Philosophy and Rhetoric 33.2 (2000) 137-153
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Metaphor and the Making of Sense: The Contemporary Metaphor Renaissance
Metaphor has gained a new lease on life through the revival of rhetoric in recent decades. For promoters of "la nouvelle rhétorique," such as Gérard Genette and Roland Barthes, rhetoric came to coincide with a total science of language that is practically coextensive with all social and human knowledge, while in the Anglo-Saxon world, Wayne Booth, in the wake of Kenneth Burke, repristinated rhetoric as, not just a technical discipline, but a moral one, and, in fact, an all-embracing criticism of the humanities. 1 The fortunes of metaphor have revived and flourished in tandem with those of rhetoric as a whole. Over the more than two millennia of a progressive eclipse of rhetoric, during which it shrank from its original primacy as the master art of persuasion in law, literature, and politics and, moreover, as the general framework of culture, to the status of an ancillary art of elocution of exclusively formal import, metaphor was eventually confined to being just one particular instance within the schemes of classifications of tropes. It became an affair of style, an ornament of decorative discourse, as rhetoric came to be identified with mere elocutio and was no longer essentially also inventio--the finding of arguments, in which metaphor's role is actually paramount--and dispositio--the ordering of discourse into its syntactic parts, such as exordium, narration, discussion, peroration. As the originally tripartite art and science of rhetoric was amputated of two of its main divisions in the classical model established on the basis of Aristotle's three-book treatise, 2 metaphor became a merely formal enhancement and lost its roles as substantive and structuring for knowledge and discourse.
The decline of interest in philosophical, Aristotelian rhetoric had much to do with metaphor's reduction to a merely technical or decorative device. But with the recent widening practically without limit of the terrain of rhetoric, and particularly with its restoration to its original standing as a philosophical discipline comprehending the substance of argument, metaphor [End Page 137] has once again acquired cognitive status and, moreover, has tended to become the name for figurative language in general and even, emblematically, for the rhetorical or rhetoricity as such. Where the power of rhetoric to reshape cognitive meaning and even to reinvent, or at least reconfigure, reality was once again recognized as irresistible throughout all the realms of discourse, the source and unity of this power seemed to require a name, and more often than not metaphor--on account of the transformative, inventive power associated particularly with it--has been adopted to serve this purpose.
Today, under the aegis of metaphor, the power of figurative language, arguably the originating power at the source of all language and even of an articulated world as such, has newly become an object of research and general theoretical speculation. This extension of the concept of metaphor is bound up with a renewed view of figurative language in general as not only a substantive bearer of the content of discourse, but also as ontologically constitutive of the world, as operative at the origins of things and their identities. It has become possible to view all language as being metaphorical, and accordingly metaphorical operations of transfer and redefinition have been recognized as being the very essence of language and of all that comes to articulation through it. Furthermore, as witnessed by burgeoning publications and conferences, metaphor has become a topic onto which practically all the classic philosophical problems of ontology and epistemology are projected and appear in a new, specifically linguistic, light. 3
This new ascendency of metaphor is certainly not uninflected or uncontested, even within the camps of the new rhetoricians. Genette, in "La rhétorique restreinte" (1972), resists the "inflation of metaphor" to become the trope of tropes and the figure of figures in a wide range of writers epitomizing modern poetics--particularly Marcel Proust, Roman Jakobson, and Michel Deguy (1969). Genette argues against reduction of...