Reuven Tsur

Lakoff's Roads Not Taken

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Reuven Tsur

Lakoff's Roads Not Taken

This paper is a critique of George Lakoff's theory and practice as presented in his "Contemporary Theory of Metaphor" (Lakoff, 1993). It addresses the issue on several planes, on each plain comparing Lakoff's approach to some alternative. The highest plane, affording the widest perspective, concerns two approaches to interpretation and scientific thinking: one that relies on a pre-established set of meanings, and one that assumes that "all the work remains to be done in each particular case". The two approaches involve different cognitive strategies, rapid and delayed conceptualization. Another plane concerns the cognitive explanation for using spatial images in metaphoric and symbolic processes. Here the "embodied-mind hypothesis" is confronted with the "efficient-coding hypothesis". It is argued that the latter is more adequate, and can better account for the mental flexibility required for "delayed conceptualization". On the third plane, Lakoff's "Contemporary Theory of Metaphor" is compared to Beardsley's "Controversion Theory of Metaphor". On the most concrete plane, Lakoff's handling of three texts is considered, two literary and one nonliterary. It is argued that in two cases Lakoff's conceptual apparatus is less than adequate to handle the arising problems; in the third case it allows him to say about the text exactly what every critic would have said about it for the past seven hundred years.

The point of departure for the following exercise is the observation that the history of the interpretation of symbolic processes and of figurative language is dominated by a pendulum between two polar attitudes: one pole relies on more or less pre-determined meanings, the other one insists on certain "meaning potentials" of the sign unit, the final meaning(s) being determined by its unforeseeable interaction with the signs that constitute the context. These are two alternative cognitive strategies. The former yields rather quick results and arouses in the interpreter a feeling of certainty; but tends to be rigid and maladaptive: it may miss some of the most legitimate possibilites. The latter is slower, and requires considerable tolerance of uncertainty; but is much more flexible in its application. I have called these strategies "rapid" and "delayed conceptualization". In what follows, I will briefly explore these cognitive strategies.

In the psychoanalytic interpretation of dreams, Wilhelm Stekel compiled a dictionary of dream symbols. Freud regarded this as inadequate: "after warning that such a gift as Stekel's is often evidence of paranoia, he decides that normal persons may also occasionally be capable of it" (Burke, 1957: 228). As it is frequently said, a cigar is sometimes just a cigar. Freud and some other practitioners and theoreticians believe that one cannot know what a dream symbol means until it is viewed in the context of the dream and the free associations of the dreamer; and the cigar, for instance, will change its meanings according to the unique stream of associations provided. In literary theory, in the first third of our century, Richards (1929) led an assault on contemporary academic education and critical practice, because they encouraged "stock responses", that is, some undifferentiated responses to images and symbols whenever they occur, irrespective of context. He vigorously insisted that symbols change their meanings and require subtle changes of response when they enter into different contexts (I have elsewhere discussed at considerable length "rapid" and "delayed conceptualization" with reference to interpretation in psychotherapy and to the interpretation of poetic metaphor: Tsur, 1988).

I have a problem with Lakoff's application of the "conceptual metaphor" to literary texts. To indicate its nature, I will quote at some length his discussion of three lines by Robert Frost:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all difference.

Since Frost's language often does not overtly signal that the poem is to be taken metaphorically, incompetent English teachers occasionally teach Frost as if he were a nature poet, simply describing scenes. (I have actually had students whose high school teachers taught them that!) Thus, this passage could be read nonmetaphorically as being just about a trip on which one encounters a crossroads. There is nothing in the sentence itself that forces one to metaphorical interpretation. But, since it is about travel and encountering crossroads, it evokes a knowledge of journeys (Lakoff, 1993: 238).

