Thursday, March 1, 2012

Gibbs: The Poetics of Mind, comments on ch. 5 (1994)

Most of chapter 5 of Gibbs' book is spent criticizing some rather uninteresting claims about metaphor, namely, the claim that they rely on preexisting similarity and the claim that comprehension moves through a process of finding and rejecting a literal reading before considering a metaphorical alternative. The chapter plods along without much reflection or analytical distance.

Gibbs vs. Sperber and Wilson
During a discussion of Searle's Speech Acts, Gibbs uses the opportunity to bring out his old point about the separation of process from product in theories of comprehension. He claims that pragmatic theories focus exclusively on products while making claims about processes as well (p. 228).

He also briefly considers relevance theory as a possible alternative in the section named "The metaphor-as-loose-talk view." "Loose talk" is a relevance-theoretic name for vague assertions, especially vague assertions that are just precise enough given the context.

Gibbs rejects that metaphors can be regarded as "loose talk" in this pragmatic sense because it
incorrectly assumes that that metaphors [...] obligatorily demand additional cognitive effort to be understood. Furthermore, the very notion of metaphor as loose talk presupposes that metaphorical language only resembles speaker's thoughts rather than being a direct reflection of ideas or concepts that are actually constituted by the speaker. (p. 232)
The second sentences obviously only constitutes an argument against relevance theory if one agrees that metaphors "reflect ideas." In any case, trying to explain meaning as relation between a thought—be it in terms of resemblance or identity—seems like a non-starter to me.

Bidirectional Metaphor
In the chapter on Max Black's theory ("The interactive view"), Gibbs briefly mentions that the metaphor PEOPLE ARE MACHINES is bidirectional or reversible (p. 238). This is followed by a generic reference to More Than Cool Reason, without any page number.

He explains this by saying that "different things get mapped" without getting any more into the issue.

Gibbs vs. Gentner
Gibbs sees the theories of Ortony and of Dedre Gentner as elaborations of Black's interaction theory. In particular, he suggests that they may be compatible (p. 245), unlike what Gentner seems to think. However, he rejects both on the grounds that none of them
is especially informative about metaphor understanding as an early on-line process, because they primarily focus on explaining the results, or late products, of that understanding. (p. 246)
He doesn't give any further evidence for this claim.

After thus having rejected the salience imbalance model and the structure-mapping model, he goes onto present Glucksberg's class inclusion model as a patch on this "problem" (p. 246-48).

He finds this model "appealing" for its focus on process (p. 247) but rejects it because "it might very well be the case that such metaphorical groupings [= Glucksberg's ad hoc concepts] already exist as part of our everyday conceptual structures" (p. 247). And of course, if one believes that assertion, one should go for cognitive metaphor theory rather than Glucksberg's picture.

Gibbs On Poetry and Freshness
In his presentation of the cognitive theory of metaphor, Gibbs finds himself in a strange two-way situation with respect to the freshness of metaphor:
The conceptual view of metaphor also explains why people find such great beauty and power in poetry and literary prose. Verse embellishes the more mundane ways of thinking about our worldly experiences. (p. 249-250)
In fact, cognitive metaphor does exactly the opposite: It explains the intelligibility of metaphor by assuming that there is nothing new in a metaphor. As Lakoff and Turner claims, poetry uses the same metaphors as everyday discourse.

If this were really true, it seems very difficult to explain why they would sometimes seem fresh, beautiful, and thought-provoking, while at other times mundane, flat, and uninteresting. Almost as an aside, Gibbs tries to do so by driving wedge in between the mapping and its instantiations:
The view of metaphor as conceptual structure is particularly valuable as a linguistic theory of metaphor because it suggests a difference between having a metaphorical mapping of two disparate domains already existing as a unit in one's conceptual system and the mental act of putting together the same metaphor for the first time. (p. 251; my graying out)
That's quite confusing given that the whole theory relies on metaphors to be unsurprising and effortless. In particular, does Gibbs mean "the same [conceptual] metaphor" or "the same metaphor[ical mapping]" in the last sentence? That makes quite a large difference for the theory.

This is partly, but only partly, cleared up later on the same page:
Of course, many linguistic metaphors specify new twists on some conventional conceptual metaphor and may require additional inferential processing to be properly understood. This additional inferential processing often operates on the products of earlier comprehension processes (i.e., is part of metaphor interpretation rather than comprehension per se). (p. 251)
So yet another distinction has to be introduced to save the theory, this time between "interpretation" and "comprehension per se." Again, this pushes to conceptual mapping to some background role where it virtually has no observable qualities.

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