Metaphor Notes, Peter Taylor

1. Notes on readings, made with a view to stimulating discussion and clarification
2. From mental and verbal images to "acting as if" as meta-metaphor ,
excerpt from "Shifting positions for knowing and intervening in the cultural politics of the life sciences," draft afterword for Changing Life: Genomes-Ecologies-Bodies-Commodities (U. Minnesota Press, 1997)
3. Notes for teaching, as revised in Fall '95

1. Notes on readings, made with a view to stimulating discussion and clarification
February 1996

The selection of readings is a small sample of the published literature, but enough to highlight the two meta-metaphors I see in Stepan and begin to articulate what's missing, what needs to be worked on, what I'd like to discuss with others. [Material in brackets is my interpretation and commentary]
After my reading notes I attach i) a brief sketch of where I am trying to push things; and ii) an overview I composed to help me sort out what to say to my undergraduate class when I discussed natural selection as a metaphor.

Stepan, N. L. (1986). "Race and gender: The role of analogy in science." Isis 77: 261-277.

[Her meta-metaphors are
1a) metaphors are root, fundamental, underlying things that shape the surface layers; which is related to
1b) mental things -- thoughts, expectations, what we see -- shape our actions; and
2) culture or society gets into these thoughts etc. -- we can be taught (see Gilman quote) how to conceive/ perceive the world.
These are not winning meta-metaphors for me, given my idea that all action and thought is constructed in practical activity from heterogeneous resources.]

Danzinger, K. (1990). "Generative metaphor and the history of psychological discourse," in D. E. Leary (Ed.), Metaphors in the History of Psychology. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 331-356.

Metaphor = phenomenon of thought as well as speech.
Repeated metaphors reveal patterns of thought.
Patterns allow us to analyze underlying assumptions and preoccupations.
[Note here the slippage from pattern to locus of causality in line with Stepan's meta-metaphor 1. In fact, later on...]
Metaphors tend to be hidden and not expressed in a single term, but "underlie the discourse as a whole." Also: "basic metaphor" "underlying cognitive schema" (p. 338)

Openness allows both coherence (communication within a common framework) and difference in emphasis, including difference evolving over time, i.e., novelty.
Novelty is to be expected given
i) metaphors are extended, i.e., terms are part of reticulating networks of implications; and
ii) Black's interaction theory of metaphor (both terms influence the meaning taken by the other)
Together i) and ii) mean metaphors bring "together systems of implications [entailing] the likely formation of new connections" (p. 334)

[Notice that the interest in novelty does not extend to asking which novel metaphors are taken up and become part of discourse.]

Novelty and on-going evolution of systems of implications of a metaphor means that we cannot be sure a term at time t and at time t+T refer to the same thing. We need to locate the terms in the discursive systems of their times.
[Note the dichotomy: meaning by reference or meaning within context of discursive system.]

The discursive system involves the functioning of any analogized artifact in a particular social organization. Following Schön (see below), metaphors invite us "to act in terms of certain implied assumptions" (p. 351).
[I like this emphasis on acting as if. One's ability to act as if could explain which metaphors are taken up and which are forgotten (see above). But Danzinger closes off this line of inquiry before it has a chance to get anywhere...]
Activity takes place within forms of life, "'practical actualities'... 'whose significance goes without saying'" (citing Toulmin)
[This the agent may act as if, but this is generated not the effectiveness of one's acting as if, but by who the agent is. Forms of life imply some socialization process, so we have here another case of Stepan's meta-metaphor 2.]

Lakoff, G. (1993). "The contemporary theory of metaphor," in A. Ortony (Ed.), Metaphor and Thought. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 202-251.

