Tag Archives: metaphor

Let there be language

Regarding the word “phenomenology” —

“Heidegger finds around that word a whole cluster of etymologies, all of them having an internal unity of meaning that brings us to the very center of his thought. The Greek word phainomenon is connected with the word phaos, light, and also with the word apophansis, statement or speech. The sequence of ideas is thus: revelation-light-language. The light is the light of revelation, and language itself is in this light. These may look like mere metaphors, but perhaps they are so only for us, whose understanding is darkened; for early man, at the very dawn of the Greek language, this inner link between light and statement (language) was a simple and profound fact, and it is our sophistication and abstractness that makes it seem to us ‘merely’ metaphorical.” — William Barrett, in his book Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy



A Look at Unfashionable Philosophy

“Wittgenstein and Barfield disagree on a number of important matters; Barfield wrote that Wittgenstein never attempted historical analysis, and was therefore missing the proper foundation for evaluating language. Curiously, though, they also seem to share some significant ground. Barfield’s understanding of metaphor seems to mirror some of the claims that Wittgenstein makes about ostensive definition, though Barfield would claim that a poet (or, to use Wittgenstein’s language, one who has been inducted into the game of poetry) is able to glean a deeper insight from poetry than Wittgenstein would be willing to allow.”

The Thick of Things

It can be well worth one’s time to read unfashionable philosophy, and doubly so when one is able to read it with a mindfulness of the thinkers that are being celebrated in the modern day. When one does this, questions about the provenance of ideas and human capacities that tend to be held just beneath the surface are able to shoot up into view. Good ideas, and good questions, can be found in many places, and reading those people who are not the toast of the modern academy is an excellent way to be reminded of that fact. This essay puts together two men, one fashionable and the other not, who lived in the same period and, for most of their lives, lived in the same country.

As far as I am aware, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Owen Barfield never met. Barfield knew of Wittgenstein, and mentioned him briefly in one of his essays, but I…

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The only mystery allowed is the mystery that can be explained

Within the lesson emerges an analogy:

‘In the act of writing about art, then, you press language to the point of fracture and try to do what writing cannot do: account for the experience. Otherwise, you elide the essential mystery, which is the reason for writing anything at all. The easy alternative is just to circumnavigate the occasion of seeing something—to “professionalize” art criticism into a branch of academic art history—to presume that works of art are already utterances in art-language that need only to be translated into a better language to achieve perfect transparency. In this way, the practice of criticism is transformed into a kind of Protestant civil service dedicated to translating art-language into a word-language that neutralizes its power in the interest of public order. The writer’s pathological need to control and reconstitute the fluid universe of not-writing is fortuitously disguised by this strategem—since in a truly “professional” discourse, no more intimate engagement with the “needy” object is required than that of a doctor with a patient, and no more stress need be placed upon the language than that required by the clinical assignment of names to symptoms.’ (boldface added) — Dave Hickey, from his essay “Air Guitar,” from Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy

Metaphor explained

“According to him [Mac Cormac], the cognitive process of creating new metaphors produces new expressions of experience. The process is almost inexplicable, but at least the following things are obvious in this process: one has to have a motivation to create a new insight by means of a metaphor; one has to explore both the features of similarity and dissimilarity present in a metaphor; and one has to transgress the normal semantic rules of association. What is considered normal is, however, flexible, and new metaphors may change the limits of normal, that is, rules. Emotional tension plays the most important role in providing the motivataion for metaphor creation. When creating a new metaphor, a person juxtaposes ‘conceptual referents’ in a new way producing semantic anomaly and a new conceptual insight. In this process similar attributes are identified, and an analogy thereby formed, and, on the other hand, dissimilar attributes identified, and thereby an anomaly produced. The new insight illuminates a problem or experience.”   — from “Minds as Connoting Systems: Logic and the Language of Thought” by Veikko Rantala and Tere Vadén in the May 1997 edition of Erkenntnis

Robert Fitzgerald on Flannery O’Connor, or a note on showing versus telling

When he spoke at Trinity-Myrtle Beach in earlier this month, Kendall Harmon in passing mentioned the need to cultivate the imagination. This morning, I read the beginning of Robert Fitzgerald’s introduction to Flannery O’Connor’s Everything That Rises Must Converge. Fitzgerald wrote:

“Bearing hard upon motives and manners, her stories as moralities cut in every direction and sometimes go to the bone of regional and social truth. But we are not likely to state what they show as well as they show it…. We had better let our awareness of the knowledge in her stories grow quietly without forcing it, for nothing could be worse than to treat them straight off as problems for exegesis or texts to preach on.”

I want to put a spin on that “awareness” that Fitzgerald says should “grow quietly.” I think it grows quietly once it resides in the imagination. Mere information can fail human beings. A grand vision, seen through our imaginations and genuinely hoped-for in our hearts, can sustain us. What feeds that imagination and that hope? Often it is stories and figurative language — parables and metaphors that immerse us in a grand vision before we realize we have crossed into new territory. What grand vision has possessed your imagination?