Comments on The history of metaphor

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of metaphor.

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  • 1. At 09:19am on 25 Nov 2010, daveharley wrote:

    at the top of the prog, did I hear so and so is like a swine? That's a simile.

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  • 2. At 09:26am on 25 Nov 2010, pse001 wrote:

    I basically joined the group so I could say how great I think in our time is - best program ever; and now, my first post, I'm nit picking. I'm sure writing arose in Sumer around 3200bc or before; not 2500bc. Sorry. Anyway Hooray for In Our Time. You're Great!!

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  • 3. At 09:41am on 25 Nov 2010, wookeywitch wrote:

    Was there a bet on how many times the word 'interiority' could be used? Was it with the intention of getting it into the Oxford dictionary, where no such word exists?

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  • 4. At 09:52am on 25 Nov 2010, susie wrote:

    In The Tempest "the elements....may as well/Wound the loud winds, or with bemocked-at stabs/Kill the still-closing waters" so maybe Hamlet's taking arms against a sea is intentionally futile. "Dark backward and abysm of time" is not from Winters Tale but The Tempest, incidentally.

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  • 5. At 09:55am on 25 Nov 2010, SSmith10 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 6. At 10:35am on 25 Nov 2010, SSmith10 wrote:

    I was disappointed that little mention was made of the way metaphors are understood, ie is there a literal part to any metaphor (or indeed to language itself) why do some elements in the metaphorical comparison remain and others drop out? these are the kind of issues I was hoping to hear debated.

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  • 7. At 10:40am on 25 Nov 2010, David Nicholson wrote:

    When we had the IOT on unicorns I contributed that man, a puny creature had enough threats in real nature so why did we invent dragons, firebirds unicorns etc.
    I said get Ian Stewart on again to explain his “story telling ape “description of us in Science of Diskworld. Books. Pans narrans.
    Homo sapiens? Wise man? No other species would invent a weapon which could destroy its whole species.
    So now we have metaphor…………….it is part of pans narrans.
    “ All the worlds a stage, and all the men and women merely players…………except those who sell the pop corn” Hwyl the Dwarf, playwright in Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

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  • 8. At 11:42am on 25 Nov 2010, Dr David Barnett wrote:

    Scientific description is replete with metaphors - the most powerful being the application of mathematical laws.

    The vision of a world of particles behaving like ideal billiard balls was extremely fruitful from the time of Newton. For more than 200 years we deepened our knowledge of the mathematical structures implied by this view and found new and unexpected connections.

    We discovered that waves could be explained in mechanical terms. The motions of large numbers of particles connected together by "springs" had wave-like solutions; and it seemed that waves had to be mechanical. Hence the notion of the aether as carrier of light waves.

    By 1900 we really thought our metaphor was reality, and just a little more application of its mathematics would allow us to explain anything.

    Then light waves became "lumpy" and electrons became wave-like. A new metaphor was needed but we had great difficulty in drawing it from everyday experience. So we now describe quantum mechanics choosing from incompatible metaphors according to the needs of the occasion.

    Metaphors rely on our ability to abstract essential qualities from examples. They, in turn, suggest directions to explore. Sometimes a metaphor is so powerful that we gain new knowledge. But they can also trap us in dead-end thinking.

    And sometimes the name we give a scientific concept can be tremendously misleading because of its everyday metaphorical connotations. "Relativity" is a classic example - popularly confused with anchor-less "Relativism". I wonder how much 20th century social angst could have been avoided if Einstein had stuck with "Theory of Invariants" instead?

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  • 9. At 11:50am on 25 Nov 2010, John Thompson wrote:

    I loved the examples your speakers gave in English literature over
    the centuries as well as Homer and Gilgamesh.

    1)Nietzsche was the philosopher of metaphor,placing his discourse between metaphor and literal meaning,which has often lead to him being misread.He spoke of the terrible deprivation of 19th century people with the ‘death of God’.He wrote this:-
    “Rather than cope with the unbearable loneliness of their condition men will continue to seek their shattered God,and for His sake they will love the very serpents that dwell amongst His ruins.”Here he mixes the conceptual thinking-‘loneliness’and ‘condition’ and historical generalization-with,serpents glistening through the ruins of the shattered God.Here there is a refusal to go beyond the metaphors into the theory.This mixture of poetic metaphors and intellectual concepts leads to a problem:you never quite know where he is.His writings don’t stand up in terms of rigorous intellectual argument,because the images are the joints where they come apart. But if you take everything as poetic utterance it’s often unclear what he is saying.He said:”It’s only as an aesthetic phenomenon that the being of man and the world are eternally justified.”
    He’s asking, like Shakespeare did:Is the whole world really to be taken seriously,or is it not a great game,a great play,some kind of drama played out by we do not know whom,as a spectacle for we do not know whom?Maybe the only justification for man being here is as part of this huge cosmic drama.

    2)Your speakers spoke about science like some pure metaphor-free zone.All science is a metaphor. The Rutherford planetary analogy for atomic structure, the clockwork metaphor for the solar system, and Harvey's pump metaphor for the heart. "..... the universe as a mechanical system, the human body as a machine, life within society a competitive struggle for existence, and believed in unlimited material progress to be achieved through economic and technological growth."
    Neils Bohr:”When it comes to atoms,language can be used only as in poetry.The poet too is not nearly so concerned with describing facts as with creating images.”In the realm of the invisible we can only imagine.Quantum physics is metaphysical.

    3)Unreal,give back to us what once you gave:
    The imagination that we spurn and crave.( Wallace Stevens)

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  • 10. At 11:56am on 25 Nov 2010, FoxyN wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 11. At 12:03pm on 25 Nov 2010, FoxyN wrote:

    Rather than a primarily literary-historical approach to metaphor, which inevitably jumped from author to author with little logic other than chronology, I personally would have preferred a survey focusing on the philosophy of language, beginning with Plato and Nietzsche and ending up with cognitive linguistics (Lakoff & Johnson's Metaphors We Live By, as included in the reading list).

    "What then is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms -- in short, a sum of human relations, which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins.
    We still do not know where the urge for truth comes from; for as yet we have heard only of the obligation imposed by society that it should exist: to be truthful means using the customary metaphors - in moral terms, the obligation to lie according to fixed convention, to lie herd-like in a style obligatory for all..."

    'On truth and lie in an extra-moral sense,' The Viking Portable Nietzsche, p.46-7, Walter Kaufmann transl.

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  • 12. At 9:13pm on 25 Nov 2010, Orbster wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 13. At 9:16pm on 25 Nov 2010, Orbster wrote:

    Can anyone tell me the name of the text that was referred to in which there's a "metal man that represents justice with no mercy"?

    Thanks.

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  • 14. At 10:38pm on 25 Nov 2010, John Thompson wrote:

    I think the metal man was in Spencer's' Fairie Queen'.

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  • 15. At 11:17am on 26 Nov 2010, tony wrote:

    Metaphor.........at its best is that inadequate tool of conditioned thought, whatever its adopted language, to draw out, not more thought but greater awareness, spiritual not spiritual history as religion, but ultimately to actuality and "the truth that shall set you free" in love and in which thought and its articulation as entertainment for the mind enamoured of itself, becomes irrelevant.

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