[like Danzinger] locus of metaphor not in language, but in thought, in "cross-domain mapping[s] in the conceptual system' (p. 203).
"everyday behavior reflects our metaphorical understanding of experience" (p. 204)
"Is there a general principle governing (the mappings)?" (p. 206)
[Note empirical regularities and commonalities are taken without questioning to be governing or generative. See similar note on Danzinger.]
Answer: Yes, it's "part of the conceptual system underlying English" (p. 206).
[Stepan m-m 1 again]

Reddy, M. (1993). "The conduit metaphor: A case of frame conflict in our language about language," in A. Ortony (Ed.), Metaphor and Thought. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 164-201.

Reddy, a linguist, chronicles many, many variants in the English language of the conduit metaphor for communication of ideas between people. Against this he proposes a "toolmaker's paradigm," which highlights and valorizes the efforts of the listener in shaping the outcome of communication. "Partial miscommunication, or divergence of readings from a single text, are not aberrations. They are tendencies inherent in the system [of communication], which can only be counteracted by continuous effort and by large amounts of verbal interaction" (p. 175).

Because "language influences thought processes" (p. 173), the conduit metaphor in English suppresses the effort or awareness of the effort.
[Actually, language governs thought processes for Reddy (like Lakoff). The toolmaking image is not an invitation to examine the relationship of material practices to thought. Reddy doesn't explore these implications of his metaphor. "Effort" is equated to verbal interaction.]

Gergen, K. J. (1990). "Metaphor, metatheory, and the social world," in D. E. Leary (Ed.), Metaphors in the History of Psychology. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 267-299.

"metaphors... advance understanding of social life" "...generate... theoretical developments" (p. 267) "pervad[e] social psychological theories" (p. 294) [i.e., Stepan's m-m 1]

As a metaphor "gradually becomes incorporated into the communal practices and as the new patterns become solidified, the term will become increasingly literal." (p. 270) [Gergen is a social constructivist in the Berger & Luckmann sense...] A new metaphor is only partly intelligible and acceptable, but becomes more so an an "outcome of ongoing interchange among persons" (p. 271). "[M]eaning is derived from an array of patterned practices within varying contexts" (p. 270) -- which he see as an extension of Wittgenstein's language games as context in which terms have meaning.

[Note that he hasn't addressed what influences whether a metaphor will be taken up and become part of the "ongoing interchange" and "communal practices." The extended Wittgensteinian formulation means that culture/ society/ forms of life/ patterned practices precede thoughts, i.e., Stepan's m-m 2.]

Schön, D. (1993). "Generative metaphor: A perspective on problem-setting in social policy," in A. Ortony (Ed.), Metaphor and Thought. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 137-163.

[Danzinger cites Schön's essay when he says metaphors invite us "to act in terms of certain implied assumptions." But I read Schön as following the model of thought generates action, but where the thoughts/ metaphors he concerns himself with are the subset related to dominant social policies.]

Metaphor is central to framing and generating new perspectives, to "seeing as." Generative metaphors underlie stories and through stories problems (e.g., in social policy) are framed or set. Frame restructuring requires new metaphors and stories. [Stepan's meta-metaphor 1 again.]

Two puzzles:
i) Interpreting thinking from what is said and done [i.e., what is said and done follows from what is thought]. Deep metaphors need to be exposed in order to understand surface ones, to see what is assumed, excluded, included, and to understand why policy framings can be incommensurable. Critical interpretive work can help lead to frame-restructuring [but see the end of my note on ii) below].;

ii) What is involved in generativity.
"A situation may begin by seeming complex, uncertain, and indeterminate. If one can once see it, however, in terms of a normative dualism such as health/disease or nature/artifice, then we shall know in what direction to move" (p. 148). Achieving this is the hallmark of a generative metaphor.
[Note the collapsing going on here. While generativity could be defined in terms of qualities of the metaphor, Schön evaluates generativity in terms of the outcome, i.e., people knowing what direction to move. He slips in the proposition that discursive reduction of complexity is needed for people to get their direction clear (which overlooks questions about how people are rhetorically enrolled through discursive reductions and about whether simple models contribute to the problem of constrained policy-setting). Furthermore, Schön's generative metaphors are actually a subset of those that reduce complexity and point to a direction to follow, namely those that underlie the dominant policy framings.
Given this collapsing, it's not surprising that by the end Schön has only got to the point of posing the question of what facilitates frame-restructuring work -- there's little in the essay that would help us address it. And given his adherence to the framework that action follows thought, it's not surprising that he envisages this as "cognitive work" (p. 160).]

