The role of metaphor in literature

As Gerard Steen suggests in his article entitled Metaphor: Stylistic Approaches, throughout centuries there have been different views as to what the role of metaphors in literature in fact is. Citing a work written at the beginning of 1980s dealing with the rhetorical devices in literature he indicates that in that book “metaphor is included in the section on tropes, together with metonymy, synecdoche, and other figures of speech defined by ‘strange meaning’ or ‘semantic deviation’” (Steen, 2005:51). This suggests that even among scholars analyzing metaphor use there were certain discrepancies in the perception of the role of this figure of speech in literature, not to mention the fact that they were not concerned with the analysis of metaphor use in any other type of discourse.

In the most recent history of literary studies, that is in the second half of the XXth century, numerous changes of perception of the nature and role of metaphors in literature occurred. Steen indicates that according to views perceived as valid prior to the emergence of cognitive linguistics and the new approach to the study of metaphorical expressions, metaphors were seen merely as rhetorical phenomenon. In the 1960s many scholars believed that metaphors involved some kind of grammatical deviance, while in the 1970s the famous philosophers John R. Searle and H. P. Grice argued that comprehending metaphors requires pragmatic inferencing, a view subsequently abandoned by cognitive linguists (Steen, 2005:53).

Moreover, changes in the perception of metaphorical expressions by different scholars led to partial explications of their nature, use and importance, but at the same time to certain differences in the very definition of metaphors. Not all linguists unanimously agreed to the definition of metaphors as suggested by cognitive linguists and as a result in the stylistic and literary analyzes there are now at least three, definitions of this phenomenon:
“1. The restricted rhetorical definition of metaphor as active or deliberate metaphor.
2. The broader cognitive-linguistic definition is that which focuses on metaphor as “a specific linguistic form, whether it is active and deliberate.
3. The most encompassing cognitive definition, which defines metaphor as a cross-domain mapping in conceptualization that may be realized by various rhetorical figures, of which linguistic metaphor is one that has to be contrasted with simile, analogy, and so on” (Steen, 2005:53).

What is more, the development of cognitive linguistics as a separate branch of study and the achievements of cognitive linguists exerted an additional impact on other researchers. After the initial confusion in literary studies caused by cognitive linguistics, a new sub-branch of science dealing with the analysis of literary texts emerged. Cognitive poetics with its new approach to the study of literary text meanings started successfully dealing with hitherto problematic issues, such as the capacity of texts to render multiple meanings. Additionally, as Margaret H. Freeman puts it: “it starts with language and not with ideology; it includes cognitive process together with the contextual/cultural dimensions” (Freeman, 2000:265).

In addition to presenting the new approaches to the study of metaphors in literary texts, cognitive poetics serves additional purposes of equally significant importance (Freeman, 2000:277). These include the following aspects of literary text studies: (a) description, (b) explanation, (c) theory, (d) prediction, (e) demonstration, (e) demonstration, (e) evaluation, (f) evaluation and (g) elegance. These are defined as follows:

The role of metaphor in literature

Cognitive poetics is, in addition, characterized by the recognition that meaning does not reside in language, but it is only accessed by it, in that readers make use of their entire encyclopedic knowledge while interpreting discourse.