Saturday, 27 October 2012

Philosophy and Literature: Some Thoughts


Somebody reached this blog by searching for ‘is bank of cloud a metaphor?’ I was reminded of students, from my teaching says, who maintained that ‘the past is behind me’ wasn’t a metaphor and that the past was of course behind them.

It is a commonplace, perhaps, that one of the things that literature does, far from ‘embellishing’ the (neutral, prefigurative) world with metaphor to make it more interesting, is to reveal, through new and different metaphors, the figurative shapes that already ‘embellish’ our perceptions without being visible to us. Literary metaphors, then, are not simply devices for reperceiving the world. They clear the ground for such reperception by disturbing and uprooting the embedded metaphors which organise and direct our thinking. 

But does not philosophy do the same thing from a different angle? If many of the concepts we use are silently metaphorical*, then thinking must first of all attack or displace these silent metaphors, not least by inventing new and audible ones. This seems to me particularly true of Deleuze, whose philosophy is populated by what we would be tempted to call metaphors – the fold, the machine, the rhizome etc, and the job of these ‘metaphors’ is to help us escape the old categories of thinking which tilt or deflect our thought, which trap and channel our energies. And to read Deleuze is to experience an excitement that comes from the opening up, by novel conceptual devices and personae, of new areas of enquiry.
*Philosophy has often opposed the metaphorical to the conceptual. The use of metaphor is a way of groping towards a concept that isn’t yet clear, which does not yet exist. The concept itself should be purged of any figurative traces. The more recent suggestion is that concepts begin as metaphor, and that this ‘metaphoricity’ is then forgotten, or folded invisibly inside the concept. It does its work silently.

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