There is a much larger number of equally incompetent English teachers who teach their students that whenever you encounter travel and crossroads, you have to activate, automatically, the "life is a journey" conceptual metaphor. (I have actually had students whose high school teachers taught them that!) Now what is so powerful about Frost is his irony: he pretends to know nothing, not that he is metaphorical, not even being ironical. His "language often does not overtly signal that the poem is to be taken metaphorically". The proper response to Frost's poem involves the uncertainty whether the image is metaphorical or not. Now what I would expect a competent English teacher do is to teach his students, first, that in some contexts crossroads are metaphorical, and in some not; second, that they should look for principled arguments that may support the claim that in a certain instance "crossroads" should or should not be understood metaphorically; and third, that there is a stylistic difference between poems that do and those that do not overtly signal that they are to be taken metaphorically, and they require different kinds of response. The suggestion that "crossroads" can be metaphorical is trivial; it is the proper handling of these three issues that would make a competent English teacher. In this respect, literature begins where Lakoff ends. It is the second of these three points that poses the greatest difficulty to Lakoff. In order to find such principled arguments one must admit that something is wrong with the literal meaning of the poem; for instance, that "And that has made all difference" violates some of Grice's conversational implicatures. But this would contradict one of Lakoff's pet assumptions. As for this particular instance, only rarely does Lakoff assume such an uncompromising attitude. But even his more regular degree of rapid conceptualization would have barred the interpretation I have proposed here.

Ray Gibbs's discussion of conversational maxims may account for the source of Lakoff's problem; by the same token it may throw some light on the nature of rapid and delayed conceptualization.

One reason many scholars believe figurative language violates communication maxims is that they confuse the process and product of linguistic understanding. All language interpretation takes place in real time ranging from the first milliseconds of processing to long-term reflective analysis. This temporal continuum may be roughly divided into moments corresponding to linguistic comprehension, recognition, interpretation, and appreciation. Comprehension refers to the immediate moment-by-moment process of creating meanings for utterances. Recognition refers to the products of comprehension as types (i.e., determining whether an utterance conveys a particular type of meaning such as literal, metaphorical, ironic and so forth). Interpretation refers to the products of comprehension as tokens (i.e., determining the specific content of the meaning type). Appreciation refers to some aesthetic judgment given to a product either as a type or token (Gibbs, 1993: 255-256).
My point is that Gibbs' distinction between process and product works in both ways. When Lakoff and myself disagree as for what is a competent or incompetent English teacher, we do, in fact, disagree about the proper uses of Gibbs's sequence "linguistic comprehension, recognition, interpretation, and appreciation". Judging from the above example, for Lakoff, literary response concerns only comprehension; for me, it concerns much of the whole scale. What is more, at each step, decision involves uncertainties -- not only in the process of decision, but also in its product. That is what my foregoing description of a competent English teacher implies. Such a moment-by-moment account of the process by Gibbs may illuminate the nature of rapid and delayed conceptualization, but with a twist. Confining the process to its first step allows relatively rapid conceptualization. As much is evident. But the ability to give a thorough account of the whole process is not necessarily evidence of delayed conceptualization. Delayed conceptualization implies that one is capable of perceiving much of the process "in a flash". (I cannot tell, however, how the phenomenological quality "in a flash" should show through Gibbs' experimental procedures). One may, of course, produce experimental evidence that readers or listeners are able "to create some interpretation for a trope during the earliest moments of comprehension" (Gibbs, 1993: 255). My point is that creating "some interpretation for a trope" is not necessarily a competent response to a piece of literature.

Or let me introduce another example: Oedipus the King. "Laius was slain where three highroads meet". One could plausibly argue that the overwhelming importance of the location is, first, its uniqueness: that the place is almost uniquely identifiable, and for Oedipus it leaves little doubt as for the identity of the murderer; and second, that it "sounds" somehow very significant, partly because of the meeting of three highroads (not two and not four). This meeting of the roads, in turn, may indicate metaphorically some "strange coincidence" (which is not the same as the implications of the "life as a journey" metaphor). Indeed, the play is governed by some strange coincidences. Iocasta had a child, killed long before, who was said to be destined to kill his father when he grows up; and Oedipus received a similar prophecy. Laius was killed where three highroads meet; and Oedipus killed an old man at exactly such a place. But the strangest coincidence is when everything "ties in": the analogies are revealed as identities. The existence of "life as a journey" conceptual metaphor too may have to do with this "air" of significance; but its specific aspects are of low salience at best. One could argue, of course, that the play is concerned with Oedipus' life, and his life is a journey to discover its hidden meaning; and that this crossroads has significantly changed it. But then, any person travelling on a road also has a life, and this road could be symbolic of this life. With some good will any crossroads and journey can be forced to become symbolic. Let me put it differently: Is there for Lakoff any way for a crossroads to escape being symbolic? Or to put it yet differently, one may claim that the meeting of three highroads too can be derived from the "life is a journey" metaphor. But then anything can be derived from anything, and the whole system becomes utterly trivial. Briefly, it is not at all clear what are Lakoff's constraints.

