«Thesis presented to the Faculty of Arts of the University of Zurich for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy by Mark Staff Brandl of USA and ...»
This shotgun-like sentence, brainstormed in a few minutes, can only hint at the available options. Such inexhaustibility is certainly a reason why authors can continue to be creative, after the vast history of previous writing. Everything has not been done, and in truth can never be done. Claims to this affect are generally made in transitional periods where many people feel overwhelmed and impotent, due to an absence of one clear cultural priority and the looming presence of a strong period shortly preceding them — e.g. Post-Shakespeare Elizabethan, Victorian, Mannerist or Postmodernist times. By contrast, such claims also may be made with opposite intent in a period of cultural culmination, where strong creators become intoxicated with visions of their own importance — e.g. ancient Athenian Greece, the High Renaissance, Romanticism, or High Modernism.
Authors swim in their own discipline, discovering and manipulating its elements as they glide through them. Analytically, one must use a different, somewhat falsifying tactic. The art form is conceptually disassembled, imagining the parts one-by-one. Such a discussion could create a false impression of what I claim creators do. Yes, they are critically analytic, but in an operative, holistic fashion, thinking through objects in the swirl of creation. To be manageable in a theoretical study, the parts must be pointed out one-by-one and out of context. But like a vehicle, the separate parts of a creative work do not function much at all, however when properly assembled they take one almost anywhere.
We can start with the physical building blocks of a text: letters, syllables, words, phrases, sentences, lines, paragraphs, pages, chapters, books, volumes. All can and have been
manipulated through metaphor(m). The process of creation is also a fruitful ground:
handwriting, typewriting, individual sheets, one long sheet, the computer, rewriting, not rewriting, cutting and pasting, predetermined formulas, chance. Elements of construction come into play: sentence length, syntax, grammar, vocabulary, spelling, capitalization, graphic design, typographic conventions. Broader structures may be key: genre, period style, traditions, sub-genre, type, structure. Narrative features often are used: style and amount of description, persona, dialogue, flashbacks, speed of action, narrative perspective, reported thought. Use of tropes is important: which one (simile or irony, etc.), how far-fetched the metaphors are, how frequently tropes are used, whether they appear in dialogue or only in description. There are many, many more aspects to disassemble: characterization, overt philosophizing, level of transparency or self-referentiality, the intended public, level of difficulty of the text, and so on.
The theory of central trope delimits this through one hypothesis: authors generally take only a severely limited number of these features in hand in order to achieve their metaphor(m)s. Most often it is only one such aspect of form. The insight gained through tropaically using this one element is then widened throughout the other important components of their oeuvre, yet the prime integer remains paramount. For the purposes of my theory, the discussion of a writer's works centers on her chosen or discovered key metaphoric, formal element. The challenge for a critic using the theory of central trope is to locate this momentous kernel of insight without drowning in either the Scylla or Charybdis of under or over-estimation. The description of a metaphor(m) must not become simply a witty one-liner, limiting a significant perception to a quick dismissal. Alternately, one cannot be guided by the global, expansive claims of creators themselves. They concentrate on the pervasive, adept adaptation and expansion of their vision. Hence, many would deny the very existence of any central trope, seeing it as delimitation of their powers and originality.
Conceiving Metaphor(m)s 110 In several parts of this dissertation, metaphor(m) is sought out in the works of specific creators. Using the theory in this way is my chief purpose in presenting it — to better appreciate the achievements of authors and artists. In "On the Sublime of Self-disgust" Charles Altieri has expressed the necessity for applying theory to actual objects.
Theory leads us to demarcating limits. In order to see beyond those limits I think we have to turn to concrete works of art, especially if we are to challenge the very forms of selfcongratulation that may be basic to the entire enterprise of theorizing about the arts. 4 Nevertheless, another one of the joys of thinking with the theory of central trope comes in fantasizing for oneself the possibilities of creating one. This is, in a way, to try out the position that each and every creator must occupy. As a thought experiment, take any element of literature above; imagine a significant vision of some aspect of life, then try to discover an appropriate image or image-schema mapping that would be a useful tool for embodying this.
