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The Death of Metaphor  

2009-12-13 17:29:46|  分类: 花中李的英语毕业 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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THE DEATH OF METAPHOR
In their first book, Metaphors We Live By (1980), Lakoff and Johnson put for-
ward the view that conventional metaphors ¨C ordead metaphors, as they are
commonly called in English ¨C are very much alive. The very title of the boo
carried the suggestion that our daily existence is structured metaphorically: that
the worn-out phrases we commonly use are symptoms of a vast system of un-
conscious metaphorical thought which underlies language, action and under-
standing. This perspective on language ¨C borrowed from AI research ¨C has be
developed in a series of publications and has become influential. I argued
against this position in a longer work (Pawelec 2005).
In this place, I would like to show in more detail the problems inherent in
Lakoff!ˉs approach to the life and deathof metaphor. This venture is not meant
merely as an exercise in criticism of some limitations of the theory of conceptual
metaphor. My aim is to question the boast that this theory is a significant im-
provement on traditional study of meaning and much closer to !°what people fin
meaningful in their lives!± (Lakoff, Johnson 1980: ix). I share, though, the as
sumption accepted by Lakoff and Johnson that the theory of metaphor is central
for any adequate theory of meaning, as metaphor is !°the omnipresent principl
of language!± (Richards 1965: 92)
Let us start with the limitations, however. In order to see them better, we
should have some grasp of the basic notions. When is a metaphor alive? To
quote Samuel Johnson, when !°it gives you two ideas for one!± (cf. Richar
1965: 93). One could say that we are aware of a metaphoric use of a word if its
conventional meaning (!(R)the vehicle!ˉ in Richards!ˉ terminology) does not fit
object described (!(R)the tenr!ˉ). To give an example
Early in the morning, while all things are crisp with frost, men come with fishing reels and
slender lunch, and let down their fine lines through the snowy field to take pickerel and
perch; wild men, who instinctively follow other fashions and trust other authorities than
their townsmen, and by their goings and comings stitch towns together in parts where
1
.
else they would be ripped (Thoreau 1961: 189)
                                                         
1
 I owe this example to Perrin 1987. I used it repeatedly while discussing related issues in other
texts, cf. Pawelec 2005: 58; Pawelec 2006: 22.

ANDRZEJ PAWELEC
118
In this passage, the anglers cannot literally !(R)stitch!ˉ the towns (!(R)the vehicle
Literally, they leave footprints in the snow which may look like !(R)stitches!ˉ fr
bird!ˉs eye view. On a more abstract level, they move continually from their ow
towns to the pond and back again, thus forming an imaginary network linking ¨
or !(R)stitching!ˉ ¨C the towns (!(R)the tenorOne should remember that in Richards!
!(R)interactive theory!ˉ of metaphor the intended meaning is different from the ten
¨C it is a product of viewing the tenor from the vantage point provided by th
vehicle. We will return to this idea shortly.
A !(R)dead!ˉ metaphor is a lexical item with a conventional meaning differe
from its original meaning (or some previous meaning in the chain of semantic
change). Therefore, there is no need to consult the original meaning in order to
understand a dead metaphor. Occasionally, a conventional metaphor may be-
come !(R)delexicalised!ˉ (Dobrska 1994: 77) ¨C the more original sense may be
come evident (as with puns ¨C intended or unintended). To conclude, a dea
metaphor is the product of a semantic shift in the history of a language. This
process ¨C perhaps like all social processes ¨C is gradual (see N?th 1995: 131 f
successive stages of the !(R)dying!ˉ of mephor). It is also reversible for special
uses in discourse ¨C a dead metaphor can be !(R)revitalised
This picture is frontally attacked by Lakoff: !°The termdead metaphor is
a holdover from a traditional folk theory of language that has turned out not to
be workable. [...] As that theory dissolves under the scrutiny of empirical re-
search, the meaning of ?dead metaphor? cannot remain constant. What were
called dead metaphors in the old theory have turned out to be a host of quite
disparate phenomena, including those metaphors that are most alive ¨C the one
that we use constantly in everyday thought!± (Lakoff 1987: 143). Lakoff!ˉs crit
cism of the standard use of the term !(R)dead metaphor!ˉ is based on the idea th
linguistic forms are epiphenomena of  the Cognitive Unconscious. In other
words, metaphors or !(R)semantic transfes!ˉ are primarily mental programs per
formed by our unconscious; words are merely symptoms of these prior and in-
dependent mental processes. Incidentally, it is hard to understand why Lakoff
thinks that this vision is !(R)empirical!ˉ, if the hypothetical semantic transfers a
not only unconscious by definition, but also remain unconnected to the material
(hence, potentially observable) substratum. The intractable gap between physi-
ology of the brain and semantics, which has tormented philosophers for centu-
ries, is never mentioned as a problem ¨C let alone discussed ¨C by Lakof
The idea that the term !(R)dead metaphor!ˉ vers !(R)a host of quite disparate phe
nomena!ˉ makes sense only in the contextof Lakoff!ˉs theory (if at all). We wil
not go into details here (see my discussion in Pawelec 2005: 44¨C47). It i
enough to notice that the criterion of metaphorical vitality is located on the deep
level of the Cognitive Unconscious. Specifically, !(R)most alive!ˉ are those surfa
structures which can be linked to the most productive programs of semantic
transfer. For instance, to those described as !(R)structural metaphors!ˉ, e.g. ARG
MENT IS WAR. Lakoff talks in this context about !(R)systematic mappings!
which he opposes to !(R)one-shot mappings!ˉ (as exemplified by poetic or unusu
metaphors).
This approach leads to some uncomfortable consequences. If !(R)metaphor!ˉ
redefined as a !(R)mental mapping!ˉ, then the verbal, conventional level (!(R)the l

