Metaphor and conflict / Métaphore et conflit

by Paola Paissa (Volume editor) Michelangelo Conoscenti (Volume editor) Ruggero Druetta (Volume editor) Martin Solly (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 386 Pages
Series: Linguistic Insights, Volume 272


This book presents original research work by leading scholars in the field of metaphor studies. Its innovative focus on the intrinsically conflictual nature of the metaphor fills an important gap in the existing field of metaphor studies. The notion of conflict is envisaged both in the epistemological sense, as the metaphor is the outcome of a ‘conceptual conflict’, and in the ‘metaphorical’sense, since the metaphor constitutes a powerful tool in conflictual discourse. The book explores the multiple forms and interactions of metaphors through case studies and corpora. In particular, it presents the role of the metaphor in political and media discourse, where it contributes to the success of the persuasive act.

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Editors
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents ‒ Table des matières
  • Metaphor and Conflict: A Challenging Pair
  • Métaphore et conflit : un binôme révélateur
  • Section 1: Of Metaphors and Theory / Métaphores et théorie
  • Syntaxe formelle et cohérence textuelle : deux sources pour le conflit conceptuel
  • On the Argumentative Vulnerabilities of Metaphors
  • Les conflits entre séduction et rationalité dans la métaphore argumentative
  • ‘It’s Like Herding Cats’: Metalanguage and Metaphor Use in Disclosure and Nondisclosure Discourse
  • Section 2: Political and Media Discourse: Case Studies / Discours politique et médiatique : études de cas
  • Le mot métaphore marqueur métadiscursif (MMM) : formes et fonctions discursives
  • Multimodal and Visual Metaphors in Social Media: a Case Study in Political Discourse
  • Le conflit argumentatif au prisme de la métaphore : l’interview d’Emmanuel Macron du 15 octobre 2017
  • Visual Metaphor vs. Verbal Metaphor. Trump and the International Relations Conceptual Metaphors in the Financial Times Editorial Cartoons
  • Happy Families and Special Relationships
  • How (Not?) to Use Metaphor in a Conflict? Brexit as a Test Case for Conflict Escalation via Metaphor and Hyperbole
  • Section 3: …and Beyond / Et au-delà
  • « Faciléco – Mieux comprendre l’économie » : la scénographie métaphorique de la série pédagogique « Dr CAC »
  • Shakespeare’s Metaphorical Swarms: Text Functions in The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Implications for its Translation into Italian
  • Notes on Contributors / Profils bio-bibliographiques

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Metaphor and Conflict: A Challenging Pair

1. Rationale

This volume focuses on the intrinsically conflictual nature of metaphors. Conflict can be viewed epistemologically, since a metaphor can be envisaged as the outcome of a ‘conceptual conflict’ (Prandi 2017). Different kinds of metaphors and different relationships between metaphors and contexts (whether phrastic or textual) can thus take shape, depending on the forms of the conflictual interaction and the interpretations to which they might then give rise. Likewise, the notion of ‘conflict’ can also be understood from a “metaphorical” viewpoint, since a metaphor, seen through a functionalist lens, can be a formidable tool for argumentation. Observing the role of metaphors in political and media discourse (mainly but not exclusively), shows that they are often used with great persuasive effect, to overcome the resistance of the opposing side, to validate (or, conversely, to discredit) a point of view: in short, to construct a particular, sometimes potentially controversial, vision of the world. The volume presents original research work by leading scholars in the field of metaphor studies. Its innovative focus on the issues relating to conflictual metaphors fills an important gap in the existing field of metaphor studies. The book also takes an analytical look at the argumentative and persuasive function of metaphors, hitherto comparatively under researched.1

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Stemming from ideas presented at and discussion that took place at a Workshop on Métaphore et conflit ‒ Metaphor and Conflict organized in Turin on 12–13 April 2018, this book forms part of the output and dissemination of the research work carried out by the Italian national research project: PRIN 2015 Nuove prospettive nella ricerca sulle meta-fore (New Research Perspectives on Metaphors). The Workshop was held in both English and French and thus the chapters in this volume are in the two languages. This Introduction is the only part of the book which is translated into both languages.2 After this section, presenting the rationale and the organization of the volume, the second section presents a brief overview and discussion of the relationships between metaphor and conflict from ancient times to the present. Section three outlines the contents of the volume, which is divided into three parts, as well as describing the different chapters. Section four emphasizes the importance of metaphorical representations and figurative language in making sense of and understanding contemporary political and social discourse.

2. Metaphor and conflict: what relationships?

When choosing the angle to approach our volume, the relationship between metaphor and conflict seemed to be the one best suited to take into account a number of concerns – old and recent – in the various sciences that deal with the ‘queen’ of rhetorical figures.

