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Harman Annotation - Guerrilla Metaphysics - 8. Metaphor, and more

Mark Douglas

8. Metaphor

Given the fourfold assemblage of real objects with real qualities presencing with sensual qualities, what of the struggle between understanding and interpretation; what Harman labels eidos.  Eidos is the relation of understanding and interpretation which is enacted through the interplay of practice and saying. This is the realm of metaphor, the by product of duplicity and sincerity. Metaphor is where contraction meets continguity. Metaphor is the relation of gods and mortals.

Metaphor (and humor) are "distinctive human talents" (GM, p. 101). "[M]etaphor generates tangible interference between two of the isolated poles of a thing" (p. 102). The interference of metaphor comes about between saying and acting (practice). It's the difference between holding an understanding and giving an interpretation. Metaphor has to do with eidos, that is, the interrelation between mortals (foreground content) and gods (background context).
Eidos is constituted by a tension between a sensual object and "the plurality of qualities that it truly needs to remain what it is from moment to moment [i.e. real qualities]" (QO, p. 98). It is the "tension between objects and their truly crucial qualities, which are revealed through a process of eidetic variation" (pp. 100-101) To get after real qualities we use "categorical intuition: the work of the intellect and not of the senses. Such intuition points at those vital and never visible traits that differ from the purely sensual character of the object" (p. 101).

Harman uses an essay from Ortega (1975) published first in 1914.

Execution versus Presentation

Analogous to Harman's real and sensual divisions, Ortega divides things along lines of execution and image. His helpful example is the difference between headaches as entities (existential) versus any personal or observed interpretation of a headache (experiential). "To observe something, no matter how closely, is not to be it; to look at a thing is not the same thing as to stand in its place and undergo its fate, even if what we are observing is our own psychic lives" (GM, p. 103). This tells us that "consciousness is not primarily an observer, but an executant actor" (p. 103). 

Consciousness is a form of surveillance. We cannot have in mind the full depth of things. "The reality of a thing is always utterly different from any of our relations to it" (GM, p. 103). Now comes Ortega's crucial move. "The pronoun 'I,' says Ortega, belong not just to living beings, 'but rather all things--men, things, situations--inasmuch as they are occurring, being, executing themselves' " (p. 104, quoting Ortega, 1975 (Phenomenlogy and art), p. 133). This executing is the poetry of being. It is the phenomenon poiesis, composition. Harman calls it "object-act theory" (GM, p. 104). Ortega's crucial move "consists in his noticing that there is also an executant inner reality stirring behind the facades of buckets, candles, supermarkets, clay-pits, bank robberies, helicopter accidents and trees" (GM, p. 104).

What we come to find is that despite the full breadth of linguistic articulation and logical calculation, things remain withdrawn in their executancy. The veil remains. Ortega tells us that language fails. In fast fashion, "Words are very unnecessary. They can only do harm." 

"This," says Ortega, "is the task of language, but language merely alludes to inwardness--it never shows it." In more melancholic terms, "a narrative makes everything a ghost of itself, placing it a distance, pushing it beyond the horizon of the here and now." The fate of language, as of perception and (we will see) of all relation, is forever to translate the dark and inward into the tangible and outward, as task at which it always comes up short given the infinite depth of things. And precisely this is the importance of aesthetics for Ortega. "Imagine," he announces, "the importance of a language or system of expressive signs whose function was not to tell us about things but to present them to us in the act of executing themselves. Art is just such a language; this is what art does. The esthetic object is inwardness as such--it is each thing as 'I.' " Art is granted a sort of magic power, allowing us to confront the impossible depth of objects. (GM, p. 105)

We move with Harman and Ortega to Ortega's example of art, metaphor. Ortega shows us the work of Pico, and echoes his notion that the cypress tree is flame. The claim is that "metaphor seems to work only when it utilizes inessential qualities" (GM, p. 105). Why is that?

Metaphor merges things. The cypress tree is flame. Metaphor fails if the things stay close. The cypress tree is plant. Nope. Won't get us there. "The mind of the reader resists this identity [cypress tree is flame], as it must. " 'The cypress is a conifer' fails as a metaphor precisely because the names can be fused together with ease; 'the cypress is a flame' succeeds only because they cannot" (GM, p. 106).

