Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Towards Psychoanalytic Contribution to Linguistic Metaphor Theory

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Towards Psychoanalytic Contribution to Linguistic Metaphor Theory

Article excerpt


The purpose of this paper is to formulate a proposal that lays out the psychoanalytical contribution to linguistic metaphor theory. The issue of how metaphor works is a linguistic question by essence, for which many answers were proposed, and it has its focus on how metaphors are deciphered, understood and constituted. Unlike other linguistic configurations, metaphor does not abide by the rules of grammar, leading linguists and philosophers of language to explore the question of the metaphoric mechanism. However, as will be discussed later, linguistic metaphor theories have focused on the cognitive aspect, to the exclusion of the role played by affect. Therefore, my main argument is that psychoanalysis can indeed contribute to shed light on and enrich the understanding of metaphor's modus operandi, with the unconscious emotional aspects that lie in it.

And indeed, recent decades have seen psychoanalytic research experience a steadily growing interest in the concept of metaphor (e.g. Aragno, 2009; Borbely, 2009, 2011; Enckell, 2002; Katz, 2011; Modell, 2003, 2011; Spence, 1987; Wallerstein, 2011; Wurmser, 2011). Employing different angles, these works explore the status and role of metaphors in psychoanalytic theory and practice. However, they do not touch upon the issue of metaphor's workings.

Moreover, I posit that not only can psychoanalysis contribute to a linguistic theory of metaphor, it may also benefit from the exploration of this issue, as psychoanalytic language is laden and imbued with metaphors, in its theory and therapeutic practice alike.

Thus, for instance, Freud's topographic model conceptualizes the parts of the mind in spatial metaphor terms, where the unconscious is the 'lower' part, with the preconscious placed 'above' it, while the conscious is 'placed' at the 'top', dwelling in daylight. Using an eye-opening metaphor, Freud poses a groundbreaking idea, where unconscious, wild, primeval ideas play a dominant role in managing the individual's mental life, to a large degree dictating their feelings and conscious, manifest behaviour. The spatial metaphor allows Freud to offer a new understanding of mental processes, in a palpable, experiential manner. As evident in this short illustration, examining how a metaphor works facilitates conceptual clarification and may prevent ambiguity and reification of different analytical concepts.

Furthermore, understanding how metaphor works may provide an important, beneficial tool to deepen analytical work and connect with the unconscious of the analysand, in line with Ogden's (1997c) statement: "in an analysis ... the analyst and analysand creatively and unself-consciously playing a verbal squiggle game with spontaneously invented or newly rediscovered metaphors" (p. 724).

Moreover, illuminating the metaphor's modus operandi may have immense implications, especially in the analytic work with patients who suffer from impairment of the metaphoric ability, like PTSD, Asperger syndrome, psychosomatic illness, eating disorders, and others. This is because deepening the understanding of the metaphoric mechanism may promote and encourage the capacity for reflection and abstract thinking involved in the analytic work.

Relying on interdisciplinary thinking and methodology, as well as a literature review, I shall demonstrate how ideas conceived by some of the key psychoanalytic symbolization theories can establish a psychoanalytical contribution to enrich and expand linguistic metaphor theories.

What is a metaphor?

The term of metaphor comes from Ancient Greek signifying transference or carrying over (Eco, 1983). Beyond the etymological aspect, no putative definition exists for the concept of metaphor, as every definition is grounded in a different theoretical perspective. Thus, for instance, the New Princeton Encyclopaedia of Poetry and Poetics defines metaphor as follows: "Metaphor is a trope, or figurative expression, in which a word or phrase is shifted from its normal uses to a context where it evokes new meanings. …

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