October 1, 2012

What came first? The Chicken or the Metaphor?

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson's article, "Metaphors We Live By," in a way in an inspection of the structure of language. Yes, their arguments are structured around the use and prevalence of metaphors in writing/speech, yet it is done so in a way that presumes this practice alters thought (rather than only changing speech). The way I understood the reading was that Lakoff and Johnson feel "that metaphor means metaphorical concept," that metaphors not only alter speech, but also create a conceptual framework around any given situation. They imply that when approaching an argument through the metaphorical lens of "argument is war," someone is more likely to operate according to principles the metaphor implies (warlike tendencies, binary distinction between parties, enemy mentality, etc.).

This is the section I take issue with. I agree that metaphors comprise a large body of speech, that colloquially their use is accepted and understood. However, I feel Lakoff and Johnson took this understanding too far in its effect. Is not our schema of what an argument comprises already filled with warlike distinctions? Although there is a metaphor ("argument is war") that can aptly encompass the features of a argument, does that mean the metaphor is creating/confining the situation. Think about all the activity children involve themselves in prior to their acquisition of language skills. Their behavior is developed/altered by experience rather than language that can define their experience. We could easily apply a metaphor to describing infants playing together, yet their activity would in no way be altered by that label/metaphorical framework. I am aware that this example is an exception to the audience "Metaphors We Live By" is intended (speaking/writing members of society affected by metaphor), yet the concept remains the same: Any activity or thought process that can retroactively be defined by metaphor is not confined by that metaphor.

Think about the nature of metaphor. It is only a product of the thing it describes, a metaphor could not be created prior to the action it involves. Thus, why would you assume our actions are that deeply affected by metaphors that merely describe past action/thought?

Are my assumptions that far off? Who agrees with me here?

1 comment:

Natalie Andrade said...

I can see how anyone could take issue what what you have mentioned, but it seems that it's place in speech, is secondary. You are correct in believing metaphors limit us, yet they due so when their key signifier is not present. We need to understand the components of set metaphors in order to understand its whole statement, so these in fact go hand in hand. We cannot arrive at new meaning with metaphor without out building blocks of "things."

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