first compound metaphor is followed by a second:
2a) Juliet is a jewel,The likeness between Juliet and a jewel is grounded in her radiance, established in the preceding line. The likeness between the night and an Ethiopian is grounded in color, a common darkness. Juliet's brilliance has her in contrast to her background, the night, as a jewel against an Ethiopian's cheek. The first compound metaphor established the animate nature of Juliet's radiance. This one places that radiance in radical contrast to its background. Juliet is isolated, the other young women at the ball are the dark night.
Thus we are led to the third proposition of this passage, the assertion that Juliet's beauty is "too rich for use, for earth too dear!" This line, unlike those preceding, is not based in the sensible, it contains no concrete images. However, the words "rich" and "dear" introduce an economic metaphor into this unfolding complex. The basic metaphor is that
3) Juliet is some product (a bolt of cloth, a pair of boots, no matter what, it makes no difference). In particular, she is the jewel in the Ethiop's ear.But it is a product whose materials and workmanship make it too fine to be used for its intended purpose, and its value is too high to be paid in earthly coinage. These economic terms introduce value into the complex. That Juliet is contrasted against some background does not necessarily imply that she is valued. Now her value, as something not of this earth, in contrast to things of this world, is asserted.
Finally, the fourth proposition in this passage is an analogy asserting that Juliet differs from her fellows in the same way that a dove differs from crows. The three previous metaphors establish Juliet's beauty. This analogy asserts that, in her beauty, Juliet is different from her fellows, a point which was suggested by her placement "on the cheek of night" but is made explicit here. This analogy forces us to draw the implication that Juliet's is a special beauty that other women lack.
Analogy is obviously similar to metaphor. The contrast between dove and crows can be taken as a vehicle for indicating a like contrast in the tenor, Juliet and her fellows. The relationship, one of contrast in this case, is simply transferred to the tenor. There is no ground other than the like relationship. Hays (1981) takes cognition of a relationship between entities to be a matter of cross-residuals. If he is correct, then relationship is much like the ground of a metaphor, residual to the foci of tenor and vehicle. The color of birds is not residual to them; it is, to the recognition system, constitutive of them. Juliet's radiance is not residual to her; it constitutes her. However, when two very different sets of related terms are linked by analogy, the terms themselves are lost as the pairs of terms extract from each other all that they have in common, the residuals of relationship.
Analogy thus seems to be the application of metaphorical extraction to propositions. Propositions consist of arguments, the linguist's contentives (nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.), and relations over arguments. The relations are treated as residual to the arguments (which is quite different from asserting that those relations are built from residuals on the terms providing the proposition's arguments). When one proposition is convoluted with another the arguments drop out and only the relationships remain.
In the case of Juliet and the crows there is, we argue, a residual to the relationship which is the analogy's ground. That residual is affective. The connotations of white are positive while those of black are negative; these connotations are residual to the color itself. These affects, these connotations, have of course been working throughout the passage. The effect of the succession of metaphoric convolutions which have been applied in this passage is to indicate aspects of Juliet's impression on Romeo until, with all else indicated, there is nothing left to indicate but her affective impression, Romeo's emotion. She is radiant, valuable, unlike her fellows, and she is good. She has become Romeo's beloved.
While this example from Shakespeare is much shorter than the example from Homer, the metaphoric filtering is more complex. The Homeric simile used only one level of convolution, though it used that convolution in a relatively long text. Shakespeare uses a densely packed series of metaphors and achieves a rich pattern of indication in only six lines. We suspect, though we cannot here argue, that the use of compound metaphors increases with the evolution of culture, so that e.g. contemporary poets routinely compound metaphors more richly than did Shakespeare. The essential point, however, is just the fact of compound metaphor. The process of convoluting one physiognomy with another yields another physiognomy, one consisting of residuals. This new physiognomy can in turn be used as either tenor or vehicle in further convolution. There is, in principle, no limit to this process.
Conclusion: metaphor and thoughtThus, in accord with the interactionist tradition within which we place ourselves, we find that metaphor constitutes thought, it is a way of seeing. Our contribution is to bring this line of thought into conjunction with Pribram's hypothesis of neural holography and with recent work on the differentiated contributions of the two cortical hemispheres. In this context metaphor is seen as a device for extending the range of the physiognomic representational schemas which are fundamental to the mind.
A. O. Lovejoy (1936) has remarked that Plato has a disconcerting tendency to move into a mythic (or, we should say, metaphoric) mode just when he gets to the crucial point in an argument-- consider, for example, the allegory of the cave in the Republic. That, we would suggest, indicates that he is working at the very edge of his capacity to conceptualize. When the essential point cannot be conveyed in the dialectical interplay of his speakers, a move into metaphor is appropriate. Through metaphor thought advances into the world, seeing, then categorizing, and, finally, analyzing.
Yet, however essential we believe metaphor to be, we find ourselves distinctly uncomfortable with attempts to make metaphor coextensive with thought, see, e.g. Metaphors We Live By (Lakoff and Johnson 1980) . We can agree with Wayne Booth (1978) that such intellectual expansiveness (imperialism?) renders the concept of metaphor meaningless; if it is everything then it might just as well be nothing.
More specifically, it is not the only semiotic process which constitutes complex meanings. There is at least one other such process: story telling. This is not the place to go into a full discussion (that has been done in Hays 1981, Benzon 1981), but we need to develop the notion enough to make the contrast.
When discussing the distinction between indication and conveyance we used the example of charity. Charity is an abstract concept. Its meaning is given by a story, most generally, a story in which someone does something nice for someone else without thought of reward. Any story which has that general form is an instance of charity. But charity is not one of the elements in that story. Rather, charity is the pattern which all of the elements exhibit together. Like the referent of a metaphor, an abstract concept is greater than the sum of all the parts in an exemplary instance of that concept. But tales are not built up by extracting one physiognomy with another; rather, tales seem to be constructed over propositions instead of being isolated by means of propositions. A tale indicates the abstract pattern in a proposition; metaphor uses a proposition to indicate a pattern. They are different processes. And neither one of them can claim exclusively to constitute thought.
Metaphor and story telling are semiotic mechanisms for extending perception beyond sensorimotor categories to complex patterns of affairs. To assert that metaphor does not reign supreme does not diminish metaphor. It situates metaphor against a contrasting background, a difference, which lends it meaning, significance. We can no longer live with the luxury of believing in literal, objective meaning, meaning only passively apprehended by the mind. The mind actively constructs meaning. Metaphor is ones but only one, of the constructive processes.
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