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First of all, conflict is found at the heart of the birth of rhetoric as a means of sublimating physical violence. Legend has it that it was born around 466 AD, when a democratic revolution deposed Thrasybulus, tyrant of Syracuse, and when the problem arose of how to distribute his lands. At that time, the eloquence displayed in the trials enabled some to win their case: so a body of oratorical norms began to build up and became increasingly popular. In this way, speech becomes a form of action and the verbal duel that is oratorical jousting replaces physical combat. From this point of view, rhetoric was a way of deflating conflict. As Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca (1958: 73) explain:

One can indeed try to obtain a particular result either by the use of violence or by speech aimed at securing the adherence of minds. […] The use of argumentation implies that one has renounced resorting to force alone, that value is attached to gaining the adherence of one’s interlocutor by means of reasoned persuasion, and that one is not regarding him as an object, but appealing to his free judgment. Recourse to argumentation assumes the establishment of a community of minds, which, while it lasts, excludes the use of violence. [1969: 55]

Sublimating the conflict does not mean annulling it, as it is present in the practice of rhetoric. Indeed, at least two of the kinds of discourse identified by Aristotle’s typology are of the agonal type: the judicial, where two parties are opposed, and the deliberative, where these are options, or rather divergent viewpoints on the public good that are opposed. Epidiptic speech is less contentious and seems to provide points of contact with another domain where the precepts of rhetoric are applied, which gradually – and for a long time – would come to permeate the whole field of the discipline, namely stylistics, mainly applied to literature.

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This brings us to a second dimension of conflict: the opposition between the argumentative status and the ornamental status of rhetoric in general and of metaphor in particular. It is a conflict on which, in this case, the theorists are divided: on the one hand, does the rhetoric affect the deepest part of discourse or is it just the shaping of arguments, otherwise perfectly rational and independent of their discursive form? In other words: does rhetoric belong to inventio or to elocutio (the predominant option until the mid-1950s, when it was demolished by the Treatise on Argumentation)? On the other hand, should the inventory of rhetorical devices, despite their status as techné, be considered as conforming to a specific textual genre? This is, in any case, the question which arises from Antiquity on the subject of metaphor. Aristotle addresses this figure both in the Poetics and in the Rhetoric, assigning it a cognitive and philosophical value, since it seeks an immediate grasp of the truth. However, it is in the Poetics (ch. XXI) that he gives a more detailed account of the four categories of his metaphorical taxonomy. In addition to the affirmation of the pleasure principle which favours the adhesion of the audience (see Delarue 2017), it is the analogous metaphor which is considered to be the most effective elocutive metaphorical tool, provided that ‘inappropriate’ or ‘obscure metaphors, which lead to ‘coldness’ of style, are avoided (book III, ch. III). Subsequently, Aristotle’s conception of metaphor, as a unitary whole, was gradually divided up, in Pseudo-Longin’s Traité du sublime (Longin 1995) and previously by the Latin authors (Cicero and Quintilian, in particular), and then in the whole European tradition. The final split going back to Pierre de la Ramée – as Amossy and Koren (2009) remind us – and led to what Genette (1970) calls ‘restricted rhetoric’ (in tropes and, especially, in metaphor), that is to say rhetoric envisaged as a catalogue of figures intended for ‘flowery speech’, thus the main priority of stylistics, but having little to do with argumentation.

The conflict concerning the use (decorative vs argumentative) of the metaphor gives rise to others: first, there is the opposition between ordinary discourse and ‘high’ discourse, hallmarked by its figurality, which foreshadows the notion of the rhetorical ‘deviation’. Then, there is the contrast between a direct, rational discourse (the logos) and a biased discourse, symbolized by the metaphor, where it is the paralogism which dominates, and with it the manipulative aim of the use of the figure, which goes hand in hand with a certain mistrust of the metaphor and of those who use it. Furthermore, suspicion of figurative language and, in particular, of the metaphor, also stems from an ancient tradition, dating back at least to Plato and his criticism of the Sophists.3 This is perhaps another factor which justifies the ‘specialization’ of the metaphor in the literary field, because this terrain is less risky than that of speech in the public space. Insofar as literature is the domain of the fictitious and truth is not the major consideration of the author and their public, the use of metaphor does not expose its deployer to the accusation of intending to deceive. On the contrary, the metaphor becomes a precious hallmark of an author’s style, one of the forms that best illustrate the poetic function of language as defined by Jakobson, and the literariness of a text as work on the language.

