Saturday, July 02, 2005

What is a Metaphor?

It is very difficult to say what a metaphor is. Some years ago, one writer listed 125 definitions for the term "metaphor." But I prefer to think of it, thanks to Philip Blosser and others, as a rhetorical trope that asserts an unfamiliar identity synthesis between two hitherto disparate entities, names, semantic fields, genera, etc. Regardless of one's preferred denotation for "metaphor," I think it is safe to say that these tropes generally are not metaphysical pronouncements. That is, they assert that s is p without metaphysically predicating p of s. Hence, when one encounters the metaphor "sleep" for death in Scripture (John 11:11-14; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), there is no need to assume that death and sleep metaphysically resemble one another. The comparison between sleep and death is rhetorical, not intensional, which is to say that when encountering the assertion "death" (s) is "sleep" (p), one need not draw the inference that one can dream when he/she is dead or snore or experience distinctive brain states commonly associated with sleep. Death does not exemplify the literal properties of sleep, for all we know. The same principle seemingly applies to other metaphors. When a frustrated woman says, "All men are dogs," does anyone assume that she means men have fur all over their bodies, four legs and bark every now and again? She certainly does not mean that men are "dogs" on a much higher level than four-legged canines are. They certainly do not have the properties commonly exemplified with the genus "canine." If these things are true with respect to dogs and sleep, why should one think any differently when it comes to the metaphor "Father" for God? Why assume that God is masculine because He is Father? Why think that God is "Father" metaphysically rather than construing the metaphor "Father" (if it is in fact a metaphor) as a rhetorical trope? These are my reflections for the day. Shalom!

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