Posts filed under ‘metaphorical concepts’

Acoustic Metaphor for Textuality

Another example of a newly developed conceptual metaphor based on modern science can be seen in Wai Chee Dimock’s PMLA essay titled “A Theory of Resonance,” which won the first annual Dactyl Foundation award for literary theory/criticism (see the October 1997 issue, pp. 1060-1071).  She suggests that “The semantic fabric of the text, like the fabric of the universe, can be theorized as a space-time continuum. . .”  She wants to account for the passage of time and its effect on the meanings of words and texts, to privilege this as a reality and a beneficial effect of contextual change over time.  Such an approach would treat  texts as a “diachronic objects:  objects that extend across time” and would be called “diachronic historicism,” the key concept of which is resonance

“This primarily aural and primarily interactive concept offers a helpful analogy for the phenomenon of semantic change.  Modeled on the traveling frequencies of sound, it suggests a way to think about what. . . I call the traveling frequencies of literary texts:  frequencies received and amplified across time, moving farther and farther away from their points of origin, causing unexpected vibrations in unexpected places”

Dimock wants literary critics to “draw inspiration from modern physicists:  from their subtle analysis of motion in terms of  space-time continuum” and invokes Einstein “to articulate something like a ‘kinematics’ of the text, theorizing the text’s continuous movement through time.”

Given my previous posts, it is obvious why this essay fascinates me.  Dimock’s essay presents an organizing metaphor for the various movements in late 20th century literary criticism:  reader-response theory, deconstruction, textual analysis.  This becomes obvious when you see the ways that she characterizes the “text”:  “its tendency to fall apart, to pick up noise, to break out in a riot of tongues”; “each text becomes different from itself, suffers a semantic sea change, acquires a freight of new meaning”; “[s]emantically elastic, stretched by a growing web of cross-references, often to the point of unrecognizability, a text cannot and will not remain forever the same object”; “I want to argue that noise is beneficial. . . .”


19 January 2006 at 6:03 pm Leave a comment

“A Topological Style of Thought”

DeLanda explicates a phrase from Deleuze which speaks of an “anexact yet rigorous style of thought.”  This comes after a clear explanation of the key concepts from Darwinism and traces the “philosophical consequences” of such a new conception of species (see ch. 2 pp. 56-63).  It is intended to distinguish the exactitude of biologists from that of physicists: 

“A good example would be the way Edelman approaches  his cell collectives, where the exact number of members or their exact position is immaterial.  Thsi attitude towards quantitative exactitude is not a sign that biologists, unlike physicists, are less careful or disciplined.  It indicates, on the contrary, the presence of a more sophisticated topological style of thought” (63, emphasis mine).

This just struck me as appropriate after my entry of January 12th suggesting that new metaphorical concepts could be derived from higher order math and science.  In fact, this is what attracts me so much to Deleuze and Guattari:  they invoke the focus of contemporary physics on process and unfolding (nonlinearity, fractal geometry, complexity theory), with “plateaus” in geology, botany (rhizomes), set theory, music theory, non-Euclidean geometries, and so on.  As DeLanda writes, “This theme of the disguising of process under product is key to Deleuze’s philosophy since his philosophical method is, at least in part, designed to overcome the objective illusion fostered by this concealment” (68-69).

17 January 2006 at 9:23 pm Leave a comment

Investigating/Inventing New Metaphorical Concepts

I introduced Lakoff and Johnson’s idea of the “metaphorical concept” in a previous post and want to suggest that–if we accept Deleuze and Guattari’s conception of the role of philosophy as “the invention of concepts” as they put forth in What is Philosophy?–philosophy should look to contemporary physics as a “matrix” (i.e. womb) of conceptual generation. For what Lakoff and Johnson–and Mark Turner as well, in his work Reading Minds:  The Study of English in the Age of Cognitive Science–suggest in their recent work on “cognitive linguistics” is that our philosophical concepts are based in large part on our experience of being a body in a three-dimensional space (e.g. “Thinking is Moving”).  But contemporary science and mathematics have taken us beyond a Euclidean 3D space off into bizarre 11-dimensional quivering superstrings.  (note to self:  read Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Cosmos!!), and quantum physics completely undermines our common-sense notions of presence and absence.  Imagine a philosophy whose metaphorical concepts, whose conceptual inventions, kept abreast of contemporary science and math, such that new concepts were derived from the latest speculations on the nature of the universe and of reality. 

