to move it”). What a poet does is manipulate the linguistic expressions of the “relatively small number of existing basic metaphors” (51).This can be done in three ways:
The first is simply to versify them in automatic ways; this results in a lot of lame, feeble and trite verse. The second is to deploy them masterfully, combining them, extending them, and crystallizing them in strong images.... The third stance is to attempt to step outside the ordinary ways we think metaphorically and either to offer new modes of metaphorical thought or to make the use of our conventional basic metaphors less automatic by employing them in unusual ways, or otherwise to destabilize them and thus reveal their inadequacies for making sense of reality. (51–52)
Conceptual metaphors are not, therefore, the “creations” of poets. Poets “extend, compose and compress” conceptual metaphors within the parameters of language, and our reading of and ability to engage with poems depends on how we interpret and understand these manipulations as we read. Thus there is always a kind of playful tension between the conceptual metaphor and its linguistic expression. In reading, this tension is highlighted, as readers compare their understandings and uses of the conceptual metaphor to the linguistic expression it has been given by the poet.
This is a distinctively modern development. Ancient philosophers andrhetoricians viewed metaphor as a temporary self-explanatory change inthe usage of a general or singular term, typically a noun ornoun phrase. When we resort to metaphor, a term that routinely standsfor one thing or kind is made to stand for another, suitably relatedthing or kind instead, and this change in what the term stands foroccurs on the fly, without warning and without specialexplanation. The effect is to transfer the term in questionfrom its accustomed place in our verbal classificatory scheme tosome other unaccustomed place for special temporary expressivepurposes. For Aristotle, writing in the middle of the fourth centuryBCE, the figurative redeployment of term counts as a metaphorregardless of precisely how the term’s usual referent and its specialtemporary referent are related (Poetics 21 1457b ff. Seealso Rhetoric 3.2 1404b-1505b, 3.4 1406b–1407a,3.10–11 1410b–1413b). By the time Quintilian and Cicerocome along, metaphor is one of many distinct recognized figures ofspeech, and a self-explanatory terminological transfer counts asmetaphorical only if it is based on a real orsupposed analogy or likeness between the regularreferent and the special temporary one. This matters less than onemight expect, since although Aristotle recognized four different kindsof metaphor, he regarded the analogy-based kind as far and away themost interesting and devoted the bulk of his discussion to it.
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Sometimes we resort to metaphor because there’s no established termfor the thing we want to talk about and no need to contrive a new termthat will refer to it once and for all. More often and moreinterestingly, we resort to metaphor for the sake of the pleasure ouraudience will take in puzzling it out, the persona it allows us toadopt in addressing our audience, and the quasi-sensory vividness itbrings to the audience’s apprehension of whatever we say with itshelp. (See Cicero, De Oratore, 55 BCE,3.159–60)
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Literary theorists regularly acknowledge the existence ofextended metaphors, unitary metaphorical likenings that sprawlover multiple successive sentences. There are also contractedmetaphors, metaphors that run their course within the narrow confinesof a single clause or phrase or word. They reveal themselves mostreadily when distinct metaphors are mixed to powerful,controlled, anything but hilarious effect:
Nevertheless, there is a familiar way of registering how one takes orunderstands a given metaphor, naturally called paraphrase,such that dispensing with it entirely would condemnarticulate consumers of metaphor to an unproductive silence. It ishard not to sympathize with Stanley Cavell when he writes in“Aesthetic Problems of Modern Philosophy” (1969):
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Determinacy worries help motivate one influential and sweepingreworking of Gricean pragmatics, the relevance theory ofSperber and Wilson (1995, also Wilson and Sperber 2002). In an earlyand somewhat simplified formulation (Sperber and Wilson 1985),relevance theory takes metaphor to be an especially dramatic form ofloose talk and takes talk in general to be at least somewhat loose mostof the time. What is meant typically departs from what is said, to thepoint where all a speaker ever commits herself to inexpressing a proposition is a noteworthy interpretiveresemblance between this proposition and the one whose truth sheis out to vouch for. (Two propositions bear an interpretive resemblanceto one another in a given setting to the extent that they have similarconsequences, given whatever is mutually taken for granted in thatsetting.) And speakers can anticipate what competent listeners willtake them to mean only up to a point. What they can most firmlyanticipate being taken to mean is strongly implied by theirutterance, what they may or may not be taken to mean, depending onfacts about the listeners they aren’t in a position to know, isonly weakly implied. The result is that what’s meant byan utterance, what the speaker vouches for in speaking as she does,isn’t sharply delimited but trails off, in much the way that goodparaphrases typically trail off.