The present suggestion is that we use visual spatial imagery for a variety of reasons, one of them being that it is a very efficient coding of many kinds of information. In the chapter "The Concrete and the Abstract in Poetry" of my book On Metaphoring I have discussed at great length this aspect of the use of concrete images. Consider:

The word peach implies certain qualities: a certain shape, a certain colour, a certain kind of sweetness. But peach implies these qualities as "grown together" as we should actually find them embodied in a peach. (The Latin word from which concrete comes means literally "grown together"). We can, of course, abstract (this word literally means "to take away") these qualities from the actual peach and refer to them in isolation: sweetness, fuzziness, softness. Isolating these qualities in such fashion, we get a set of abstract words. Sweetness is a quality common to peaches, of course, and to many other things; the quality is thought of as an idea in its own right (Brooks and Warren, 1958: 298).

In a concrete noun or verb a wide range of features are "grown together", which constitute its "meaning potentials". One or several of them may be actualized in a specific context. In this way, several meanings may be encoded in one expression. "Where three highroads meet" provides, first, a precise, identifiable description of the location of the murder; and second, indicates some outstanding significance. In addition, one may evoke, of course, some implications of the "life as a journey" metaphor. But one must be aware that only a small subset of these implications, if at all, is relevant to the text, and at a very low salience. Such a conception of concrete images in literature allows the reader or critic to move from one aspect to another, yielding great flexibility and considerable accuracy in interpretation. Such an attitude requires strongly delayed conceptualization, to allow a differential response to the image, moving from one aspect to another, choosing the relevant ones, and to respond differentially to the relative salience of the various aspects. To sum up this discussion of roads, I would like to quote L. C. Knights's (1948: 229) comment in a very different context: "But to say this is to admit that all the work remains to be done in each particular case". Lakoff, by contrast, smuggled back through the back door the stock responses so forcefully exorcised by Richards.

What kinds of insight can we get, according to these examples, with the respective kinds of conceptual apparatus into poetic language? Lakoff's apparatus can help us to reduce a wide variety of expressions to one underlying image. It can point out that the opening lines of Dante's Divine Comedy

In the middle of life's road
I found myself in a dark wood...,

as well as Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, along with Frost's poem, the three highroads meeting in Oedipus Tyrannos, and such colloquial expressions as "Look how far we've come. It's been a long, bumpy road. We can't turn back now. We are at a crossroads. We may have to go our separate ways. The relationship isn't going anywhere. We're spinning our wheels. Our relationship is off the track. The marriage is on the rocks. We may have to bail out of this relationship" (Lakoff, 1993: 206) are all derived from the same underlying conceptual metaphor. The apparatus proposed here may show, by contrast, how several potential meanings are condensed in one expression; by this, in turn, it may account for its expressive force and uniqueness among the other terms derived from the same conceptual metaphor. Finally, it can indicate the image's potential to combine with a wide variety of additional images at one and the same time; that is what I call its combinational potential.

The reader may ask whether I can produce some experimental evidence for my conception of concrete images in figurative language. Ray Gibbs, I believe, has provided some very convincing experimental evidence -- unintentionally, though. In a paper presented on 31.12.1997 at the Porter Institute, Tel Aviv University,1 Gibbs spoke of elementary bodily experiences as the basis of metaphors, such as "balance", or "the body as a container". "The idea is that balance is something that we learned with our bodies and not by grasping a set of rules [...] And the point here is that it's not just an arbitrary thing, that we happen to use balance and talking about these other kinds of things", such as "people's personalities are balanced or out of balance", or that "certain views are balanced". "It's motivated because it makes sense in terms of talking about these things, given the nature of our valued experience of balance". Likewise, "we have a very strong sense of ourselves as bottles and containers". Such conventional metaphors as "he spilled the beans" or "he blew his stack" can be produced and understood by our interlocutors, because "we have a very strong sense of ourselves as bottles and containers"; hence we all share the underlying conceptual metaphor "the body as a container".

