The Motive for Metaphor Roundtable discussion with Ted Cohen, Paul Fry, Susan Stewart, Frederick Turner, Rosanna Warren.

The Motive for Metaphor

by Wallace Stevens

You like it under the trees in autumn,
Because everything is half dead.
The wind moves like a cripple among the leaves
And repeats words without meaning.

In the same way, you were happy in spring,
With the half colors of quarter-things,
The slightly brighter sky, the melting clouds,
The single bird, the obscure moon–

The obscure moon lighting an obscure world
Of things that would never be quite expressed,
Where you yourself were not quite yourself,
And did not want nor have to be,

Desiring the exhilarations of changes:
The motive for metaphor, shrinking from
The weight of primary noon,
The A B C of being,

The ruddy temper, the hammer
Of red and blue, the hard sound–
Steel against intimation–the sharp flash,
The vital, arrogant, fatal, dominant X.

Ever since Aristotle defined metaphor as the gift of finding similitude in dissimilitude (and warned poets against using it too often), the trope has grown in prestige, and is sometimes viewed as the hallmark of an active imagination. This extends not just to the literary imagination—equation in science and law have been described as metaphorical, at least in their origins. Others have violently disagreed, especially with this latter claim. The Royal Society in 18th-Century England and the radical wing of logical positivism in the 20th century, called General Semantics, tried to banish metaphor from correct usage. A related attitude leads post-structuralist literary theory to link the fragility and contingency of knowledge with the inescapability of metaphor. The interest of this roundtable is not so much to evaluate metaphor as to ask what it is and what role it may play in human psychology and creativity. To this end, the discussion will embrace the diverse perspectives of philosophy, cognitive science, psychoanalysis, literary criticism, and the practice of poetry.

Ted Cohen is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Chicago, a past president of the American Society for Aesthetics, and a past president of the Central Division of the American Philosophical Association. He is the author of the book Jokes: Philosophical Thoughts on Joking Matters, and of the essays “Identifying with Metaphor” and “Metaphor, Feeling, and Narrative.” His book Thinking of Others will be published later this year.

Paul Fry is William Lampson Professor of English at Yale University. He is the author of A Defense of Poetry: Essays on the Occasion of Writing and editor of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. His new book, Wordsworth and the Poetry of What We Are, will appear in May 2008.

Susan Stewart is a poet and critic and the Annan Professor of English at Princeton University. Her most recent book of poems, Columbarium, won the 2003 National Book Critics Circle Award; a new book, Red Rover, is forthcoming this year. Her works of criticism include Poetry and the Fate of the Senses and The Open Studio: Essays in Art and Aesthetics. She is a former MacArthur Fellow and a current Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Frederick Turner is Professor of Arts and Humanities at the University of Texas at Dallas. A poet, critic, translator, philosopher, and former editor of The Kenyon Review, he has authored 27 books, including The Culture of Hope, Genesis, Hadean Eclogues, Shakespeare’s Twenty-First Century Economics, Paradise, and Natural Religion. His work has been translated into over a dozen languages.

Rosanna Warren is the author of the chapbook Snow Day, and three collections of poems: Each Leaf Shines Separate, Stained Glass, and Departure. Her forthcoming critical book is Fables of the Self: Studies in Lyric Poetry. She is Emma MacLachlan Metcalf Professor of the Humanities at Boston University, and translated Euripedes’ Suppliant Women with Stephen Scully.



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