Interpretation, Deconstruction, and Ideology: An Introduction to Some Current Issues in Literary Theory

By Christopher Butler | Go to book overview
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2.2 Metaphor in the Language

The truth is that there are no ultimate principles, upon which the whole of knowledge can be built once and forever as upon a rock. But there are an infinity of analogues, which help us along, and give a feeling of power over the chaos when we perceive them. The field is infinite and herein lies the chance for originality. Here there are some new things under the sun. T. E. Hulme, 'Cinders'1

I have argued so far that the interpretation of particular metaphors looks for grounds of explication at a level that both interpreter and reader may accept. There is a sense in which any refusal to accept the interpretation of the examples given so far could be taken to reflect a basic ignorance of the way things are in the world or in our culture--clouds are opaque, 'ghostly paradigms' are like Platonic forms, and so on. An agreed notion of what is the case seems to be operative here, and although we have accepted that there can be no final restriction of what these states of affairs might be, we have implied that there can be conventions of reference which guarantee both the acceptability of an interpretation, and an intelligible and possibly truth-conveying relationship between metaphor and the world. But in doing so we accord to the supposedly more literal language of interpretation a privileged form of access to reality. In the simple cases, this seems all right--to reflect a state of affairs which 'no rational person would seek to deny'. But there are more difficult cases, which may also be fundamental ones, for which it may be doubted that we have arrived, or indeed ever could arrive, at this type of literal, universally acceptable interpretation. Even apparently literal statements about the world or the situation within or beyond the text may in fact depend upon metaphorical types of model-building : ways of seeing the world which, when examined closely, no longer look all that literal. For, in analysing our language down to an apparently literal level we may arrive at a new series of metaphors which themselves stand in need of interpretation, and which may stand in the way of any finally satisfactory, literal, well- founded relationship of language to the world.

We admitted at the outset that the distinction between literal and metaphorical usage was a very hard one to draw; but suggested that the 'literal' expression--in the language at large, or in the paraphrases we use to clarify metaphor, were in some way more

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