. Abstract
. Mcluhan's literary formation
. Beyond the traditional account of metaphor
. Moving environments
. Bibliography

Beyond the traditional account of metaphor

In his paper The Metaphorical Process: Cognition, Imagination, and Feeling, Ricoeur (1981) [1978] remembers that, in the rhetorical tradition that remounts to Aristotle, metaphor is described in terms of 'deviation' - a deviation that is attributed to denomination. According to that tradition, in a metaphor we would designate something through a borrowed and strange name. The rationality of this substitution is understood in terms of an objective similarity among the things designated in the sentence or in terms of a subjective similarity among attitudes involved in the knowledge of those things. The purpose of this substitution would be supposedly to fill out a gap in the lexicon of the language or decorate the speech. Ricoeur also remembers that, breaking up with that 'substitutive theory', Max Black proposes an 'interactive theory', according to which is the sentence as a whole that will support the metaphorical process (and not just a name). The metaphor becomes then to be described as a deviate predication and no more as a deviate denomination.

More precisely, the history goes like that: analyzing some theories of metaphor (mainly the one of Richards) which he denominates interactive, Black (1981) [1955] proposes that we think of metaphor as a 'filter'. Considering the metaphor 'the man is a wolf', Black suggests being necessary that the reader knows an 'associated system of common places' of the term 'wolf' (a term to which he refers as the 'subsidiary theme of the metaphor'), in order that the reader could note he is before a metaphor. This system, (that varies society to society and, inside of the same society, in different contexts), will sui generis organize our vision of the 'main' theme to which the metaphor refers (in the present case, man) - suppressing certain aspects, emphasizing others and besides bringing unknown aspects of the main theme to the surface. It is because the term wolf is not usually predicated of the term man that we realize we are before a metaphor, and that forces us to a new articulation of the meaning of these terms.

According to Ricoeur (1981) [1978], although it makes some progress, even the theory of Black doesn't understand appropriately the process of formation of new meanings due to the use of metaphors. We could only understand that process if we have a better understanding of the paper of imagination and feeling in the production of metaphorical insight. Already for Aristotle, the vivacity of good metaphors consisted of their ability in establishing before our eyes a certain sense. According to Ricoeur, it would exist in metaphors a 'pictorial' dimension, which he denominates 'pictorial function of the metaphorical meaning'. Ricoeur says that feelings and imagination are genuine components of the metaphorical process - but unlike what was sustained by the Aristotelian tradition, they are not mere substitutes for an absence of informative value. If we conceive imagination as something more than a perceptive residue, then we can attribute to it a role in the construction of new meanings by the use of metaphors. In the same way, the feeling should not be taken as a mere emotion. It accompanies and completes the imagination in the sketching of the new predicative consistency.

Glucksberg & Keysar (1990), in a psychological study on the understanding of metaphors in communicative contexts, also defend that metaphorical sentences generate new meanings, more specifically, new categorizations. They also criticize theories that suppose, whenever before a metaphorical expression, the reader or listener have to reject a literal interpretation of the expression (which would be revealed as false) in order to recognize in it just an implicit simile. One of the problems with those traditional theories is that metaphors have a fundamental difference in relation to simple comparisons: they are not reversible.

According to Glucksberg & Keysar, as well as any thing is similar, in some way, to another thing in the world, things can be classified in several ways, in categories that have names and also in categories that don't have names. In the case of categories that don't have names, we can refer to them through some prototypic member of the category in question. The authors propose that metaphors of the type 'my work is a prison' can be understood not as implicit similes, but as class inclusion sentences in which the 'vehicle' of the metaphor (in the case, the term 'prison') works as a prototypic member of the class (in the case, the class of things constraining our will) the 'topic' ('work') is being subsumed. The categories metaphorically designated would have the same structure of the ordinary categories, possessing vertical hierarchical levels and a horizontal distribution of the members (some of them more prototypic than others).

Certain terms can be considered conventional vehicles (inside of a given culture) for the attribution of properties to a topic of interest. According to Glucksberg & Keysar, these terms are part of that group of metaphors that Lacoff & Johnson (1980) describe as 'metaphors we live by' - metaphors that are effective conceptual schemes in a given culture. Lacoff & Johnson became (in)famous trying to demonstrate that our ordinary conceptual system, which structures our perception, our orientation in the world and the form we relate to other people, is fundamentally metaphorical. For being metaphorical this conceptual system is partial, because the process that allows us to understand an aspect of a concept in terms of another concept will necessarily hide aspects of those concepts.