West Met East – Metaphorically Speaking

[Review of Lakoff & Johnson “Metaphors We Live By”]

West Met East – Metaphorically Speaking – Just returned from China. Suprisingly I didn’t get to read Northrop as much as expected, because I’d just received Lakoff and Johnson’s “Metaphors We Live By” the morning I departed. I’ve just finished the book itself on the flight back, just the afterword added to the 2003 edition to go.

Excellent stuff on categorization & ontologies based on metaphor (orientational, structural, ontological, emergent, creative and complex), including dead metaphors in the archaeology of language, as well as metonymy and weak and strong homonymy (bells kept ringing about those problematic classifications Alan Thomson listed for us in EPISTLE, back in 97/98). A theory of truth and, more importantly, understanding as pragmatic experiential coherence. In one final rant in Ch30 (p232 of my 2003 Chicago Press edition) they say …

[Quote] Communication theories based on the conduit metaphor [the idea that information is simply transmitted and received] turn from pathetic to evil when they are applied indisciminately on a large scale …. There what is most crucial for understanding is almost never included, and it is assumed that the words in [an electronic] file have meaning in themsleves – disembodied, objective, understandable meaning. When a society lives by the conduit metaphor on a large scale, misunderstanding …. and much worse are the likely products. [Unquote]

A brief book which paradoxically, despite significant repetition, is quite densely packed with good concise material, much of it unexpected from the title focussing on Metaphor specifically – a one page (p195) potted history of western philosophy, and an analysis of the myths of both objectivity and subjectivity (Ch24 to Ch 29). Lots of clues reinforcing the need for me to get round to reading McLuhan. The medium and the message ? I’m glad I read this before picking up on the later philosophical works of Lakoff and Johnson – I also have Lakoff’s Women, Fire and Dangerous Things already. Spot on my agenda.

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