- Paradigm for a Romantic MetaphorologyA review of Leif Weatherby, Transplanting the Metaphysical Organ: German Romanticism between Leibniz and Marx
The place of critique has, perhaps, been in question for too long; not that it was wrong to critique critique but that the activity has exhausted itself. While publications on the topic mount and ever-new modes of “reading” are figuratively proposed (close, too-close, critical, post-critical, surface, new formalist, and distant—non-reading is clearly on the horizon), what is beneath our readerly theorizing is almost certainly less about “reading” and more about the metaphors which have displaced theory as our form of critical interlocution. At one level, metaphors seem indispensable for articulating the kind of unsettled knowledge the humanities traffic in; at another, they seem routine tools for normalizing thinking and eliding complex differences. In The Limits of Critique, Rita Felski acknowledges the necessity of metaphor as “the basis for any kind of comparative or analogical thinking,” even as she challenges how the metaphors we read with, like “digging down” and “standing back,” ossify the figurative potential of the mediating distance across which we encounter our texts (52). It is not simply that we deal in metaphors, we read in metaphors—a second-order investment that takes the positionality of metaphor as its problematic. It should then be no surprise that our critical moment coincides with renewed interest in the arch theorist of metaphor, Hans Blumenberg.
Blumenberg’s work, which has been available in German for decades, is finally being translated into English, with Paradigms for a Metaphorology and The Laughter of the Thracian Woman: A Protohistory of Theory among the more recent notable publications. For an earlier generation of scholars, Blumenberg’s work on metaphor has only been accessible in English through his Shipwreck with Spectator: Paradigm of a Metaphor for Existence. Though metaphor then and now is often treated as a cognitive tool that culminates in a new concept, Blumenberg understands metaphors as meaningful in themselves, as historical entities reducible neither to lived experience nor to the theoretical necessity of conceptualization. Developing an inter-animating account of theory and metaphor, Blumenberg frames the possibilities of theoretical knowledge as a problem of positionality, as something emerging out of the distance between a shipwreck and its spectator or between a stumbling astronomer and a passing Thracian woman. As touchstones that elide final conceptualization, these metaphorical events (the witnessed shipwreck and the laughing woman) become the place from which theory marks its conceptualizing capacities and from which it organizes its capacity to influence the very form of the lifeworld. The method of metaphorology, as Blumenberg develops it and as Leif Weatherby utilizes it in his new book, Transplanting the Metaphysical Organ: German Romanticism between Leibniz and Marx, is a tool for striking against positivistic conceptuality and becomes a way to effect change in an increasingly technological world that, in contrast, is increasingly moving toward metaphysics.
One would be right to presume on picking-up Transplanting the Metaphysical Organ that it is a dense study of the “organ” in early German Romanticism with a wide array of ancillary interventions into the history of ideas, the history of science, critical theory, and the intersections of literature and philosophy. But at its core Transplanting the Metaphysical Organ is a work of the recent Blumensance. Theoretically, it extends the problematic of metaphorology to the moment of German Romanticism in which the organ became not only the primary metaphor of the understanding, but also the tool with which the distantiating power of metaphor was internalized as the organs of sense, understanding, and reason. Where Blumenberg reads Romanticism as an awkward age of metaphysics (“the semantic grasping after a lost stability”) between the classical moment of Aristotelian Being and the modernist moment of metaphorical free-play in the creative constitution of new ontologies, Weatherby digs deeply into German Romanticism to demonstrate that this period sought a ground for metaphysics in the manipulable (albeit fragile) world of “organs” (42). As Weatherby notes in his introduction, “it has become a historiographical refrain that the Romantics aestheticized metaphysics on...