Friday, July 01, 2011

Metaphor and Simile

Not Particularly Organized Notes on Metaphor and Simile
by CWK
(see: Aristotle Poet. 21-22, Rh. 3.2 6-4 4,3. 20. 7-11. 15)

(From Oxford Class Dict., 3rd Ed. 965-967) By the time of Quintillian  (Inst. 8.5 35-9. 3. 10) metaphor and simile have a place in an elaborate apparatus of ‘tropes’ (trope = figure of speech) and ‘figures’. Metaphor was classed among tropes, and simile among figures (e.g. Cic. De. or. 3. 205, cf. Quint. Inst. 9.2.1-2).

figures= a variety of supposedly special ‘conformations’ (Quint. Inst. 9.1.4) from homoeoteleuton to rhetorical question. Tropes comprise all deviations (except for errors) from established word usage, including metonymy and metaphor.

I. Metaphor

(from greek metaphora = a transfer, meta (above, beyond, over) + pherein (carry), i.e. to carry over): "some pregnant experience that appears to be a good sample of the nature of things (Pepper, 197)", "any representation of one subject matter in terms of literally appropriate not to it but to some different subject matter (Frederick Ferre, 208)."

Metaphor is an example of paradigmatic substitution.

Paradigmatic (substitution) the relationship between elements within a sentence and other elements which are syntactically interchangeable (See Introduction to Postmodernism, pg 60). Involves a perception of similarity which then can generate metaphor.

The basic talent of the poet is he, "sees the connection between things." He sees, that is, metaphors.

II. Simile

 (fr. latin simile = a like thing) ex. cheeks like roses

Metaphor and simile explain the unfamiliar based on the familiar. They may also draw attention to how things relate in the world in order to make the beauty or ugliness of something more apparent. Fundamentally, they pronounce relationships between things. The difference: obviously the simile uses a word of comparison such as 'like' or 'as.' In this way, the relationship between the things compared is more transparent. Is there an element of mystery in metaphors? When we directly identify two things.

Metaphor in Philosophy, From The Dictionary of the History of Ideas, vol. 3. 196- 200.
It is not a simile with the preposition “like” left out. It is rather the use of one part of experience to illuminate another – to help us understand, comprehend, even to intuit, or enter into the other. The metaphorical element may ultimately be absorbed completely into what it is a metaphor of. The one element, as frequently explained, is “reduced” to the other. The paradox of a metaphor is that it seems to affirm an identity while also half denying it. “All things are water,” Thales seems to say. In so saying he would be affirming an identity and yet acknowledging that it is not obvious, and that what is more obvious is the difference. He claims an insight beyond the conventional view of things.

* Francis Bacon not a big fan of metaphors: we develop comprehensive systems in the language of myth and fantasy far beyond the data of observation. He was pleading for a method of solid empirical cognition in terms of collecting diverse instances of a subject to lift out the “form” that held them together.

“a pregnant experience that appears to be a good sample of the nature of things (197)”

“Explicit awareness of the distinction between would-be literal uses of religious language and “metaphor,” as we have here broadly defined it, arose in a significantly different cultural context from the biblical one. Greek religion, like the Hebrew, was shot through with vivid imagery, but at least two significant social differences distinguish their histories. First, Greek religion from the sixth century B.C. was obliged to coexist with a lively independent philosophical movement, as Hebrew religion was not. Second, Greek religion of this period, unlike the Hebrew, lacked an institutionalized priesthood of specialists in the defense, exposition, and transmission of inherited belief. These two differences doubtless worked together in Greece to reinforce the rise of critical consciousness of non-literal religious discourse...In sum, the aim of the philosophic movement in Greek culture was to provide rational and (in intention, at least) literal theory for the understanding of the universe. Such an aim and such an intention (no matter the degree of success) is, as we noted earlier, the logical prereqisite for the discovery of metaphor in religious discourse. Only when there is a theory about what is “literally so” can there be explicit recognition of oblique, allegorical, symbolic – in a word, metaphorical – alternative uses of significant forms (203).”

Some greek thinkers were, “prepared to give the venerated a reinterpretation to bring them – with their “real meaning”- more into line with what the commentators variously believed to be the literal truth. The usual method of interpretation was through allegory (uponoia), derived from greek rhetoric, which term meant simply a series of metaphors or a sustained metaphor.

“(The tales of the plots and fightings of the gods against one another) must not be admitted into our state, whether they are supposed to have an allegorical meaning or not. For a young person cannot judge what is allegorical and what is literal; anything that he receives into his mind at that age is likely to become indelible and unalterable; and therefore it is most important that the tales which the young first hear should be models of virtuous thoughts (Republic II 378 D).

“Now it is natural to man to attain to intellectual truths through sensible things, because all our knowledge originates from sense. Hence in Holy Scripture spiritual truths are fittingly taught under the likeness of material things (Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Q.I, Art. 9).

Pepper, Stephen C. “Metaphor in Philosophy,” in Dictionary of the History of Ideas, vol. 3, ed. Philip Wiener. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1973.

Ferre, Frederick. “Metaphor in Religious Discourse,” Dictionary of the History of Ideas, vol. 3. ed. Philip Wiener. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1973. 

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