In order to test the psychological reality of this hypothesis, Gibbs conducted the following experiment. He gave three paraphrases of the expression "he blew his stack", that pointed out one, or two, or three ingredients it shared with "anger". He asked observers to make preference judgments. He found, not surprisingly, that preference increased with the number of shared ingredients. "So this suggests that our understanding of what "blew his stack", for instance, means is not just that John got very angry. It means more specifically that John got very angry because he has felt a great deal of internal pressure; perhaps he unintentionally expressed his anger, and he did so very quickly and forcefully". Gibbs interpreted these results as evidence for the "mind-body" hypothesis. It seems to me, however, that this experiment provides little evidence for that hypothesis. To put it differently: this specific idiom does have one ingredient of "internal pressure", because we are speaking of a mental state, that is internal, and does involve a sense of pressure; and are using the image of "blowing up", that does entail the building up of internal pressure. In this sense, "internal pressure" is predetermined by the specific image and the specific referent of this specific idiom, and is accidental to the use of metaphors in general. But as for metaphors and idioms in general, the experiment provides, rather, evidence for the cognitive hypothesis proposed here, namely, that people use spatial imagery in thinking or in figurative language, because spatial imagery is an efficient coding of information. Preference of spatial imagery increases with the amount of information coded in it. If the metaphor concerns basic bodily experiences, its effectiveness may receive additional reinforcement.

Such a conception of figurative language, in turn, entails different modes of practical criticism, that yield much subtler insights into poetic language. Thus, for instance, there is also a pragmatic consideration for preferring my hypothesis to the "mind-body" hypothesis. Subtler and more flexible intertextual or intratextual distinctions can be made, and of greater aesthetic significance, by pointing out the amount of information coded in the various spatial images than by pointing out that such expressions as "he spilled the beans" or "balance sheets" can be traced back to some basic body experience.

I have suggested that Lakoff smuggled back through the back door the stock responses exorcised by Richards.

A stock response, like a stock line in shoes or hats, may be a convenience. Being ready-made, it is available with less trouble than if it had to be specially made out of raw or partially prepared materials. And unless an awkward misfit is going to occur, we may agree that stock responses are much better than no responses at all. Indeed, an extensive repertory of stock responses is a necessity. Few minds could prosper if they had to work out an original, "made to measure" response to meet every situation that arose [...]. But equally clearly there are in most lives fields of activity in which stock responses, if they intervene, are disandvantageous and even dangerous, because they may get in the way of, and prevent, a response more appropriate to the situation. These unnecessary misfits may be remarked at almost every stage of the reading of poetry, but they are especially noticeable when emotional responses are in question (Richards, 1929: 228).

There is an inherent paradox in Lakoff's work. He and his associates invested almost unprecedented subtlety and intellectual rigour into working out the "meaning potentials" of such conceptual metaphors as "life is a journey", "seeing is knowing", or "the body is a container". By the same token they have prepared "an extensive repertory of stock responses". By this they made an enormous service and disservice at one and the same time to literary studies. On the one hand, "we may agree that stock responses are much better than no responses at all"; and Lakoff's system allows critics intolerant of "delayed conceptualization" do reasonable practical criticism. On the other hand, "stock responses, if they intervene, are disandvantageous and even dangerous, because they may get in the way of, and prevent, a response more appropriate to the situation". As the foregoing discussion may suggest, the enormous lure of stock responses may prove irresistible not only to some of Lakoff's less sensitive disciples, but to Lakoff himself too. What is at stake here is cognitive strategy: rapid or delayed conceptualization. The road not taken would have required exposure to uncertainty for too long; and that might be particularly offensive to some persons.