The Plasma of Things

How can one object merge with another? With metaphor, "the poet becomes an audacious liar who claims absolute identity between them (ignoring the special  case of similes), as though the cypress as a whole were equivalent to the flame as a whole. The mind of the reader resists this identity, as it must." (GM, p. 106). As Ortega states: "The result...is the annihilation of what both objects are as practical images. When they collide with one another their hard carapaces crack and the internal matter, in a molten state, acquires the softness of plasm, ready to receive a new form and structure" (GM, p. 107, quoted from Phenomenology and Art, p. 143). Metaphors are "vaporous hybrids" of two things that "cannot even be described in terms of definite tangible properties" (GM, p. 107).

This model of metaphor depends upon Ortega's ontological understanding of things in a dualistic interplay between "the thing as image and the thing as execution" (GM, p. 107). We can only make allusions to the innermost executant reality. "No cataloguing of the properties of these entities, in no matter how many different moods and under no matter what lighting conditions, can ever fully exhaust the cryptic essence deployed in each of these things" (GM, p. 107). Metaphor "presents the inner execution of the things in simulated form. Poets cannot really crossbreed trees with flames" (p. 107).

Ortega uses his own developed theory of "feelings" to describe how poets are able to seemingly hybridize objects. "Against any psychologistic notion of feelings as internal mental states or physiological excitements, he insists on the close connection that feelings have with objects." 

Ortega then makes a second fold in reality. The first fold differentiates the executant (background )from the image (foreground).  In the more developed Quadruple Object, fold one distinguishes the sensuous foreground from the real background. 

Sensual qualities are "a set of distinct qualities" while real qualities "a unified thing that I encounter, that fills up some part of my life as I adopt a definite lived stance toward it" (GM, p. 108). "Insofar as the [real object] enters the sphere of my life, it is not just a sensory image, but also a single executant reality within my life....Considered as an apparition that enters my life and sets up shop, the cypress-feeling [real qualities] is not the same as the real cypress" (GM, p. 108).

"The cypress is not only an image sparkling with diverse features [sensual qualities], but also a murky underground unity for me, and not just in its inner executant self [real object]. And it is from this strange concealed integrity of individual images [real qualities] that metaphor draws its power--not from the genuine reality of each thing [real object], which language is powerless to unveil" (p. 108). 

Metaphors are themselves new entities. Metaphors operate "by compelling us to live executantly....a new feeling-thing, and not a new thing itself" (GM, p. 109). That is, metaphors operate by introducing real qualities. "If someone tells me that a cypress is like a juniper, what happens is that my attention is absorbed by a set of remarkably similar qualities; I am adrift in a world of attributes of things" (GM, p. 109). But when we use Ortega's metaphor and say that the cypress tree is a flame, "the cryptic essences that my life senses in them remain before me in a kind of permanent collision. My executant feeling [real qualities] of the cypress and my executant feeling of the flame attempt to fuse with one another....We simply sense an identity, we live expectantly this being, the cypress-flame" (GM, p. 109).

Reality without Presence

Harman's calls on Derrida's "White Mythology" where two terms for meaning (leaning on Aristotle), kurion and idion, are counterposed respectively as "the chief or literal or ordinary meaning" (GM, p. 111) and a term that implies "another sense in which they [meanings] can be more or less proper than others" (GM, p. 112). This is the difference between the object and its qualities. Derrida calls these properness and improperness. From Derrida we get "the ideal... of metaphor, being to bring to knowledge the thing itself, the turn of speech will be better if it brings us closer to the thing's essential proper truth" (in Margins of Philosophy, 1982, p. 247).

The Wolf-System

Harman next moves to "Metaphor" by Max Black (1962) from Models and Metaphors. Black dismisses both the substition and comparison theories of metaphor in favor of an interaction theory of metaphor. The substition theory of metaphor "is the common understanding of metaphor that views it as a surrogate for literal meanings" (GM, p. 117). This is the idea that if we convert statements into more parsimonious language, for example changing " 'the chairman plowed through the discussion' [to] 'the chairman dealt summarily with objections' " (GM, p. 117) loses nothing. This won't work because "the ultimate terms in a metaphor are inscrutable executant realities, not literal meanings that can be exchanged for other such meanings like trading cards" (GM, p. 117). At bottom here is the claim that metaphor is different than common language. 

Black dismisses the comparison theory of metaphor using the case of simile. Saying that Richard is a lion is not identical to saying " 'Richard is like a lion, insofar as they are both brave' " (GM, p. 117). Both the substitution and comparison theories of metaphor consider to be mere decoration. Harman notes a deeper distinction, "for both the substitution and comparison thories, metaphor is concerned with properties of things rather than with things as a whole" (p. 118). Metaphor doesn't merely link similarities and then leave differences behind. With metaphor, "the reader is forced to 'connect' the two ideas. In this 'connection' resides the secret and mystery of metaphor" (GM, p. 118 (Harman's italics), quoting Black, 1962, p. 39).

