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JILL MATUS Proxy and Proximity: Metonymic Signing In BookII of The Mill on the Floss the narrator pauses to lament the association of intelligence with the ability to wield metaphor. o Aristotle! if you had the advantage of being the 'freshest modem' instead of being the greatest ancient, would you not have mingled your praise of metaphorical speech, as a sign of high intelligence, with a lamentation that intelligence so rarely shows itselfin speech without metaphor, - that we can so seldom declare what a thing is, except by saying it is something else?l In the context of the narrative, this critique of metaphoric privilege is a plea for valuing different ways ofseeing things and saying things. George Eliot does not name this different perspective; I suggest it is a concern with the metonymic. In contemporary, post-structuralist criticism the scrutiny of metaphoric privilege has often meant a reconsideration or defence of the'other trope,' metonymy. My interest in metonymy here is to consider what relationships exist between the various ways in which it has been construed - common figure of speech, signifier of desire in the rhetoric of the unconscious, a concern with provisionality, positionality, and gender in culture and language.2 I am interested also in the difference a sensitivity to metonymy makes to the way we approach texts. After exploring the implications of post-structural theories about metonymy in language, culture, psychoanalytic discourse, and narrative, Iwant briefly to suggest how a metonymic perspective clarifies some problematic issues in The Mill on the Floss, a novel in which George Eliot struggles to reconcile contextual relativism and the essentializing claims of metaphor. It is by now a critical commonplace that metaphor receives great attention and interest while metonymy is relatively neglected. On most occasions, however, when the valorization of metaphor over metonymy is noticed, it is to expose the binary bind, or to discuss how 'metaphor' is being used metaphorically to represent all figures or tropes.3 There is also some puzzlement about why metonymy has endured as a separate trope, yet failed to be satisfactorily defined.4 Studies devoted to metonymy itself are rare, understandably perhaps, since the history of metonymy, though long, is disappointingly unglamorous. Inscribed as one of the major tropes by classical rhetoricians, it was on the books for centuries, UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 58, NUMBER 2, WINTER 1988/9 306 JILL MATUS confusing students of 'figures of speech' who could remember neither the textbook definition of it, nor the spelling. It then surfaced in discussions by structuralists, particularly Roman Jakobson, who gave it exciting press as one of the two fundamental processes of language. No longer merely a trope, metonymy became a principle of widespread application.5 The cross-fertilization of linguistics and psychoanalysis, for example, identified Freud's concepts of condensation and displacement in dream with metonymy, and later Lacan helped to put metonymy on the map by calling it 'the signifier of desire' which endlessly enacts through its syntagmatic continuity the postponement and deferral of the yearning subject - an index of subject activity and subjectivity.6 Recently, feminist theorists have been paying some attention to metonymy, possibly because it is the underprivileged half of a binary opposition and also because nowadays to have been around for centuries yet mysteriously resisted categorization does not seem such a bad thing. When Jakobson explored metaphor and metonymy as the two poles of discourse - disorders in either producing aphasia - he opened the doors for future scrutiny of metonymy as the process concerned with syntagmatic conjunction, contiguity, contextuality, and sequence. Yet the binary coupling of metaphor and metonymy has not been as fertile a union as was imagined. Theorists such as Paul de Man, Barbara Johnson, and Maria Ruegg have been quick to deconstruct the structuralist formulation of metaphor and metonymy as two distinct opposite poles and, in the case of de Man especially, to reveal that every metaphor is sl(e)ightly metonymic.7 Rigid borders between selection and combination deny the traffic between the two and prohibit acknowledgment of a complex interaction, but despite the critique of structuralist schematization , metonymy is still part of a couple. Though the intention may be to deconstruct polarity, critical...


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