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  • Social Minds and Metaphor in Rousseau
  • Michael Sinding (bio)

Introduction: Rousseau’s Metaphorical Narratives of Intermental Relations

Rousseau’s writings seem to call out for analysis in terms of social minds, because he looms so large in the conceptual framing of modern psychosocial dynamics in their primary units, and the narrative framing of them in their primary cultural genres. He did much to invent our ideas of the solitary individual in autobiography, friends and lovers in the sentimental novel, and democratic societies in political philosophy. If narratology needs to address the “formation, development, maintenance, modification, and breakdown of . . . intermental systems” (Palmer 41), and metaphor is among our central instruments for conceptualizing and expressing such subjective and abstract matters, then narratology should get metaphorical. Underlying Rousseau’s revolutionary writings on social minds are multiple models of intermentality, built partly from particular combinations of metaphors. To understand how intermentality is narrated, we need to understand how metaphors are narrated. I develop this perspective by comparing the role of metaphor in framing kinds of social minds in Rousseau’s novel Julie (1761) and his treatise The Social Contract [End Page 183] (1762). I address intermental relations, taking this to mean both tensions between and transitions across major intermental units. I focus on episodes in which new kinds of intermental relations arise, as these are turning points in the narrative of the first (and its thematic argument) and the argument of the second (and its illustrative narratives). I begin by commenting on the nature of the narrative and language in the two texts, then sketch some background for the study of metaphor in narrative, in particular a cognitive linguistic approach. Turning to the texts, I examine how metaphor in Julie frames love in friendship, erotic passion, small vs. large societies, marriage, and household; in The Social Contract, metaphor frames the social pact, the Body Politic, the general will, and relations among members. A contradiction in meaning and tone surfaces in Julie’s celebration of small groups of freely intimate individuals, as opposed to The Social Contract’s celebration of the full integration of individual wills into society’s general will. Yet there are intriguing parallels across phases of narrative development in the two texts. I comment on two parallels, then discuss how the conclusions modify the contrasting visions of intermental ideals. I conclude with remarks on the mutual value of metaphor and the social-minds perspective on narrative.

The narrative and linguistic qualities of these texts depend on their predominant genres and text types. The novel-in-letters is a sprawling stream-of-consciousness concrete narrative. The Social Contract is trickier. A treatise is systematic: an explicit and concise abstract argument. But it relies on “conjectural history,” examining the origins of society and government to analyze “principles of political right [principes du droit politique]” (Rousseau’s subtitle). It is a significantly factual narrative insofar as it recounts, as plausibly as possible, a social process that must have occurred. This draws on history (anecdotes of Rome and other states), anthropological hypothesis (families as “the first societies”) and abstract reconstruction (the social pact as reorganizing human “forces”) (9, 16). If not prototypical narratives, these are more narrative than they are anything else.

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson revolutionized metaphor studies by arguing that metaphor is primarily a matter of thought, “understanding and experiencing one thing in terms of another” (Metaphors 5), a systematic “conceptual mapping” of language, imagery, feeling, and inferential structure from a “source domain” to a “target domain” (Philosophy 58). Scholars continue to develop this approach in literature and many other fields (for a recent survey, see Gibbs). To illustrate, Zoltán Kövecses spells out several familiar emotion metaphors in terms of domains of Fire, Opponent, and Natural Force, suggesting that these are all “instantiations of a single underlying ‘master metaphor’: emotion is force,” and that the specific “metaphors instantiate the generic-level metaphor in . . . different ways, capturing . . . different aspects of emotional experience” (61).1 Thus the very common metaphor of Emotion as Pressure inside a Container assumes further metaphors of People as Containers and Emotion as a Substance:

the substance with pressure → the emotion

the pressure on the container → the emotion causing...


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pp. 183-199
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