a line from an Australian kids poet I used to listen to with my daughter in the car… just re-lived an old roadtrip to my aunt’s in the country as I typed that!
anyway, the ‘ancient text’ reading this week by Rebecca Johnston prompts us to ponder on metaphor.. I like pondering metaphor… ‘on the other hand’, I exhaust myself in everything I read, going off on too long tangents of related thoughts with equal measures of interest, amusement and irritation… (seeing too many sides at once is something my daughter absolutely hates about me – I never simply love or hate… every simple question she asks me gets answered with ‘well it depends’ and the beginnings of an extended discourse about the contingencies of history, perception, subjectivity and dynamic language – until she cuts me off with a roll of the eyes!)
anyway, what was that thought that prompted me to start writing a post, that point that I’ve now all but forgotten as I digress…? ah yes, metaphor. I’m interested in metaphor and read this text with care. I remember Lakoff and Johnson from my student days… actually come to think of it, I remember sitting in on a class of Lakoff’s in Berkley once, many years ago, on a very long way of getting home back from China via Germany, and visiting a friend who was studying there… anyway, I’ve always been interested in everything to do with language, so this approach was part of the picture….stop digressing for god’s sake and say what’s on your mind!
Well, given that my whole blog is a metaphor of travels through space, yes I clearly love thinking about the metaphors we think by… but I do get a tad bemused by the suggestion lurking here that it’s somehow optional – that we might do language without it… hmmm. Isn’t the whole language system one big fat metaphor? Perhaps the trick is to enjoy the dance for what it is, on its own terms.
Lakoff and Johnson describe the effect of metaphors as giving us “ways of viewing events, activities, emotions, ideas etc as entities and substances”…. and make the point that “viewing ideas as objects allows us to quantify them, point to a particular aspect, see in terms of a single cause…”, etc and to “deal rationally with our experiences”…. yes…. and isn’t this the same definition we might make of reification, reductionism, and nominalisation? Is this not just how language works? What it does? (note irony of imagining language as an ‘it’ – a single, comprehensible, locatable, containable entity).Can anyone point me to a discourse that isn’t metaphoric? And what’s the difference between a metaphor, a concept, an idea and a keyword or ‘idiom’? I don’t think everyone just ‘agrees’ on what a metaphor is or isn’t…
but ok, the so-called world wide web is not ‘actually’ a spider web (even if we imagine a giant evil googley-eyed aracnid lurking in its middle, trapping all our data, ready to devour us alive), and sure, it’s a fair and interesting point being made here, that there seems to be a pattern in the culture, of representing the Internet as a space, a place, where everything happens very ‘fast’, and where what’s going on is either dystopian destruction or utopian liberation….
I enjoyed reading Johnston’s story – even if it’s just a bit of fluffy comment with no new knowledge or lasting significance, it relates to ground control’s choice of the utopia/dystopia theme, and it’s clear that metaphors of ‘space’ and speed are widespread in our imaginings of the Internet – and apart from influencing my choice of blog theme for this course on digital cultures, I no doubt imagine too sometimes that I’m in a ‘fast’ environment here (when in fact I, like everyone else, am evidently wasting a hell of a lot of time in this ‘space’! because I have so much choice, and opportunity to browse, consider, compare…. and be reduced to indecision and incapacity to say anything!)
Anyway, Johnston’s paper has stimulated my thinking and got me asking lots of questions, such as:
- How influential are metaphors, and how ‘deterministic’ is this reading of them?
- What does it really matter whether we refer to the WWW as a web, or an info superhighway, or an invading alien monster from outer space – or managerial rhetoric?
- How much choice do we have, or need, in naming (and ‘norming’) phenomena?
- What do I think of the claim repeated here that it’s difficult or impossible to understand something as dynamic and abstract as the WWW without the aid of a metaphor?
- Do I think it’s the metaphors we live by that free up or get in the way of our using the Internet well in educational and political arenas…. or mainly other factors?
And I’ve enjoyed thinking about these questions…. and being reminded of what was for me one of the most influential papers I read as an undergraduate – Michael Reddy (1979) on the ‘conduit’ metaphor (published again in 1993 in the 2nd ed of Metaphor and Thought, CUP).
On the less than impressed side, I don’t find that the categorisation of metaphors here is helpful… I mean, if I refer to discourse as ‘dance’, who cares if that’s a structural, orientational or ontological metaphor? Maybe I’m using physical experience to refer to linguistic experience… or maybe I’m using the idea of dance as a way of viewing writing events as ‘things’? Do these categories ‘hold any water’?
More importantly though, I just wouldn’t call this paper ‘analysis’ at all, because the ‘method’ is pretty dodgy. It’s really interesting commentary… but ‘analysis’? Getting down to brass tacks’…. how does this constitute analysis, if:
– the identification of a metaphor is a matter of ‘making free associations’
– the ‘general’ analysis of a metaphor is a matter of IT ‘suggesting’ it role, dimensions and ‘related concepts and idioms’
– ‘uncovering the conceptual metaphors for each expression’ is a matter of deduction and ‘informed intuition’
– conducting a ‘text immanent analysis’ is a matter of documenting recurrent patterns across discourse in different contexts and categorising metaphors by ‘drawing on surrounding text, narrative, context’ to find ‘evidence of deep-rooted cultural beliefs and values’….
I mean, how can ‘associations and interpretations’ be ‘suggested by the text’, rather than by an interpreter? (according to a theoretical framework they may just be unaware of)…
but what does it matter? I only care about this because the topic of metaphor, keywords, and clashes of discourse in the academy around teaching practice are the stuff of my own thesis.. so if I’m going to latch onto anything in this course, it’s likely to be this one!
On the whole, I thought it was worth spending a bit of my time reading and pondering upon.