Then see if that matches to any authors of whom you are knowledgeable, or fantasize how you would use it as a creator. For instance, let us take words. If I image-match a word to a tree, it has hidden roots, with branches above growing and changing yet mirroring the root system below, without exactly repeating it. In writing, I could exploit this to achieve a lively version of language including history (the roots, or etymology, of words), yet also foregrounding its vital blossoming in use. Already we have stumbled on a fruitful version of language.
How could this concretely be achieved? The initial insight is usually significant, but in tangible actualization is where genius comes into its own. That is what makes the author. As Larry Briskman astutely writes, The artist must build up his painting gradually, stroke by stroke; while the theoretician must build up his conjectural explanation bit by bit (even though he may have got his explanatory "core idea" in a flash). But if this is the case, then it is highly likely that the very thought processes of the artist or scientist will themselves be affected by the work done so far. In other words, the creator, in his very process of creation, is constantly interacting with his own prior products; and this interaction is one of genuine feedback….5 Possibilities, obviously not all equally creative, could include writing only with words of a predetermined origin, or using words which have inverted or clearly evolved far from their original base. Words could be paired, perhaps one of Anglo-Saxon origin and one of another origin, where the root is visible in one and opaque in the other. Latin-derived words, which tend to become abstract or comprehensive in English, could be used in their earlier, more concrete interpretation. The opposite of any of these ideas would also be interesting. As one can see, the meaning dominates the form, yet the metaphor(m) could be pointed in many different, perhaps even opposite, directions. A concern with roots in words could be liberating, expressing pride in one's heritage; it could be fascist, seeing words in imaginary racial terms; it could be critical of the misuse of words. Authors who come quickly to mind who have considered the individuality of words as an important part of their creative efforts
include Emily Dickinson, Anthony Burgess, Jack Kerouac and most importantly James Joyce in Finnegan's Wake. Was this their central trope, a part of it, or a result of it? Each would have to be studied in depth and in detail to discover and discuss the answer to these questions.
After the TREE-WORD image-mapping mentioned, let us probe an image schema.
Sandra Halverson has written a stimulating article "Image Schemas, Metaphoric Processes, and the 'Translate' Concept," where she traces just such a process at the cultural level, rather than in an individual author's work. Researching and analyzing the "translate" concept in English from the Old English through the Middle English period, she spies a "Lakoffian cognitive model structured by image schemas and various types of action on those schemas..."6 The various verbs, both Old English and Latin-derived (wendan, awendan, draw, turn, transfer, translate), demonstrate a clear metaphoric development of abstract ideational meaning from a spatial image schema. Halverson locates this in the generic-level metaphors "STATES ARE LOCATIONS" and "CHANGE OF STATE IS CHANGE OF LOCATION," which form a SOURCE–PATH–GOAL schema. This is combined with a metaphoric notion of LOCATION as CONTAINER, building a composite image schema, which could be summed up as SOURCE (CONTAINER)–OBJECT–PATH–GOAL (CONTAINER). When translating, one is seen as taking an object (a word) out of one container at its location and carrying it over to another container at another location, where it is deposited.7 Halverson's insight describes our current perception of translation well, yet the fact that this presently-held notion does not do justice to the true creativity involved in translation is clear. Criticism of such a pervasive image schema-mapping could be a perfect opportunity to invent one's own mapping, and thence comes art. Finding a specific material element which is an embodiment of an improved schema would be metaphor(m) as I envision it. While we cannot change commonly used vocabulary overnight, perhaps it would be possible in one poem or essay, which then might become the basis for a general metaphor at a later date. How would such an image schema-mapping look? Perhaps the translator could be viewed as a sculptor, re-forming the words in another material: carving the "stone" of Latin to resemble the meaning of the word in its original Greek "bronze." In English, one could look to Latin.
