Some interesting comments on metaphor

There is a really wonderful article on ‘The Metaphor as a Mediator between semantic and analogic modes of thought’ from 1978, by Brenda Beck (it includes replies, which are also interesting). Some interesting statements/points made by Beck include:

“According to Ogden and Richards (1960), a metaphor is a primitive abstraction. It involves referring to a set of concrete relationships in one situation for the purpose of facilitating the recognition of an analogous set of relations in another situation. Metaphorical language thus borrows a part of one context, by identifying its abstract form, and applies it to another group of things that is less easily understood.” (p.83)

“Metaphors need not always have a verbal form; in ritual, for example, they may be expressed in actions alone. Indeed, anything built or designed by man can have metaphoric as well as literal qualities. Thus a fence, for example, can serve the direct function of bounding something or of keeping the un-wanted out. At the same time, a fence can have a metaphoric function, such as providing a concrete statement about the
owner’s general economic status and/or social attitudes.” (p.83)

“…the metaphor is not a random analogy. Its imagery builds on clusters or sets of underlying associations which anthropologists can and should closely examine. Nonetheless, we must not give too much importance to any single metaphor in our delineation of a cultural world view. Such sets of images can be cumulative, but, at the same time, strings of metaphors are often complementary in their qualities. The use of a range of metaphors, then, should be examined, not just for common elements, but also for genuine diversity.” (p.84)

“A metaphor points to the existence of a given set of abstract relationships hidden within some immediately graspable image. By doing this, it helps to ground our conceptual structures in the reality of concrete experience.” (p.84)

“The metaphor is one of the simplest and most important mechanisms by which such a shared mental framework can be kept in touch with what lies “out there.” By studying the use of metaphors and their shifting content, we can thus monitor that very central process of adjustment which any cultural code must undergo when faced with a changing environment. Through recording metaphors in the context of their use, we can literally come to “see” that process at the very moment of its occurrence.” (p.84)

Work with language learning in young children (Piaget and Inhelder 1967) and in chimpanzees (Davenport 1977, Savage and Rumbaugh 1977) seems to confirm the existence of a relatively undifferentiated prelinguistic pool of motor and emotive experience on which semantic codes are later built.
Such research leads us to think of conscious sense perceptions as resting on a mesh of associations at the motor and emotional level that builds up with experience over time. This system of sensory logic remains highly individualized throughout life in comparison with semantic codes. Nonetheless, each culture seems to direct its participants’ focus towards certain specific highly valued, sense-based configurations. A given individual’s sensory network, then, will have certain specific, culturally induced “nodes” at which given sets of associated qualities will be especially powerful or salient. Such nodes have a certain universal form in that they seem to cluster around body-based imagery. Indeed, the cross-cultural regularity with which body metaphors are found central (Douglas 1973, Needham 1973, Onians 1954) points to the existence of certain basic or “macro” metaphors underpinning semantic elements in our thought processes generally (Guiraud 1967:195).” (p.84)

“… a preverbal level of human thought processes exists. On this level, we are not dealing with clear categories, but are rather led into a world where reasoning is by analogy, where thoughts seem to move along paths in a dense network of prior associations. Such associations occur in a multidimensional space. They may be associations of colour, shape, texture, smell, type of movement, and so forth.” (p.85)

“…the use of metaphor is a universal human trait.” (p.96)

Ref: Brenda EF Beck et al. (Mar 1978) The Metaphor as a Mediator between semantic and analogic modes of thought [and comments and reply] Current Anthropology 19(1), pp.83-97


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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