Poetic Language and its Energies
PART I A THEORY OF POETIC ENERGIES
Chapter One Searching for a Metaphor A good metaphor is something even the police should keep an eye on. G. C. Lichtenberg, Sudelbücher E EADING is an essentially metaphorical activity. As Paul de Man ob- served, “Metaphors are much more tenacious than facts” (Allegories 5). By metaphor, de Man did not intend self-consciously showy literary riffs, like the fog of Chancery that opens Bleak House or the spirit-spout Ishmael sees off in the distance in Moby-Dick, although these may linger in our memory long after other parts of their novels have faded; he referred instead to the figurative roots of all language. In this regard, two sources of meta- phor’s tenacity are apparent. Metaphors facilitate thought. One can work with a metaphor, build upon it, growing increasingly dependent upon it be- cause to abandon it means relinquishing its gifts. Also, metaphors are pro- lific. Once taking root anywhere in a theoretical structure, a metaphor tends to infest the whole like some kind of hardy rhizome, becoming inseparable and ultimately indistinguishable from the structure itself. That a metaphor is inevitably a falsehood or error matters little, for as de Man himself con- cluded, “no language would be possible without this error” (Allegories 152). As much as any humanistic endeavor, literary criticism is both enabled and constrained by its metaphors. The specialized knowledge possessed by those who regularly work with and within language provides no special immunity to metaphor’s effects. On the contrary, we may be more susceptible, as sail- ors...
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