- Jun 30, 2013
Three lectures were given by Professor Hisashi Fujita over the 2 weeks from 10-17 May.
The theme of the lectures was "métaphysique et métaphore (metaphysics and metaphor)". Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) discusses the tie between metaphysics and metaphor in Chapter 6 of Le principe de raison (The principle of reason). For Heidegger, Western metaphysics is the transposition from something visible to something invisible, and in that sense, the metaphor of the transposition from the real meaning of words to a figurative meaning possesses a metaphysical meaning. Heidegger goes as far as to say "metaphorical things only exist within metaphysics". The lectures started from this point, with the aim of seeking out the relationship between metaphor and metaphysics, and investigating the many questions this brings about.
The first lecture, by way of introduction, identified the historical position of metaphor in Western thought, and explained how metaphor had come to be been defined. In Poetics and Rhetoric by Aristotle (384-322BC), metaphor is a type of analogy that expresses something suggestively without making clear the comparison. For example, if we use the word "day" to mean youth, and "night" to mean aged, there is a hidden analogy of "the connection between day and night over the period of one day is the same as that of youth and aged in the years of a life". In this sense, Aristotle does not differentiate between metaphor and general analogy, so there is no strict classification. Aristotle's intention, however, was not to classify metaphor simply linguistically, but to elucidate the metaphysical process carried out by poetic language: that is, the process that creates new meaning by adding alterations to pre-existing expressions. However, after Aristotle, metaphor came to be considered as a literary embellishment, or as one linguistic function, and it parted from the realm of philosophy. For example, Seneca (4BC-65AD) said that since it is impossible to give a name to all the things in the world, it is necessary to use a certain name to point to something which is different from what it originally meant (=metaphor). Since the modern era, metaphor has been considered from viewpoints other than that of pure literary expression: in particular César Chesneau Dumarsais (1676-1756) attempted to define metaphor using scientific methods.
However, from ancient until modern times metaphor was normally understood as the result of transporting the meaning of one word to a different word, and accordingly, metaphor was normally considered to have one meaning allocated to it. To consider metaphor philosophically, we need to overcome this univocity.
The second lecture investigated the place of metaphor in the thought of Henri Bergson (1859-1941). Bergson is known on the one hand as master of letters who won the Nobel Prize for literature, but on the other hand we find much criticism of language in his thought. This glimpse would therefore suggest contradictory attitudes.
In Bergson's thought there are two aspects to life. One is "survie (survival)", occupying the realm of utility and necessity. We must take actions in order to lengthen our lives, and we identify and grasp the world based on this necessity. Our everyday ways are governed by this principle of survival, with language and science also belonging in this realm as things that we pursue for their usefulness. There is another aspect to life, however: "sur-vie" - life that has transcended survival. This occupies the realm of the mind, and is a constant movement pushing us towards creation that is unrelated to usefulness. This fluid reality, also called "élan vital (vital force)", is identified and expressed as a fixed thing by our everyday perception, and according to Bergson it is language that plays the central role therein. This is because language uses symbols to generalise the minutiae of reality. In other words, in the thought of Bergson, the commonplace use of language has already determined violence upon present reality. Yet as we know from his own use of much metaphor to explain his own thought, Bergson does not censure the use of language itself. In order to rectify the violence done by language, it is necessary to violate the words themselves (violenter les mots), Bergson declares. Here we find the place of metaphor in Bergson. Everyday language is already one type of metaphor in the sense that it transforms present reality from its actual state, and so to use metaphorical words is no more than to repeat the reversal carried out by language. In this way, creation by language becomes possible for the first time. Accordingly, the life of the author lies in opposing the natural tendency of words, and realising the unrealisable (réaliser l'irréalisable).
Metaphor, that is "violated language", occupies a middle position (l'entre) in Bergson's thought, and that is its distinctive feature. Metaphorical things on the one hand differ from everyday language, that is language based on the necessity of survival, but on the other hand they do not belong in the completely non-linguistic realm of the pure mind. Rather they are things that emerge in a middle position between the two. For that reason, perhaps, figurative expressions used by Bergson himself do not contain any actual new words; nor do his particular analogies and metaphors have any decisive importance.
The third lecture dealt with the argument between Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) and Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005) on the subject of metaphor. Derrida presented his La mythologie blanche (White mythology) in 1971; Ricoeur then included criticism of Derrida's work in La métaphore vive (The living metaphor) of 1975. Furthermore, as a response to this, Derrida published Le retrait de la métaphore (The retreat of metaphor) in 1978, which ends the path of the argument.
The object of Ricoeur's criticism was Derrida's adoption of the idea of "the union between metaphor and metaphysics" that was originally proposed by Heidegger. This means it was also a criticism aimed at Heidegger, in which Ricoeur declared that there should be a differentiation between metaphor (métaphore) and metaphoricity (métaphoricité) in Heidegger's text. Metaphor is the shift from an extant meaning to a different extant meaning, and includes nothing new therein. In contrast, the numerous metaphorical expressions found in Heidegger's work showed hitherto unclarified content, and Ricoeur insisted that this was different from simple metaphor.
The notion of "living metaphor" advocated by Ricoeur has as its forefront the differentiation between metaphor and metaphoricity. The living metaphor is the creative process of hatching new meaning, and can be differentiated from catachresis (catachrèse) that reuses extant expressions out of necessity governed by the limits of vocabulary. The latter is then, so to say, "dead metaphor". Living metaphor becomes exhausted, with signs of usury (usure); we could suppose here a process of entropy whereby it turns into dead metaphor. Ricoeur declares that philosophy gives new meaning to exhausted metaphor and produces living metaphor. As the notion of philosophy is born from (at leastly partly) dead metaphor, there must be an essential link between philosophy and metaphor. However, making metaphor a living thing does not signify simply reviving a dead thing, but involves letting it live again by other means, Ricoeur states. In this meaning, philosophy, the birth product of living metaphor, must belong to a different realm from metaphor.
In opposition to the above, Derrida, in White mythology, declares that the realm of metaphor can always be supplemented, so that limits and controls are impossible. In other words, metaphor is an open realm of infinite expanse whose whole is structured not from specific words and expressions, but from extant expressions, that is exhausted metaphor. Derrida suggests that this supplementality (supplémentalité) possessed by metaphor exerts influence on the notion of philosophy. As a result we cannot draw a clear line between philosophy and metaphor. We see that from hereon Derrida equates the usury of metaphor with its own shift into a notion. The criticism had upon Derrida by Ricoeur is directed towards this confusion. It argued that the dying process of metaphor is a different thing from the birth process of living metaphor. We can say that the discrepancies between Ricoeur and Derrida are founded on this point.
However, neither Ricoeur nor Derrida wished to lose metaphor in the realm of notions, and they agree on the point that poetic language (=metaphor) recognises the meaning that it itself has. Both shared the belief that metaphor should be treated with respect for its meaning that cannot be reduced into notions.