The word sculpĕre comes to mind, or caelare: the latter means carving, especially in metal, as in engraving. This would also be an appropriate image, as engravings in metal were often made after paintings, to "translate" them into a reproducible artwork. Thus translation would be caelātūra, the translator a caelātor. This could be seen as an image-mapping, yet because the notion is broader and more generalized, the schema behind the operations of engraving, carving and metal work comes to the fore, producing an image schema-mapping. If these words could be Anglicized in an understandable, modern form, one would have a better metaphor. Our image schema would be OBJECT–CARVE (NEW MATERIAL)–OBJECT (IMAGE). Following the example of celestial from caelestis/caeslestia, we could form celation and celator. These are cumbersome words attempting to quickly contribute to the snail-like evolution of ordinary language, but the deliberation serves as an adequate illustration of the thought process behind working with given image schemas to forge new connotations. The generic-level, or foundational, metaphors on which this new schema relies are "IDEAS ARE PRODUCTS," "CHANGE IS REPLACEMENT," "PERCEPTION IS SHAPE RECOGNITION," and a metonymy of MATERAL for OBJECT. In Metaphors We Live By,
Lakoff and Johnson perform a similar operation by attempting to create a new metaphor of love: "LOVE IS A COLLABORATIVE WORK OF ART." 8 This metaphor, like our vision of translation, is unfortunately not culturally pervasive, although it is healthier than those common to our culture ("LOVE IS WAR" or "LOVE IS MADNESS").
The theory of central trope contends that each and every component of an art form can be and often has been considered in this way. For the purposes of criticism, such thoughts must be discovered in the novels, poems and plays of authors. For creative use, such imaginings must be tested against the inner drive — what does this allow me to express, what does it force me to admit, what can I twist it into saying, what truth can I show with this metaphor(m)? Can I question it as well as use it? How fecund will it be in elaboration, extension or composition?
In a similar vein, let us explore the field of visual art quickly. Aspects of visual media where central trope can be found, or built, include: facture, composition, tools, presentation, amount of decision-making, amount of handwork, personality, shape, number, quantity, materials, color, subject matter, iconography, application, reference, allusion, technique, light, space, process, presence, internality/externality, abstraction, representation, accident, amount of preconception, scale, sensuality, etc. Again, this is a rather daunting if far from exhaustive list.
The application of insight about experience to insight into one's means of expression is more of a discovery than a transference. It involves the essential tropological quality of understanding itself. It may seem confining to have to search both through one's tools and through one's experience with the tools. It sounds like a blind man tapping out his path with his stick, while having to simultaneously search for his stick itself. This is the situation, but it is an interaction which brings an expansion of knowledge. The application of metaphor to experience is the primary instance of Hans-Georg Gadamer's notion that understanding lies in application in its largest sense. In particular, this involves the testing of our pre-judgment of a situation against the experienced fact of it. Joel Weinsheimer has discussed this idea of application in his book applying Gadamer's philosophical hermeneutics to literary theory.
...Gadamer argues that genuine application (which does justice to the particularity of the particular) not only increases what one knows but additionally expands one's categories, what one can know. Genuine application therefore cannot be conceived as the ex post facto use of an understanding one already has, precisely because in applying one comes to understand. Application is an element of understanding itself. 9 Finding one's central trope in visual art and literature is thus quite the opposite of restriction. It offers an artist the equipment needed to gain knowledge, while expanding the
field of obtainable knowledge with each application. Once again we are allowed to glimpse the vast sea of unlimited possibilities, boundless horizons, in creative production.
The broad implications and significance of the theory of central trope were outlined in relationship to the elements of literature. This operates in a corresponding fashion in visual art, so I will cut to the chase in my blocked-out tale of specific, imaginative examples of image-mapping and image schema-mapping and the creation of metaphor(m)s.