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It was not until the advent of Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca’s neo-rhetorical perspective in their Treatise on Argumentation, which appeared in 1958, as well as the approach set out in Toulmin’s The Uses of Argument, curiously published in the same year (1958), and the plethora of research that followed these reflections, that there was a change of outlook. Returning to Aristotle’s intuitions, Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca overcame the divide between rhetoric and argumentation and put forward a unified vision, where rhetoric no longer appears as an ancillary discipline, but as coextensive with argumentation. The difference would lie only in the domain of application: the truth would be the concern of demonstration procedures, while the plausible – in the domain of human and social affairs – would pertain to argumentative rhetoric. The latter is therefore reassigned a role of social regulation, aimed at resolving conflicts and problems through discourse. Michel Meyer’s problematology, the theory on which he bases his treatise on argumentative rhetoric (Meyer 2008), espouses this position and focuses especially on metaphors, affirming their operative character in debate, since metaphorical correspondences are considered socially “As truths adequate for the order of things” (Meyer 2005: 14). The research groups and international associations that deal with argumentation now place rhetoric at the centre of their concerns: mention can be made here, amongst others, for Europe, of the International Society for the Study of Argumentation (ISSA), based in Amsterdam and which has, since 1986, organized a major conference every four years, and, for North America, of the Ontario Society for the Study of Argumentation (OSSA), which has followed a similar line since 1995. The Israeli journal Argumentation et Analyse du Discours (AAD) completes this panorama, which is certainly too rapid, but we cannot go into further depth without departing from our purpose.

In this unified perspective, the metaphor plays a central argumentative role, because it constitutes an abbreviated argument, which restores it to the inventio. This is particularly evident in the case of the analogical metaphor, due to the logical reasoning behind it, but can also apply to other metaphorical configurations, in which the phoros holds the attention of the interlocutor and thus can distract them from the argumentation presented by the speaker in order to obtain the interlocutor’s adhesion, through the metaphor or parallel to it.

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This strategic role, which consists of admitting the propositional content whose truth remains to be demonstrated, is strongly sought in a wide range of discourses, ranging from doxological utterances (proverbial utterances, advertising slogans, etc.) to the various forms of didactic discourse (especially popularization) and of political discourse, which shows the elasticity of the metaphor and its pragmatic efficiency. However, if the argumentation is by nature conflictual, because it is always intended, fundamentally, to prevail over a real or potential opponent, the notion of conflict becomes central to the political discourse, which not only confronts different views on a particular problem, but ideologies, visions of humankind and society that are sometimes diametrically opposed, reflected in discourse that separates everything, from arguments to defended theses. The ideology4 is expressed here in recurring arguments and argumentative metaphors, which immediately make it possible to recognize the ideological camp for which they are mobilized. It is easy to understand why it is the political domain which has been chosen as their field of analysis by many of the authors of this volume. Being interested in the metaphors that structure the debate in public space, the translation into images of this or that societal issue, allows us to observe how the sublimation of the conflict and its potential violence takes place, as discussed above. Alongside this extrinsic declination of the metaphor/conflict pairing, concerning the metaphor as a strategy for overcoming conflict and the pragmatic dimension of using the metaphor in agonal situations, there is another declination, related to the ontological and defining dimension of the metaphorical mechanism considered by itself: can we characterize the semantic functioning of the metaphor as conflictual? This is the option advocated especially by Michele Prandi throughout his work, and is reaffirmed in his chapter in this volume. It is also, more broadly, one of the ways of considering the relationship between the two units involved in the metaphor: theme and phoros (Perelman/Olbrechts-Tyteca 1958), tenor and vehicle (Richards 1936), frame and focus (Black 1962), target and source (Lakoff/Johnson 1980), primary subject and subsidiary subject (Prandi 1992, 2017).

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For the Ancients, the question of the mutual relations between the two units implied by the metaphor was not specifically problematized, because the common denominator of the different typologies identified was simply represented by the substitution operation (gr. μεταφορά: transport; lat. translatio: transference). Aristotle, for example, identifies four forms of ‘transport’ (from genus to species, from species to genus, from species to another species, from a term to its correlative, by analogy); the first two would moreover be removed by the successive tradition, which created for them the category of synecdoche. In the first three cases, the phoros replaces a theme that does not appear in the utterance and, in the case of the analogous metaphor, it is a parallelism of relationships, not an interaction between the two domains. The interaction is not discussed in depth because it is difficult to account for: it is limited to warning against the risk of choosing phoroi that are too ‘far apart’, which would render the speech obscure. This difficulty is also revealed by another of Aristotle’s observations (Poetics ch. XXII, § XII) in which he attributes the ability to draw metaphorical analogies not to a general mechanism (cognitive or linguistic), but to a subjective aptitude (“a naturally gifted mind”).

