What’s a Metaphor For?

By Carlin Romano

Writing about metaphor is dancing with your conceptual clothes off, the innards of your language exposed by equipment more powerful than anything operated by the TSA. Still, one would be a rabbit not to do it in a world where metaphor is now top dog, at least among revived rhetorical devices with philosophical appeal.

"To be a master of metaphor," Aristotle wrote in his Poetics, "is the greatest thing by far. It is the one thing that cannot be learnt from others, and it is also a sign of genius." He described it most simply as "giving the thing a name that belongs to something else." More recent thinkers explain its analytic structure with greater precision. One locus classicus is the philosopher Max Black’s 1955 article, ”Metaphor,” in which he set forth three traditional views of the device that still guide debate about it.

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What's a Metaphor For? 1

Christophe Vorlet for The Chronicle Review

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