Lakoff and his followers claim that they have radically changed the state of the art in the study of metaphor. Three of their most outstanding achievements are: (1) the discovery that a wide range of metaphors in colloquial language, literature, dreams etc., can be reduced to a relatively small number of underlying "generative metaphors"; (2) that the main bulk of these generative metaphors rely on spatial imagery: abstract, mental and social processes are typically expressed in spatial images; and (3) that their theory is more adequate than the traditional Controversion Theory of metaphor. I have no quarrel with the first claim, though I have my doubts as for its usefulness regarding the analysis of literature. I have no quarrel with the second claim either, except that, as I have already argued, their spatial model is not as adequate as it could be. In what follows, I will devote some attention to their third claim.

Consider Lakoff's following statement:

A major difference between the contemporary theory (i.e., Lakoff's theory) and the classical one is based on the old literal-figurative distinction. Given that distinction, one might think that one "arrives at" a metaphorical interpretation of a sentence by "starting" with the literal meaning and employing some algorithmic process to it (see Searle, this volume). Though there do exist cases where something like this happens, this is not in general how metaphor works, as we shall see shortly (Lakoff, 1993: 205).

It is difficult to argue against Lakoff by counter-examples, since he admits in advance that "there do exist cases where something like this happens"; so, apparently, the only way to refute him would be to analyse all metaphors in the world, and show that the majority of metaphors don't behave as he claims they do. Since I am not prepared to do that, I propose to try an alternative way, which has its logical shortcomings, but considering the alternative, this would be a viable way to take. I am going to take one of Lakoff's own examples, see what he does to it, and see what one could do to it with some other, pre-Lakoffean theory. This method does not rule out the possibility that Lakoff has ill-chosen his example, and that it is one of those few "cases where something like this happens". But, again, considering the alternative, this is the best I can do. In fact, the issue at stake is not factual at all, as this paragraph might suggest. Paraphrasing Morris Weitz, theories of metaphors are no factual statements, but crucial recommendations as for what to look for in metaphors, and how to look at it. When we have two or more such theories, we need not verify them against the facts, but rather carry out the various recommendations and compare outcomes.

I am going to compare Lakoff's approach to Beardsley's Controversion Theory of metaphor. According to this theory, "a metaphor is a significant attribution that is either indirectly self-contradictory or obviously false in its context, and in which the modifier connotes characteristics that can be attributed, truly or falsely, to the subject" (Beardsley, 1958: 142). The opposition between the two approaches is obvious. One of the advantages Beardsley claims for his theory is this:

The Controversion Theory explains one of the most puzzling and important features of metaphor, its capacity to create new contextual meaning. [...] Sometimes we invent, or hit upon, a metaphor and find that it gives us a new idea. The reason is that the connotations of words are never fully known, or knowable, beforehand, and very often we discover new connotations of the words when we see how they behave as modifiers in metaphorical attributions. The metaphor does not create the connotations, but it brings them to life (Beardsley, 1958: 143).

I would like to make two comments on this statement: that, as we have seen, Lakoff's system has been devised, by contrast, to create meanings that show little sensitivity to changing context; and that Beardsley's statement is highly compatible with the conception of spatial imagery I have suggested above. Unforeseen contexts create unforeseen contextual meanings by "bringing to life" unrealised "features" (in my terminology) or "connotations" (in Beardsley's) terminology. There appears to be only one (rather trivial) difference between Beardsley's and my formulation, namely, that "connotations" are better suited to "words", whereas "features" are better suited to "spatial images".

Now consider Disraeli's remark, quoted by Lakoff from Searle:

I have climbed to the top of the greasy pole.

I will fully reproduce here Lakoff's discussion, to make sure I am not making some unfair selection -- assuming that Lakoff executes the crucial recommendations of his theory. Then I will do my best to carry out the crucial recommendations suggested by Beardsley's conceptual apparatus as for what to look for in this sentence, and how to look at it; then I will compare the two in light of the two theories. Let us begin with the question how can we know that this sentence must be understood metaphorically?

This could be taken nonmetaphorically, but its most likely metaphorical interpretation is via the CAREER IS A JOURNEY metaphor. This metaphor is evoked jointly by source domain knowledge about pole climbing, which is effortful, self-propelled, destination-oriented motion upward, and knowledge that the metaphor involves effortful, self-propelled, destination-oriented motion upward.