Black also makes the point that prior to the metaphor, the similarity of the two entities does not exist. Metaphor manifests or generates the similarity. The important point is that the entities counterposed in metaphor "are entities with singular personalities that exceed any of their graspable features; it is these units that are brought together in metaphor, and not just comparable properties" (GM, p. 118) and this is the interaction theory of metaphor.

Our example from Black (1962) is the statement "man is a wolf." When man is a wolf, we deal with are what Black calls "the system of associated commonplaces" or the "set of current platitudes" (1962, p. 40). These are Harman's real qualities. These are in the realm of background  context. However, these qualities are not properties because "a metaphor can never be reduced to a comparison of traits, but must be some sort of fusion of entire independent units" (GM, p. 119). According to Black, when man is wolf metaphorically, " 'A suitable hearer will be led by the wolf-system of implications to construct a corresponding system of implications about the principal subject [i.e., 'Man'].' Or even more memorably: 'Any human traits that can without undue strain be talked about in 'wolf-language' will be rendered prominent, and any that cannot will be pushed into the background. The wolf-metaphor suppresses some details, emphasizes others--in short, organizes our view of man' " (GM, p. 119, quoting Black, 1962, p. 41). A metaphor "actively shapes our perception" (GM, p. 120). 

Through metaphor, "two objects... fuse together as entire systems rather than as simply coming to handshake agreements about shared qualities" (GM, p. 120). "[M]etaphor takes us beyond any overlap of isolated qualities, and on toward a marriage or cybernetic merger of two things as a whole" (GM, p. 120). 

A metaphor "is precisely what the interaction theory believes cannot be grasped or restated in plain prose" (p. 122). Metaphors have the "capacity to dig underground into the cryptic life of things" (p. 122). 

"The charm of objects is their innocent absorption in being just what they are, which in each case is something that we ourselves can never be." Charm is "that which exposes sincerity to our fascinated attention" (GM, p. 137). 

Sincerity arises "in the sense that I really am doing right now whatever it is that I am doing--delivered over to that activity rather than to any of the possible others that might be imagined" (GM, p. 135). Sincere things "are thoroughly absorbed at each moment in being precisely those characters that they are" (GM, p. 135).

"When metaphor works, it is always charming: we cannot help noting the sheer sincerity of existence of the cypress-flame and wolf-human" (GM, p. 137-138).

Metaphor "manages to put the very sincerity of a thing at issue, by somehow interfering with the usual relation between a thing and its qualities--and this is precisely what charm means" (GM, p. 141).

Allure is "a general term to cover both the comic and charming ways of encountering the sincerity objects" (GM, p. 142). Sincerity "exists for all objects at all times" while allure "occurs only in special experiences and seems to have something to do with separating the agent from its specific qualities" (GM, p. 142). Humor and charm are kinds of allure. Charm is enchanted by a sincerity object. Metaphor is a sort of charm. "[S]incerity occurs everywhere in the universe at all times, since a thing always just is what it is; allure is a special and intermittent experience in which the intimate bond between a thing's unity and its plurality of notes somehow partially disintegrates" (GM, p. 143).

Metaphor works and charm shows up as "a strange sort of interference between two moments of a thing's being, one that does not occur at all times as sincerity does, but one that simply either occurs or fails to occur" (GM, p. 143). It is the difference between enchanted and banal experiences.

Allure is the separation of an object from its qualities. Qualities come in two kinds, sensual and real. Real qualities are notes. Metaphor is a kind of allure in the sense that "metaphor converts the qualities of objects into objects in their own right" (GM, p. 162). "What really happens is that all the shadowy notes that tend to be bundled inconspicuously into our unified experience of wolves suddenly take on a human air [in the man is wolf metaphor]" (GM, p. 162). "Many varied notes of the wolf are released as free elements into the world, unleashed on the road like a band of goblins. Instead of bringing underground execution to light, the metaphor actually grants subterranean status to a whole set of new object, though paradoxically it does this by bringing them to our attention all the more" (GM, p. 162). Elements are mergers of released notes. 

"What marks the difference between metaphor and literal language is that metaphor actually generates new objects rather than passing straight toward those already stockpiled in our mix."