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It is only with the turning point of the sciences between the XIX and the XX centuries that a real insight into the metaphoric mechanism was reached: Saussurian derived structuralism, on the one hand, and the set of psychological approaches, which revealed a demolished topic, on the other, converged towards an atomization of analysis into semes. This permitted not only the stratification of meaning to be accounted for, through the various mechanisms of connotation, including metaphor, but also the piercing of the metaphorical haze by going beyond the substitutive approach with the interactive approach (Black 1954, 1962), a conception which allows room for a certain form of conflict, since interaction involves the meeting of foreign semes. This change of perspective shows that, in the metaphor, both the two terms, and not just the phoros, actively participate in the development of the figural meaning: it is the “cross-domain mapping” evoked by the advocates of the cognitive approach (starting with Lakoff/Johnson 1980). However, the conflictual nature of the metaphor can only be seen as a filigree in the vision of the cognitivist metaphor, because the authors of Metaphors We Live By base the metaphorical mechanism on general analogies, referring to widely shared cognitive mechanisms, which lead to metaphors which are coherent, therefore non-conflictual. Essentially, it is not so distant from the Aristotelian conception, because what was considered an individual – that is to say subjective – aptitude in Aristotle is found objectified by Lakoff and Johnson in an analogy anchored in collective cognitive schemas.5 The heuristic power of the conceptual metaphors theorized by Lakoff and Johnson and the seminal character of the cognitivist conception are nonetheless manifest.

That said, the domain covered by conceptual metaphors is insufficient, because it does not exhaust the field of possibilities. Indeed, if the cognitive metaphor refers to thought structures preexisting in a particular language production, it can be said that the metaphors which may be associated to it are less original than what have generally been called, since Ricœur’s essay (1975), “living metaphors”. It is with regard to the latter that the relevance of the concept of conflict becomes central, provided that the metaphor is not used in comparison, where the violence of the identity of the two terms involved is attenuated by the hypothetical character of as (do as if). Indeed, the metaphorical utterance introduces a tension (a conflict) between the theme and the phoros which are at the same time presented as identical by the metaphorical statement, while remaining different in their essence. This is what Ricœur calls ‘ontological vehemence’, with vocabulary that returns once again to conflict:

The paradox consists in the fact that there is no other way to do justice to the notion of metaphorical truth than to include the critical incision of the (literal) ‘is not’ within the ontological vehemence of the (metaphorical) ‘is.’ (Ricœur 1975: 321 [1978: 302]).

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Following the thrust of this reflection, Michele Prandi places conflict at the centre of his approach to metaphors and especially to the ‘living metaphor’, which he relabels, not without controversy for the cognitivists, the ‘conflictual metaphor’. The metaphorical concepts analyzed by the cognitivists are independent of their actual linguistic expression, because they are positioned outside of the language. On the other hand, according to Prandi’s approach, the association, in the metaphorical utterance, of incoherent notions – in other words conflicting ones – is only made possible through the intermediary of the syntactic structures of language, which, imposing their network of solidarities, manage to make these notions hold together and, somehow or other, to emit a global sense, which is precisely the metaphorical signified. In this approach, the conflict can be situated on several levels (lexical, cognitive, ontological, Prandi 2002: 13) and, in the case of the living metaphor, it has a value of semantic projection which does not close the meaning but leaves it virtually open.

If the conflict is indeed at the center of the metaphorical process, it is however necessary to recognize that the metaphorical and consequently conflictual character of the figure may be inactive. One can mention the category of catachresis or congealing, already recognized by the theorists of Antiquity, but also more recent approaches to the figure, which emphasize the pragmatic dimension of communication. For example, the three-dimensional model (language, thought and communication) of Steen’s deliberate metaphor (see Steen 2008, among others), which discriminates between “deliberate metaphor” and “not deliberate” based on the explicit envisioning of a metaphorical or non-metaphorical treatment (comparison vs categorization). Likewise, Bonhomme’s (2005) pragmatic approach emphasizes the role of the interlocutor, who must cooperate in the success of the figurative intention; whereas taking it at face value would lead to the metaphor’s de facto neutralization.

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ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2020 (November)
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 386 pp., 36 fig. b/w, 5 tables.

Biographical notes

Paola Paissa (Volume editor) Michelangelo Conoscenti (Volume editor) Ruggero Druetta (Volume editor) Martin Solly (Volume editor)

Paola Paissa, Michelangelo Conoscenti, Ruggero Druetta and Martin Solly work at the University of Turin, where they teach and carry out research in the field of French and English language, linguistics and translation. Their publications focus in particular on the analysis of political and media discourse and the related argumentative strategies.


Title: Metaphor and conflict / Métaphore et conflit