Lakoff admits that "this could be taken nonmetaphorically", but tacitly assumes that it is metaphorical, then proceeds to the assertion that "its most likely metaphorical interpretation is via the CAREER IS A JOURNEY metaphor", skipping the question why we should think of it as metaphorical at all. Beardsley would have a very straightforward and principled answer to that, namely, that it is "obviously false in its context". Why did Lakoff not come to a similar conclusion? Not because such a conclusion is beyond his logical capacities; rather, I think, because he explicitly set out in the first place to show that "this is not in general how metaphor works". So, as far as this specific instance is concerned, Lakoff is forced tacitly to assume that which Beardsley can support by principled arguments. As far as Beardsley is concerned, there are here two incongruous domains. One of them is a long-term social process, requiring great mental and social effort; the other one is a relatively short-term physical movement in space, involving great physical effort. That is why they are incongruent. Now the Principle of Congruence requires us to render the incongruent domains congruent. In this case, the modifier (climbing to the top of the greasy pole) connotes such characteristics as "effortful, self-propelled, destination-oriented motion upward" that can be attributed, truly or falsely, to the subject (career).

I have already argued that the existence of a conceptual metaphor does not guarantee that it is applicable in a certain instance. By claiming that the CAREER IS A JOURNEY metaphor is evoked jointly by source domain knowledge and by target domain knowledge, Lakoff is assuming that which he has set out to prove in the beginning. If career is a journey, it does not guarantee that a journey is career; and even if the journey is career, it does not guarantee that greasy pole climbing is career. As we have seen, one of the most important achievements Lakoff claims for his theory is that it has superseded the incongruence conception of metaphor. This forces him to play down two crucial stages of the process. First, he must tacitly assume that an expression is metaphorical though it could be nonmetaphorical as well. And second, he must tacitly skip a rather illuminating stage of his argument: that mapping must take place between two incongruent domains, so as to render them congruent.

The Controversion Theory can be complemented by the "feature-cancellation theory of metaphor". Those features of the source that conflict with features of the target are cancelled. The cancellation of the conflicting predicates abstracted from the source foregrounds the relevant ones; at the same time it may facilitate the fusion of the two domains. In the present instance, such abstract predicates as difficulty, effort, insecurity etc. are foregrounded, whereas such features as the material of the pole, the colour of the grease, the climbing movements of the climber are cancelled.

But let us follow the rest of Lakoff's argument:

Part of the knowledge evoked is that the speaker is as high as he can get on that particular pole, that the pole was difficult to climb, that the climb probably involved backward motion, that it is difficult for someone to stay at the top of a greasy pole, and that he will most likely slide down again. The CAREER IS A JOURNEY maps this knowledge onto corresponding knowledge about the speaker's career: he has as much status as he can get in that particular career, it was difficult to get that point in that career, it probably involved some temporary loss of status along the way, it will be difficult to maintain this position, and he will probably loose status before long (Lakoff, 1993: 238-239).

Thus Lakoff. Now what would Beardsley say about the same issues? He would probably say word by word the same, except one sentence. In stead of "The career is a journey maps this knowledge onto corresponding knowledge about the speaker's career" he would have said: "the modifier connotes characteristics that can be attributed, truly or falsely, to the subject". And Beardsley's modifier does, indeed, connote all those things enumerated by Lakoff. If so, Lakoff and his followers' claims for great innovativeness is less than warranted. Thus far, then, Lakoff's conceptual system added nothing to Beardsley's, except substituting the predicate "maps this knowledge onto" for "connotes characteristics that can be attributed, truly or falsely, to". On the other hand, it had tacitly to skip a range of issues which Beardsley's system can handle in a principled way. Then Lakoff concludes:

All this follows with nothing more than the conventional CAREER-AS- JOURNEY mapping, which we all share as part of our metaphorical systems, plus knowledge about climbing greasy poles (Lakoff, 1993: 239).

