Figures of a Changing World: Metaphor and the Emergence of Modern Culture

Figures of a Changing World: Metaphor and the Emergence of Modern Culture

Figures of a Changing World: Metaphor and the Emergence of Modern Culture

Figures of a Changing World: Metaphor and the Emergence of Modern Culture

Synopsis

Figures of a Changing World offers a dramatic new account of cultural change, an account based on the distinction between two familiar rhetorical figures, metonymy and metaphor. The book treats metonymy as the basic organizing trope of traditional culture and metaphor as the basic organizing trope of modern culture. On the one hand, metonymies present themselves as analogies that articulate or reaffirm preexisting states of affairs. They are guarantors of facticity, a term that can be translated or defined as fact-like-ness. On the other hand, metaphors challenge the similarity they claim to establish, in order to feature departures from preexisting states of affairs.

On the basis of this distinction, the author argues that metaphor and metonymy can be used as instruments both for the large-scale interpretation of tensions in cultural change and for the micro-interpretation of tensions within particular texts. In addressing the functioning of the two terms, the author draws upon and critiques the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, Roman Jakobson, Christian Metz, Paul Ricoeur, Umberto Eco, Edmund Leach, and Paul de Man.

Excerpt

I begin with an absolutely arbitrary and unwarranted assertion, namely, that given a distinction between metaphor and metonymy, the tendency to make metaphors is characteristic of the modern attitude, while the tendency to see metonymies is characteristic of the traditional attitude. Any traditional ambience that becomes a cosmos does so because it has been structured into a field for the perception of metonymies, has been organized, we might say, by the metonymizing process. Modernization (or disenchantment) is then the transformation of metonymies into metaphors; to modernize is to de-metonymize, to metaphorize. To re-traditionalize is to demetaphorize, to re-metonymize. the traditional attitude privileges the metonymizing process; the modern attitude privileges the metaphorizing process.

The trouble with such assertions is not so much that they seem arbitrary, as that they seem incomprehensible, so freighted down with . . .

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