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  • Le Parcours du comparant: pour une histoire littéraire des métaphores par Xavier Bonnier
  • Robin MacKenzie
Le Parcours du comparant: pour une histoire littéraire des métaphores. Sous la direction de Xavier Bonnier, avec un inédit de Pascal Quignard. (Rencontres, 101.) Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2014. 556 pp.

As the subtitle suggests, Xavier Bonnier’s intention in this collection of essays, consisting mainly of papers from a conference held at the University of Rouen in June 2012, is to lay the foundations for a literary history of metaphors (or perhaps a history of metaphors in literature)—a field that Bonnier argues has hitherto been neglected in favour of theoretical and rhetorical studies. The volume is made up of three parts: the first contains seven broadly theoretical essays, exploring (for example) the role of metaphor in psychoanalysis or the importance of catachresis in linguistic evolution. Two pieces, both quite short, stand out: Pascal Quignard takes the ‘concrete’ meaning of the word ‘metaphora’ in modern Greek (moving house or moving cargo) as a starting point for an exploration (at once playful and thoughtful) of metaphor’s capacity to renew language and vision, while Laurent Jenny examines with great lucidity and elegance ‘la métaphorisation des émotions’ in the work of Nathalie Sarraute. The second part consists of five essays, each exploring the evolution of a particular metaphor or motif (‘le chant du cygne’, ‘les paroles ailées’) from its classical origins to the Renaissance (and sometimes beyond). Some essays, such as that of Bonnier himself, cover a wider diachronic range than others, foregrounding historical variations in the use and meaning of their chosen metaphors, whereas others (Catherine Langlois-Pézeret) adopt a more thematic approach. The third part is quite close in aims and scope to the second, though perhaps more narrowly focused on occurrences in specific authors of the topoi in question. The essays here are grouped thematically, from metaphors of vegetation (‘les riantes prairies’, ‘le poète végétal’) to images of the mineral and the animal, metaphors of vision and finally economic motifs of begging and borrowing. This volume—more than many volumes of conference proceedings—comes across as a coherent and unified work, maintaining a clear focus on its subject, even if (from an Anglo-Saxon perspective) this literary history of metaphors can appear somewhat Gallocentric, albeit with a good admixture of classical (and to a lesser extent Italian) precursors. Some anglophone writers get a mention—a rather heterogeneous bunch from Shakespeare and Milton to J. K. Rowling—but one might have expected (for example) the historically and aesthetically important role of German Romanticism to feature more prominently. Perhaps this slightly misses the point, though: as Bonnier indicates, one of the main aims of the exercise is precisely to try out some approaches to this relatively unexplored territory, offering case studies rather than aspiring to any kind of exhaustiveness or coverage (surely unrealistic in a work of this length). In his Introduction Bonnier himself discusses some potential objections to the project, the thorniest of them probably the omnipresent danger of dispersion and superficiality when tracing the history of a metaphor across many centuries—and indeed, to my mind, some of the best pieces were those with a clearly delimited historical and thematic range (Sandra Provini, Michèle Guéret-Laferté). But rather than establishing a palmarès of contributions, we should underline their cumulative effect: this is a rich, varied, and stimulating collection, which makes a substantial contribution to the literary-historical study of metaphors. [End Page 638]

Robin MacKenzie
University of St Andrews


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