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  • Uncontainable Metaphor:George F. Kennan's "X" Article and Cold War Discourse1
  • Brian Diemert (bio)

"Unless you are at home in the metaphor, unless you have had your proper poetical education in the metaphor, you are not safe anywhere"

Robert Frost (39)

"... the development of civilizations is essentially a progress ion of metaphors"

E. L. Doctorow (164)

Emerson wrote, "Every word which is used to express a moral and intellectual fact, if traced to its root, is found to be borrowed from some material appearance" ("Nature" 911), so every word is a metaphor. Emerson repudiated those such as Hobbes and Locke, who saw metaphor as largely ornamental, and so incompatible with reason2 to embrace the idea that language was radically metaphorical, saturated with figurative meaning. Yet one does not have to subscribe wholly to his perspective to recognize that metaphor enables us to formulate concepts and to map, "what is known about one domain onto a less structured domain" (Chilton 48). George Lakoff recognized long ago that metaphor has a cognitive dimension. It allows us to make sense of a complex world by letting us conceive of the world in terms structured according to pre-conceptual experiences derived from our having bodies that stand erect, move through space, feel sensation, and are separate from each other (14–7; 56). We might again turn to Emerson, who described "man [as] an analogist" ("Nature" 911): we can understand a particular object, event, or idea because it is like another object, event, or idea—a notion that recalls Kenneth Burke's point [End Page 21] that metaphor "brings out the thisness of a that, or the thatness of a this" (503).3 The problem, however, is that "this" is not "that," so there is always "deviance" or "incongruity" in metaphor, as there is in analogy (Burke 504). Two things may be analogous, but they are not homologous, so our reliance on metaphoric structure and on analogy creates distortions and misunderstandings because metaphor, as classical rhetoricians recognized, "allows the speaker to slip in other propositions without scrutiny" (Nogales 6).

Metaphor causes us to undertake a "reconceptualization," in Noga-les's formulation, as we re-conceive of relationships between terms to privilege certain traits while devaluing others (9–10ff). That is, the appearance of metaphor compels us to determine which of the many possible qualities associated with an object or trait is or is not applicable in a given construction. In Nogales's example, to say "Jack is a 'bully"' is very different from saying "Jack is a 'sheepdog."' Both metaphors may be used to describe a tendency to dominate others because one's associations with "bully" or "sheepdog" are likely to be very different (1–2ff). The metaphors one chooses to use have an emotive content that can fundamentally alter our understanding of a situation. Consequently, metaphors also help generate meaning. And, of course, the emotive power of metaphor allows memorable figures, turns of speech, phrase, and image to linger in our minds long after we read or hear an account.

Metaphor is particularly potent as a persuasive tool, as well as a cognitive process, because it can mask or at least alter our memory of the content. Metaphor belongs to both the realm of semantics and ornamentation and the realm of cognition and pragmatics. And the shape it gives our thoughts is crucial in the determination of how we act and respond in the world. Wayne Booth notes that persuasive metaphors, what he calls "weapon metaphors," demand a new understanding of the words' meanings. The auditor or reader must reconstruct "acceptable meanings, [but] they are not ... separated from the stated meanings and then in some sense repudiated ... the original meaning, what might be called the uninterpreted picture, remains as part of the final picture" (Booth 53). Metaphor is a shaping force in our construction of reality: it may even come to be seen as reality. "It is this way with all of us concerning language," Nietzsche wrote, "we believe we know something about the things themselves when we speak of trees, colors, snow, and flowers; and yet we possess nothing but metaphors for things ..." (890–1). Consequently, as Wittgenstein famously wrote, "the...


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