119
The Death of Metaphor
eral!ˉ) is no longer criterial for metaphoricity. Lakoff is thus forced to redefin
the literal: he postulates a rather extensive primary conceptual level which
emerges spontaneously when people act in some environment; the rest of their
conceptual system is supposed to result from semantic transfers. This idea is
empirically untenable in the light of Vygotsky!ˉs and Piaget!ˉs findings (e.g. V
gotsky 1962; Piaget 1971; cf. Pawelec 2005: 173¨C181). Both researcher
showed conclusively, I believe, that concepts do not arise spontaneously, but
rather in a long process of symbolic social interaction.
In our context, it is enough to point out that notions which !(R)people fin
meaningful in their lives!ˉ: !(R)the literal!ˉ, ! metaphorical!ˉ, !(R)live metaphor!ˉ, !(R)
metaphor!ˉ, are not only fundamentally redefined by Lakoff, but also made muc
less meaningful. Since they are theoretical constructs defined relative to a hy-
pothetical mental level, they have no relevance in everyday life. It would even
be difficult to find uncontested specimens of these concepts (this is certainly the
case with !(R)dead conceptual metaphor!ˉ). om this perspective, Lakoff!ˉs fina
statement in his article on the death of metaphor could not be further from real-
ity: !°it is important to be aware of the theory-dependent status of traditiona
terms such as literal and dead metaphor. They carry old and demonstrably false
theories with them, and, if not carefully used, they will presuppose those old
theories and stifle discussion of contemporary research!± (Lakoff 1987: 147). It i
not true that traditional terms are !(R)theory-dependent!ˉ. These terms, as used co
loquially, simply point out pragmatically relevant phenomena. Dissecting all
non-truths from this passage would take us, however, too far afield.
I would like to give more attention to another consequence of Lakoff!ˉs the
ory, which has a direct bearing on the status of metaphor in our lives. If we live
by !(R)systematic mappings!ˉ (instantiated by conventional metaphors), then !(R)o
shot mappings!ˉ (instantiated by novel or poetic metaphors) are ¨C presumably
less important, idiosyncratic. On the theoretical plane, the relationship between
these conceptual levels is never explained. Do !(R)systematic mappings!ˉ arise
one stroke in our minds? Or rather gradually, by accumulation of related one-
shot mappings? Lakoff often talks about one domain giving structure to another
domain, but !(R)domains!ˉ are theoretical constructs used in AI or Cognitive S
mantics. It seems, for instance, that the label ARGUMENT IS WAR covers
a whole range of metaphors coming from different !(R)domains!ˉ or !(R)subdomain
One should also remember that ascribing particular phrases ¨C instances of con
ceptual metaphors ¨C to semantic domains is quite arbitrary (the meaning o
a phrase is always contextual and changes from case to case).
What interests me more is the relative importance of both conceptual levels.
Lakoff seems to believe that most of our thinking is done thanks to !(R)systemati
mappings!ˉ (conventional metaphors in everyday language). They are thus !(R)mo
alive!ˉ ¨C or conceptually productive ¨C than one-shot mappings. This view
starkly opposed to the Romantic vision of thought and language, as expressed ¨
for instance ¨C in Humboldt!ˉs !(R)energetic definition!ˉ of language which !°
product (Ergon), but an activity (Energeia). Its true definition can therefore only
be a genetic one. For it is the ever-repeated mental labour of making the articu-
lated sound capable of expressing thought!± (Humboldt 1999: 49). From thi

