Michel Tournier and the Metaphor of Fiction

Michel Tournier and the Metaphor of Fiction

Michel Tournier and the Metaphor of Fiction

Michel Tournier and the Metaphor of Fiction

Excerpt

In the 1970s two well-known French philosophers clashed swords. Their querelle concerned the seemingly arcane issue of metaphoric reference. As we have seen, Paul Ricoeur argues convincingly in La Métaphore vive that metaphor is a cognitive tool, that it helps in certain circumstances to articulate our experience of the world. Ricoeur's analysis is anchored to the established phenomenological precepts of Kant and Husserl, for in order that metaphor may refer, its transgressive character must ultimately be tamed by the master discourse of philosophy. However, according to Jacques Derrida's deconstructive practice, the philosopher's discourse is itself shot through with metaphor. It can have no independent, ‘commenting’ authority for it is contradicted repeatedly by the twists and turns of its own metaphorical language. Derrida argues that it is not possible even to ‘illuminate’ the presuppositions that subtend his own discourse on metaphor, given that metaphorical practice is infinitely regressive and therefore does not allow us to locate the source of light in a fixed, clearly determined centre. Flowers turn towards the sun. This heliotropic movement is, Derrida suggests, the paradigm of linguistic tropes, but the sun is also not a stable entity. It sets, is eclipsed, and light is reflected from the stars. The sun is caught up in its own troping. The question is whether metaphor can refer to something other than another metaphor. Derrida thinks not. Does metaphor, through language or cognitive psychology, engage somehow with a world outside the text? Ricoeur thinks that it must. The philosophers’ debate reiffies the most frequently rehearsed argument about the status of art and literature. Aestheticism, or the primacy of aesthetic principles, and the contextualisation of art through history make competing demands on the person of the artist. Rarely has the issue been so finely balanced, the tension so palpably evident, as in the writing of— and subsequent writing on—Tournier's second and most controversial novel, Le Roi des aulnes.

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