Yanagisako, S. and C. Delaney (1995). "Naturalizing power," in S. Yanagisako and C. Delaney (Eds.), Naturalizing Power: Essays in Feminist Cultural Analysis. New York, Routledge, 1-22.

[This essay is not directly about metaphor, but it employs Stepan's meta-metaphors.]
"differentials of power come already embedded in culture. That is what we mean by naturalizing power, for power appears natural, inevitable, even god-given" (p. 1)

[Too much ground is conceded here; the propositions need more precision. Consider:
i) How does culture operate so that people have the idea that only if something is not culturally- or socially-generated (i.e., is natural or god-given) it is inevitable?
ii) What is the model implied in the "embedded" metaphor? Answer: A person cannot refer to something not permitted in the existing system of inter-references, which, e.g., exclude power as something socially generated. Is this a plausible model of thought and verbal expression?

Although in the essay Y&G acknowledge that things are both real and discursive, their anchor is that culture, a system of rules and meanings, determines what meanings can be readily established, or, teasing this open a bit: culture -> an agent's subjectivity -> their thought -> action (Stepan's m-m 2). The metaphor of embedded, underlying, etc. then make senses as well (Stepan's m-m 1).
It seems to me that in Y&G culture-given as inevitable is the analog of god-given and natural as inevitable. Given that Y&G's book is feminist cultural analysis, inevitability might seem to work against their purpose. But, maybe not, because it simplifies their self-positioning. (This point needs discussion.)

Excerpt from "Shifting positions for knowing and intervening in the cultural politics of the life sciences," draft afterword for Changing Life: Genomes-Ecologies-Bodies-Commodities (U. Minnesota Press, 1997).

From mental and verbal images to "acting as if" as meta-metaphor

Agents, whether working as scientists or cultural interpreters, draw upon a sense of what the material and social world is like. Interpreters observing this "likening" try to convey what it is like. Sampling from Haraway's work, agents are involved in: noninnocent conversations using visualization technologies; holding partial perspectives; situated knowing; story-telling; embodied vision; worldly diffraction; viewing the doings; materialized refiguration. Notice that all but the last term connotes the making of mental and verbal images; images that we believe or think the world is like, or that we speak or write as if it were like. In general, likening is taken to mean having an image that corresponds to the world. But there is another sense of likening that parallels the first shift in our basis for knowing and intervening: we also act as if. In fact, while viewing, speaking, and thinking are indeed actions, they are particular kinds; "acting as if" could be viewed as a more inclusive "meta-metaphor" of likening.
In this light, we would seek to learn what is at stake in any representational or discursive work. What is it that the agents are trying with their ideas to do something about? Moreover, what needs to be done practically in order to modify their moves? Following this line of questioning, the activity of scientific and interpretive agents can be interpreted as richly metaphorical in the more inclusive, "acting as if," sense. To choose one example... Yes, global computer modelers think that human activity forms a system to be managed, but more importantly, their categories, tools and social positioning jointly enable them to act -- in actuality or in powerful fantasies -- as if they were the planet's managers. Or, if not the managers, their close advisers.

Notes for teaching, as revised in Fall '95 (i.e., before I completed the readings above)

In literature
A poet uses "inferno" to describe a fire, evoking in the reader associations such as inferno = hell, death, worse thing possible, out of the benevolent God's control, etc. A fire is not literally the inferno, but because the reader has strong associations with infernos, this stirs up their thinking to think of it as if it were the inferno. Gradually this metaphor has faded -- in part, I suspect because hell no longer evokes such strong associations -- and inferno is now used to describe any severe fire (it has become a cliche), and the metaphor may eventually die*, e.g., "raging fire" means a fire that is unchecked and hardly evokes a person (or god) in rage. The process is never, however, even; metaphorical associations are always open, that is, they are
-not specified by the writer/speaker;
-differ from reader to reader; and
-differ for any reader according to circumstance.