This inspires me to introduce a simple idea that I’ve been brewing for 20 or so years.  It is to follow in the footsteps of the presocratic philosophers insofar as they derive whole philosophies from their observation of the four elements earth, air, water and fire.  But I would mix these elements together (to better reflect twenty-first century understandings of flow and process and ontological uncertainty:  think of Luce Irigaray’s riff on “fluid dynamics” in This Sex Which Is Not One) in order to start from a different place:  mud (earth + water), bubble (water + air), dust (earth + air), lava (earth + fire).  Since most of the contemporary philosophy that I’ve read of late tries to get out from under the “classic Greek gang of three” (i.e. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle; the phrase is Edward de Bono’s from Water Logic)–Deleuze and Guattari, Derrida, and Lakoff and Johnson (whose Philosophy in the Flesh asks us to scrap all of western philosophy given that it is based entirely on problematic distinctions of mind vs. body)–returning to presocratic methods makes some sense! (Deleuze’s Logic of Sense too resurrects the Stoic philosophers as a way of getting away from the “gang of three”).  Enough for now:  more on this later.

12 January 2006 at 6:16 pm 1 comment

On Wandering pt. III

The concept of wandering as I have developed it in previous posts takes on a new resonance when considered in light of recent developments in “cognitive linguistics” as developed by scholars such as George Lakoff, Mark Johnson, and Mark Turner.  In their early work, Lakoff and Johnson speak of “metaphorical concepts”; later, in their Philosophy in the Flesh:  The Embodied Mind And Its Challenge to Western Philosophy, they call them “conceptual metaphors.”  Whatever we want to call them, these terms describe the “dead metaphors” that underlie all of our abstract thinking. 

The best way to understand this is to see an example.  I will use one relevant to this business of wandering.  It’s actually a cluster of conceptual metaphors that gather around spatial metaphors of thinking.  The key metaphorical concept is THINKING IS MOVING, and within this we see the following mapping:

The Mind is a Body
Thinking is Moving
Ideas are Locations
Reason is a Force
Rational Thought is Motion that is Direct, Deliberate, Step-By-Step, And in Accord with the Force of Reason
Being Unable to Think is Being Unable to Move
A Line of Thought is a Path
Thinking about X is Moving in the Area Around X
Communicating is Guiding
Understanding is Following
Rethinking is Going Over the Path Again (see p. 236ff)

Some common phrases in which these dead metaphors are embedded include “How did you reach that conclusion?” or “My mind wandered for a moment,” or how about “Get to the point!”  What about “following” somebody’s argument, or being “led to a conclusion”?!

This business of conceptual metaphors is extremely powerful, and I will return to consider their implications in later posts.  For now, consider the allegorical implications of wandering if the mind is considered a body moving within a virtual space of ideas.

3 January 2006 at 6:06 pm Leave a comment

On Wandering pt. I

I love discovering the meanings of words that are hidden in etymologies.  This is essentially the deconstructive impulse, as I learned it from Derrida translator John Leavey way back in grad school:  identify the metaphor underlying a word and then undermine it or turn it against itself. . . . This is where deconstruction gets its bad reputation:  critics like to say that deconstructionists are “nihilists” because they deny any possibility of meaning, but it’s more that they point out the inherent difficulty of making meaning with language–they identify how slippery language can be:  our intended meanings get away from us.  Bill Clinton and his definition of “is”:  a quintessential moment of populist deconstruction!!

I’ve always thought that there needs to be a new school of philosophy (if there isn’t one already!) called “Reconstructionism.”  It would involve the creative work that is done after a word has been “deconstructed.”   I’ve always thought that the work of Gregory Ulmer, my dissertation director, is essentially a form of “reconstructionism.”  The best example comes from his mock-generic textbook titled Text Book:  An Introduction to Literary Language (2nd edition), in which he quotes from Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphorical Concepts on “argument is war” and invites us in the commentary afterward to think of argument in terms of dance.  So then the question becomes this:  how does changing the metaphor underlying the concept “reconstruct” the concept itself?  This is basically what Ulmer does in his groundbreaking book Applied Grammatology:  he shows how Derrida has deconstructed the metaphorical concept “seeing is understanding” and reconstructed it as “smelling is understanding.”  This simple shift in metaphorical concepts explains the epistemological shift that deconstruction ushers in.

I started this blog intending to comment on the etymology of “erratus” which means “to wander,” but I’ve managed to “do what I said. . . ” So because there is much more to be said about this concept/metaphor/etymology, I will return to it in part 2. . . .

30 December 2005 at 3:08 pm Leave a comment

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