ANDRZEJ PAWELEC
120
point of view, language is truly alive when we try to capture an original idea by
discovering unprecedented means of linguistic articulation.
We find a similar sentiment in Shelley!ˉs statement, which is directly relate
to metaphor: !°Language is vitally metaphorical; that is, it marks the before un
apprehended relations of things and perpetuates their apprehension, until words,
which represent them, become, through time, signs for portions or classes of
thought instead of pictures of integral thoughts: and then, if no new poets should
arise to create afresh the associations which have been thus disorganised, lan-
guage will be dead to all the nobler purposes of human intercourse!± (quoted i
Richards 1965: 91). Shelley talks here about the task of !(R)apprehension!ˉ of n
objects of thought (i.e. of yet unnoticed !(R)relations of things!ˉ). This task of rev
lation requires the use of metaphor ¨C it requires a !(R)twisting!ˉ of the conventio
means of expression to direct thinking down a new lane. Such creative meta-
phors are not based on !(R)semantic transfers!ˉ. They are rather like springboard
they require a leap of imagination.
This can be seen better if we return to Thoreau!ˉs passage. When discussin
it, I said that in order to arrive at the meaning of a metaphor, we should view the
tenor from the vantage point of the vehicle. In this particular context, we should
view !(R)the anglers!ˉ outings!ˉ (tenor) as they were !(R)stitches!ˉ (vehicle). T
choice of the vehicle, as we already know, was motivated either by the image of
footprints in the snow seen from a bird!ˉ eye view, or by a more abstract vision
of the anglers!ˉ regular travels to the pond and back again (or simultaneously b
both these images). The task of the reader is to reconfigure the scene in such
a way that one can see !(R)stitching!ˉ as the most appropriate articulation of an !(R)
tegral thought!ˉ, to quote Shelley. Several clues in the text suggest that the !(R)wi
men!ˉ are instruments in the hands of Nature or Nature!ˉs envoys (the most i
portant one, I believe, is the perspective adopted: the scene must be viewed from
a sufficient distance to include the pond and the towns; as a result, the anglers
are hardly noticeable). It may seem that Nature herself uses !(R)wild men!ˉ
!(R)stitch!ˉ the rifts caused by towns in the !(R)fabric!ˉ of wild life. This example s
that a live metaphor (!(R)one-shot metaphor!in Lakoff!ˉs terminology) is not abou
a !(R)conceptual transfer!ˉ, but about an active reconfiguration of a scene. It is us
to guide one!ˉs own thinking (as long as it is not sufficiently crystallised) and th
reader!ˉs attention, in order to arrive at a new ¨C more or less unconventional
vision of things. To put it simply, live metaphors are used to apprehend revela-
tions.
There remains the question raised in the title of this article. How is this issue
conceived by our protagonists? Lakoff focuses on the end-state. He thinks that
when we have a number of related conventional expressions, this is a symptom
of a single mechanism of generation (systematic mapping in the Cognitive Un-
conscious). Shelley, on the other hand, focuses on the initial state: the act of
apprehension with metaphor. From his point of view, there are !(R)nobler!ˉ a
!(R)lower!ˉ uses of language. Grasping something new is the nobler task ¨C that
poets, who truly think. Common people do not have !(R)integral thoughts!ˉ, but on
repeat unreflectively what poets have discovered, and in the process !(R)chop up
the poetic vision into !(R)portions or classes of thought!ˉ. Conventional metaphor
language degraded.

121
The Death of Metaphor
The two approaches are rooted in opposite traditions. Lakoff!ˉs view is !(R)sc
entific!ˉ: he looks for a mechanism, a system behind a range of phenomena
Shelley!ˉs view is !(R)romantic!ˉ: he perceives phenomena as the work of a creat
spirit. Lakoff!ˉs approach is certainly atodds with the social, historical nature of
his object. Conventional metaphors are not generated in the Cognitive Uncon-
scious but in the life of a community. They manifest a semblance of !(R)rationa
design!ˉ, because a given perspective on things (e.g. that an argument is lik
a war) is taken up repeatedly through centuries and used for expressive purposes
at hand. On the other hand, Shelley!ˉs !(R)poetic!ˉ genesis of language seems to
an exaggeration. He is certainly right about the importance of the ability to find
new perspectives, to get new things into focus through metaphor. But his view
of social reality as constituted by disorganised poetic visions is obviously wide
of the mark.
Despite Lakoff!ˉs boastings, the connetions between metaphorical language,
thought and reality remain as mysterious as ever.
References
Dobrzyska T. (1994): M¨(R)wc przenonie... Studia o metaforze, Warszawa.
Humboldt W. Von (1999): On Language, Cambridge.
Lakoff G. (1987): The Death of Dead Metaphor, ?Metaphor and Symbolic Activity!±, 2:2
s. 143¨C147
Lakoff G., Johnson M. (1980): Metaphors We Live By, Chicago.
N?th W. (1995): Handbook of Semiotics, Bloomington.
Pawelec A. (2005): Znaczenie ucielenione. Propozycje krgu Lakoffa, Krak¨(R)w
Pawelec A. (2006): Metafora pojciowa a tradycja, Krak¨(R)w
Perrin S.G. (1987):  Metaphorical Revelations, ?Metaphor and Symbolic Activity!±, 2:4
s. 251¨C280
Piaget J. (1971): Biology and Knowledge, Chicago.
Richards I.A. (1965): The Philosophy of Rhetoric, Oxford.
Thoreau H.D. (1961): Walden, New York.
Vygotsky L.S. (1962): Thought and Language, Cambridge.

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