Now suppose we ask a panel of judges to list the properties of career and of journey, and then rate them for relevance and salience. Of all the features enumerated above by Lakoff, perhaps "self-propelled, destination-oriented" would turn up in journey, and not as the most salient ones. All the burden of understanding this metaphor is laid on the ad-hoc, pre-theoretical notion of "plus knowledge about climbing greasy poles". Apart from this, Lakoff can merely enumerate a list of specific "connotations". Beardsley's conceptual system, by contrast, is tailor-made for this situation: "The Controversion Theory explains one of the most puzzling and important features of metaphor, its capacity to create new contextual meaning. [...] The connotations of words are never fully known, or knowable, beforehand, and very often we discover new connotations of the words when we see how they behave as modifiers in metaphorical attributions. The metaphor does not create the connotations, but it brings them to life". The CAREER-AS- JOURNEY mapping can explain very little about Disraeli's sentence; it rather adds the noisy element of a journey. Whereas Beardsley's crucial recommendations provide everything one needs for understanding it, from identifying it as a nonliteral statement, through bringing to life dormant connotations, to attributing them, truly or falsely, to the subject. What is more, when the conceptual metaphor system breaks down, Lakoff himself resorts to those instructions.

As Odette de Mourgues remarked, pigeonholing gives certainty but no insight. Pigeonholing the sentence "I have climbed to the top of the greasy pole" as an instance of the CAREER-AS- JOURNEY metaphor gives, indeed, little insight. Insight is gained not because of it, but in spite of it. In the present instance, the best we can say about it is that it didn't prevent Lakoff from acting, intuitively, upon the instructions implied by Beardsley's theory.

The business of this paper has been to point out two opposite approaches to the handling of meaning in figurative language and symbolic processes, that dominate the history of interpretations both in psychotherapy and literary criticism. One of them works with fixed, pre-established meanings; the other one with an indefinite range of potential meanings, changing subsets of which may be realized in changing contexts. These are two alternative interpretative strategies. The respective cognitive attitudes are rapid and delayed conceptualization. They have different advantages and disadvantages. The former is advantageous when speed of response is required, while accuracy and subtlety are less important; the latter is advantageous when the obverse is the case. In light of this summary, let us consider Lakoff's following paragraph:

Searle accounts for such cases by his Principle 4, which says that "we just do perceive a connection" which is the basis of the interpretation. This is vague and doesn't say what the perceived connection is or why we "just do" perceive it. When we spell out the details of all such perceived connections, they turn out to be the system of conceptual metaphors I have been describing. But given that system, Searle's theory and his principles become unnecessary (Lakoff, 1993: 239).
Going back to our discussion of Disraeli's "I have climbed to the top of the greasy pole", we should remember this: when we spell out the details of all such perceived connections, they don't turn out to be the system of conceptual metaphors. On the contrary rather, we are forced "to admit that all the work remains to be done in each particular case". To put it more explicitly: if we ask whether some logical connection between journeys and climbing greasy poles (e.g., movement in space) can be pointed out, the answer is yes (they turn out to be the system of conceptual metaphors); if we ask whether this exempts us to do all the work in this particular case, the answer is no.

We might re-write, then, Lakoff as follows: "given Beardsley's theory and principles, Lakoff's system of conceptual metaphors becomes unnecessary". The rule appears to be this: when one set of principles can account for a metaphor, the other set becomes unnecessary. Now how can we decide, whose principles or system become unnecessary? It depends on the circumstances and the purpose of our inquiry. In well-practiced circumstances, relying on the system of conceptual metaphors may be quite sufficient, and Searle's or Beardsley's principles may become unnecessary. When, however, unforeseen circumstances arise, Lakoff's system may become unnecessary, while Beardsley's theory and principles may become all-important. It is illuminating to observe Lakoff's own performance in the two test cases we have considered above. When facing Frost's verse lines, he displays excessive self-confidence, but little literary subtlety. When confronted with Disraeli's sentence, he cannot tell why he thinks it is to be understood metaphorically, but takes it for granted. In his principles of interpretation he is forced to fall back on the ad-hoc, pre-theoretical notion of "plus knowledge about climbing greasy poles"; whereas in practice, he acts upon the recommendations of Beardsley's (supposedly false) theory. Obviously, in these test cases, the rival models are better suited.