Metaphor "works only because the statement is not strictly true, and links these objects only by way of intermediaries [elements, i.e., released notes] rather than directly and in their total depth" (GM, p. 164). "[W]hat is most crucial about elements is not that humans stand amidst them, but simply that they form a bridge between objects that otherwise could never interact. This bridge cannot be lacking even in cases of inanimate causal efficacy, since an element is not primarily a human experience, but a face turned by one object toward another" (GM, pp. 165-166). 

"Elements are the glue of the world, the vicarious cause that holds reality together, the trade secret of the carpentry of things" (GM, p. 166).

There is one major requirement of metaphor: "that it shatters the usual immediate bond between an object and its notes, and uses one or more of these notes as a secret pipeline through which all the mysterious resonances of flame flow directly into the body of the cypress" (GM, p 176). 

Given the metaphor, cypress tree is flame, we get three consequences.

"1. The cypress recedes into the distance, while still dominating its notes" (GM, p. 176).

When we've got the image of a cypress and a the image of a flame, we're dealing with sensual objects rather than the executant (real) cypress and flame. But the flaming cypress of metaphor "withdraws into a dark underground, leaving behind only its notes on the surface of the earth" (GM, p. 176). "The metaphoric drama of the cypress causes it to split from the notes it dominates and to depart from direct access as if into the depths of the ocean or center of the earth" (GM, p. 176). "The alluring cypress remains the warlord [kurion] of its notes--but it is no longer identical with them, and flickers toward us independently from beyond" (GM, p. 177).

"Allure does not take us any closer to the cypress, but merely translates it into flame-language" (GM, p. 177). 

"2. The notes of the cypress are converted into sensual objects" (GM, p. 177).

"In metaphor, ...notes themselves are somehow converted into objects" (GM, p. 177). Given the cypress-flame, "it is the notes of the flame that are transformed into sensual objects. The typical notes of a cypress remain packaged with the cypress as a whole, and somehow shift with it into the dark underground to which it withdraws. But the usual notes of a flame do not normally fit well with a tree" (GM, p. 177). These flame notes are at issue for the author's understanding and the audience's interpretation of the metaphor. "These notes of the flame, impossible to fuse neatly into the cypress as we know it, come to be 'at issue' for us" (GM, p. 177). 

"[T]he notes that the cypress or flame had siphoned away from their parts are now converted into freestanding objects in their own right" (GM, p. 177). The flame evokes notes of the cypress. "We find ourselves face to face with cypress-heat and cypress-danger" because "the notes are turned into objects in metaphor" (GM, p. 178). This only happens when metaphor works. The weak metaphor, my pencil is a crayon doesn't work because the crayon doesn't evoke anything unique about the pencil. 

"3. New tangible elements are released into the world" (GM, p. 178).

The new flaming-cypress notes change "the landscape of sincerity" (GM, p. 178). Metaphor grabs our attention by showing us "cypress-heat and cypress-flickering" as sensual objects which Harman calls elements. "Metaphor calls our attention to certain objects at the expense of others, whose charms we now abandon. All perception does this, but only allure focuses our attention on solitary notes by converting them to objects" (GM, p. 178). 

Metaphor, as a kind of allure, "operates by distancing an object from us and splitting it from its notes. The specific way that metaphor does this is by allowing the notes of one object to be gravitationally captured by another, thereby bathing those notes in the music of the new object that ensnares them" (GM, p. 178).

"The metaphysical role of allure is to present us with the intersection point of objects and their notes, the point at which reality hesitates between existence and essence or substance and quality. Allure is that furnace or steel mill of the world where notes are converted into objects" (GM, p. 179).

Metaphor is the most important case of allure. "Here, one sensual object interferes with another by means of a forced attempt to make them coincide. From this process a new and distinct object is created, while the notes of one of the original things are released into independent reality as objects. But unlike the mere parts of sensual things, these notes are not truly independent objects that separate from their neighbors without protest....No; when man becomes wolf, the vague features released into the air are not simply wolf-qualities, but wolf-qualities of man. The heat and destructive power unleashed by saying 'the cypress is a flame' are cypress-powers, not disembodied universal properties. They are notes, not qualities, and notes are always notes of something" (GM, p. 211).

Metaphor creates the possibility for one thing to influence another. The cypress-flame conjures whatever flamingly rubs off on cypress when the two mingle via metaphor.

##Note to self, it seems like technology does the same thing as metaphor in that it foregrounds the glamour and backgrounds the means. Future question, "How is allure like Borgmann's notion of glamour?"