Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Lakoff and Turner: More Than Cool Reason, ch. 4

In the chapter on "The Great Chain of Being," George Lakoff and Mark Turner invent a type of logical analysis so liberal that any sentence can be read as a metaphor.

The analysis employs what they call the GENERIC IS SPECIFIC metaphor. They use this to show how a sentence about a concrete situation (the proverb "Blind blames the ditch") acts as a schema that we can use to interpret another concrete situation (a defamed politician blames the press).

This is their theory: The metaphor GENERIC IS SPECIFIC
maps a single specific-level schema onto an indefinitely large number of parallel specific-level schemas that all have the same generic level structure as the source-domain schema. (p. 162)
From the discussion that follows (pp. 163-64) it is clear that what they have in mind is that we reconstruct the generic frame that the insulted blind person is an instance of, and then plug the bitter politician into the same frame.

Thus, no special knowledge of the role of proverbs in social norms is needed; no special bias towards people or their interactions is needed; no ability to recognize the literary genre of proverbs is needed; and no presupposition of communicative intent in a printed publication or a poetry reading is needed.

It should be clear that once all these contextual factors are removed, anything can be a picture of anything. If I say "I'm angry at my mother," that's a specific-level sentence, so that's a metaphorical statement about anybody else's anger. If I say "The plates are in the second cupboard," that's just as deep and meaningful as saying "I threw the first stone."

Again, analyses like these make Lakoff and Turner at best irrelevant to literature. As Reuven Tsur suggested, a wide and consistent application of their theories would most likely be a catastrophe for poetics and literary criticism.

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