Metaphor is a central concept in literary studies, but it is also prevalent in everyday language and speech. Recent literary theories such as postmodernism and deconstruction have transformed the study of the text and revolutionized our thinking about metaphor.

In this fascinating volume, David Punter:

  • establishes the classical background of the term from its philosophical roots to the religious and political tradition of metaphor in the East
  • relates metaphor to the public realms of culture and politics and the way in which these influence the literary
  • examines metaphor in relation to literary theory, philosophy, psychoanalysis and postcolonial studies
  • illustrates his argument with specific examples from western and eastern literature and poetry.

This comprehensive and engaging book emphasizes the significance of metaphor to literary studies, as well as its relevance to cultural studies, linguistics and philosophy.


We can begin to consider the study of metaphor by considering the nature of text, and of the word ‘text’ itself. If we were to be asked for a definition of ‘text’, our first recourse might be to a dictionary, and here we would find what at first glance appears to be precisely the definition we need:

The wording of anything written or printed; the structure formed by
the words in their order; the very words, phrases, and sentences as

(Oxford English Dictionary [oed])

This may seem as though it is a clear, ‘literal’ meaning, and certainly it absolutely summarises some of the everyday uses of the word that we might make when contemplating the study of literature – although even here we may suspect that the dictionary meanings do not quite cover the expansion of the word ‘text’ into phrases like, for example, ‘text-messaging’.

However, when we delve further into the dictionary definition, even this apparently solid ground starts to appear distinctly more unstable. Indeed, the further history of the word is supplied at the very head of the dictionary entry: it comes from the Latin verb ‘texere’, which means to weave. Thus, we might say, ‘text’ is something which is woven; but what . . .

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