In language
Meaning by reference is contrasted to meaning by associations
dictionary thesaurus
atomized* web-like, network
specifiable open

In philosophy
There have been many big (protracted, convoluted, jargon-full) debates about meaning and reference, which led to/ carried over into analysis of metaphor. One useful idea, which I associate with Max Black, is reciprocal animation. If we use the metaphor inferno to animate* our thinking about fires, then we also animate our thinking about hell by thinking of it as if it were like being inside, burnt by, as hot as, as noisy as... a severe fire. We can refine Black's insight if we note that there is usually some lag; the secondary animation (fire as a metaphor for hell) develops over time.

Development of metaphors over time (PT):
Step 1: (Carrying over/ As if/ Animation) Metaphor B (= Name B + Associations of B) animates thinking about phenomenon A. The "carrying over" changes associations of A -> associations' of A. The animation relies for its impact on A being not literally B, and on B being part of a network of associations (which includes other metaphors).
Step 2A (Dead metaphor): Name B is still used to describe A but no longer evokes the associations of B, or, at least, not so strongly.
Step 2B (Reciprocal animation): Some of the original associations of A are carried over to B so that associations of B -> associations' of B. With time the effect may be less one of stirring up and more one of infusion.
Step 3B (Collapsed metaphor): Reciprocal infusion continues; the difference in associations' of A and associations' of B diminishes; and the Name B may carried over to A, resulting in a new composite, AB. The non-literalness of A's likeness to B is now elusive, and pointing it out is apt to be confusing unless the original context of use is evoked well.
Step 3A/4B (Displaced metaphor): Dead and collapsed metaphors can gain associations from elsewhere; e.g., "toe the line" died and became reborn* as "tow the line."

For example, when Darwin used Natural selection to describe a mechanism of evolutionary change capable of producing adaptations, he was playing on connotations both of selection by humans of plant and animal varieties and of Nature being like a superintending God (so that it could intentionally rank and select). The metaphor was striking because he was saying that there was not literally a selector in nature using some selection criterion, but the result could appear as though there were. Nowadays when selection is intentionally performed in society, e.g., by educational testers, the ranking* seems to be follow a principle given by nature, not merely a social convention (reciprocal animation). Moreover, biologists now talk about the environment being an agent of selection or a selective force, that is, agency, selection, and application of force do not have to be intentional, and the term for evolutionary generation of adaptations is now natural selection (collapsed metaphor). Biologists often use the term natural selection even when they have not identified a character that conferred the survival and reproductive advantage, that is, have neither an intentional agent nor a "selection criterion," and so, to some extent, it is also a dead metaphor. And Elliott Sober, a philospher of biology, has developed a complete analysis based on thinking of natural selection as a force (displaced metaphor).

The questions left open by this description of development over time are:
i) what influences whether a metaphor gains currency*?; and
ii) what motors* the changes?
The difficulty in answering these questions is related to the complexity of reticulating* networks of associated metaphors (see steps 1 and 3A/4B).

In science studies analyses
a) Dominant metaphors of one's time organize one's thinking in general, and in science in particular, so that a scientist's theories and texts are structured* (in part?) by the metaphor, e.g., progress, development.
b) Metaphors are rhetorical resources used to move* different audiences (recall the openness of metaphors) to entertain new ideas.
c) Metaphors crystallize* (but not fully) something that had been difficult to see*, but that people were ready to speak about if given a suitable image, e.g., natural selection, "look back in anger."
d) (PT) Metaphors are powerful to the extent that they contribute to the social circumstances allowing the user/receiver not just to think as if A were like B, but to act as if A were like B. Eventually, this acting as if may collapse the metaphor (see above).