It is not an easy task to catch Lakoff doing this: the reader accepts his analysis, without noticing that the theory does not cater for it. We have just seen how Lakoff does this. He suggests some abstract logical connection between journeys and climbing greasy poles, indicating that his theory is relevant to this instance; that is just enough to induce the reader to a willing suspension of disbelief. By mentioning "plus knowledge about climbing greasy poles", he appeals to the trained reader's willingness to bracket certain issues to preserve the lucidity of the argument: the reader has the knowledge, is shown how Lakoff uses it; and does not notice that he has not been told the principles according to which he is to use it. Finally, suppose Lakoff is right in his claim that "when we spell out the details of all such perceived connections, they turn out to be the system of conceptual metaphors I have been describing". In such a case he ends up with the barren piegeonholing of the metaphor. The productive stage is that of "spelling out the details" which, as we have seen, is not necessarily taken care of by the system. Now suppose Lakoff adds CAREER IS CLIMBING GREASY POLES to the system of conceptual metaphors. There will always be unforeseen cases that can be related to the existing system in the final act of pigeonholing -- after working out the unpredicted details with the help of some model as the ones suggested by Beardsley or Searle. Indeed, I have just been told that Lakoff and his colleagues have recently assimilated the "feature-cancellation theory of metaphor". Turner's work on blended spaces using Lakoff's "invariance hypothesis" attempts to formulate exactly how and why such feature cancelletion happens. If you can't beat them, join them.

One of the most impressive parts of Lakoff's theory (for me at least) was its hierarchic organization. "Metaphorical mappings do not occur in isolation from one another. They are sometimes organized in hierarchical structures, in which 'lower' mappings in the hierarchy inherit the structures of the 'higher' mappings" (Lakoff, 1993: 222). Consider the following three levels:

Level 1: The event structure metaphor
Now, after having written the preceding few paragraphs, I am somewhat less enthusiastic about it. Judging from Lakoff's handling Disraeli's metaphor, this hierarchic organization didn't help him very much to get an insight into its meaning. But after having received an insight by other means, it helped him to pigeonhole it as another instance of the conceptual metaphor system. This may throw some light on the inherent merits of Lakoff's performance regarding some literary metaphors in this paper. Consider the opening lines from Dante's Divine Comedy:

In the middle of life's road
I found myself in a dark wood...,
What does Lakoff have to say on these lines? That light affords seeing, and seeing is knowing, while darkness suggests the opposite of knowing, confusion. The phrase "In the middle of life's road", in turn, suggests that life is a journey. I don't think there was a single critic since Dante's time to our own times, of any critical school, or pre-theoretical, who thought otherwise. Doesn't Dante himself say, after all, that it was "life's road"? The only new information Lakoff contributes is that this is an illustration of the conceptual metaphor system. Now I admit that it is difficult to say something different on this example. But then, I didn't choose the examples to illustrate the explanatory power of Lakoff's theory. Lakoff chose them.

1. I am quoting the transcript of a tape-recording of the session.

Beardsley, Monroe C. (1958) Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism. New York & Burlingame: Harcourt, Brace & World.

Brooks, Cleanth and Robert P. Warren (1958) Modern Rhetoric. New York.

Burke, Kenneth (l957) "Freud--and the Analysis of Poetry", in The Philosophy of Literary Form, New York: Vintage. 221-250.

Gibbs, Raymond W. (1993) "Process and Products in Making Sense of Tropes", in Andrew Ortony (ed.,) Thought and Metaphor. Cambridge: Cambridge UP (second ed.). 252-276.

Gibbs, Raymond W. (1997)

Knights, L. C. (1964 [19281]) "Notes on Comedy", in E. Bentley (ed.), The Importance of Scrutiny. New York: New York UP. 227-237.

Lakoff, George (1993) "The Contemporary Theory of Metaphor", in Andrew Ortony (ed.,) Thought and Metaphor. Cambridge: Cambridge UP (second ed.). 202-251.

Richards, I. A. (1929) Practical Criticism. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company.

Tsur, Reuven (1987) On Metaphoring. Jerusalem: Israel Science Publishers.

Tsur, Reuven (1988) "'Oceanic' Dedifferentiation and Poetic Metaphor"Journal of Pragmatics 12: 711-724 (reprinted in Tsur, 1987: 177-190).

Weitz, Morris (1962) "The Role of Theory in Aesthetics", in J. Margolis (ed.), Philosophy Looks at the Arts. New York: Scribner. 48-59.

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