The problem of double meaning is not peculiar to psychoanalysis. It is also known to the phenomenology of religion in its constant encounter with those great cosmic symbols of earth, heaven, water, life, trees, and stones; and those strange narratives about the origin and end of things which are the myths are also its daily bread. . . . a particular way in which man places himself in relation to fundamental reality, whatever it may be. . . . the expression of a depth which both shows and hides itself. What psychoanalysis encounters primarily as the distortion of elementary meanings connected with wishes or desires, the phenomenology of religion encounters primarily as the manitestation of a depth or, to use the word immediately, . . . the revelation of the sacred.
Freud and Philosophy,
translated by Denis Savage (revised)
FIRE, water, cloud, sky, sea, earth, stone, oak, grass, air, apple, house, rose, sun, moon, star, wind, mountain—the images largely from the natural world, before they enter into a statement of metaphoric combination, and after they have ceased to belong to the codings of a mythic pantheon, remain to pervade the consciousness, sometimes just when they are merely named. Fire has an underlying psychic set, and so does water, in Bachelard’s phenomenology. These images, taken by themselves in the naming, cannot wholly shed their dream life and become univocal references in all uses. In many uses they are multivocal, they are charged. And to call their charge “emotive” is to simplify their effect by giving it a direction, itself univocal, thereby neutralizing the special ambience of fire as opposed to water, oak as opposed to stone. And one would also thereby neutralize the inter-associations. By von Franz’s Jungian formulation, “in the unconscious all archetypes are contaminated with one another.”1
These image-charges do not belong in the lexicon, and yet they stand ready to hand for such uses, ritual and poetic, as the language may call upon them for. As Ricoeur says (p. 388), “the mechanisms of dreaming manifest the confusion between the infra- and the supra-linguistic.” A semiotic account of what happens just in naming must allow for the mechanisms of dream or archetype or primal image, along with other mechanisms that can be disambiguated—the lexical, the syntactic, the phonetic, and the “encyclopedic” (Levin, quoting Carnap), as well as that in the pragmatic or contextual which does not draw on the image-charge.
In societies still encompassed by their mythic system, the charges in the words are not subject to manipulation: fire is always Agni. Prometheus always endowed men with fire, stealing it from the gods. When the myth becomes questioned, the charges can be manipulated, or even abandoned. fire doctrine, whatever it may mean, strives to perform abstract manipulations upon the concept of fire; it does not simply interpret the Greek myth-context of fire. Pindar rethinks and draws upon the mythic charge of fire, localizing a salient manifestation of it at the base of a volcano managed by a giant who is resistant to such poetry as he may utter; poetry itself is seen also in the mythic light as a sleep-producing charm derived from Apollo.
A proverb uses a term like fire, metaphorically or not, without any semiotic enlistment of the image-charge. Fire is simply a practical entity with discernible, lexical features, in There is no smoke without fire, The burnt child dreads the fire, and Fire and water are good servants but bad masters. In the riddles whose answer is fire, the act of building a lexical term into a puzzling question, even if it mimes the wonder that charges a mythic entity, does so in a form that neutralizes the mythic force. Again the image-charge is largely absent. In the semiotic framework of the fairy tales that refer to fire, the image-charge of fire simply endows the context of the story with an air of miracle. A fairy story involving fire, like “The Fire Bird,” or “Das junggeglühte Männlein” (about a youth restored in a fire bath), really rephrases what is essentially a myth. Otherwise fairy stories are never about fire: they have no Prometheuses, no Ragnaroks. Aschenputtel, Cinderella, named for sleeping in ashes, has access to a magic other than that of fire. In “Hansel and Gretei” the witch is simply pushed into the fire she has had Gretel prepare in the oven for Hansel, and this fire is an image and a utilitarian resource without special status in whatever mythic substratum might be assigned to this story or factored out of it. The fairy story keeps all its images on a par; it tends to be unmetaphoric in its investments of the world with wonder.
Indeed, metaphor itself, in natural language, comes readily into use. As Margalit and Cohen point out, the nonce-metaphor arises in natural language at the same time, roughly, as syntax rules are learned.2
In natural language “the existence of a metaphor, like that of a sentence, is a feature of langue, not of parole” (Cohen and Margalit, p. 738). All the analyses of metaphor in terms of species and genus, with Aristotle; or in terms of domains of thought and dominant traits, with Brooke-Rose; or in terms of sortal logic, with Van Dijk; and all characterizations of metaphoric processes as acts of substitution or logical interactions of terms, with Max Black; ultimately describe any metaphor as it stands towards the langue. An act of parole, however, has both a pragmatic context and an illocutionary thrust. Of That old man is a baby we would have to know from context whether we were looking at a childish oldster or a wizened infant to understand the reference, and also to analyze the sense, of the metaphoric expression. And we would want to know why the speaker had used such a strong expression. As Dorothy Mack says of metaphor in natural language, “Deletion enhances the power of the hearer; as the speaker is less explicit, the hearer must be more active” (242). The metaphor in her characterization is a “shortcut” (a dead metaphor) or a “freshcut” (a live or nonce-metaphor).
In literary use, or “poetry,” the context includes a complex set of conventions governing the production of such an utterance at all. If the parole of a poem, in Jakobsons assignment of components to the speech act, does center on the message, there would still remain the crucial question of what kind of message it might be that would communicate itself by calling attention initially to itself.
Even in ordinary language, metaphor and metonymy, as Lacan interprets them, activate a whole circular process of interaction between Self/self and Other/other: speaker and hearer are a model for the dynamics of psychic action as well as for the logic of transmitting information. A tree or a cloud or the sun can be pointed out in a single designative act, but underneath even this act there lies an act of psychic selection. When the charge accompanying this act is foregrounded into the word, the image-charge of the word is increased. And when the image-charge is manipulated, we are already on the ground that literature has appropriated from myth; a power whose source is ultimately unknown has been harnessed. It will not do, of poetic predications in an act of parole, even if logically correct for the langue, to classify them as references to a private “possible” world that the hearer is invited to accept through the implied dimension of a deleted “I imagine” at the head of all such statements (Levin). It will not do, first because the reference is to the actual world. “The present king of France is bald” refers only to a possible world, since in the actual world there is no king of France. But in the actual world there is some psychic ground within me to which “Ah, Sun-flower! weary of time” refers; its reference draws on, and its truth-value interprets, that ground. This psychic ground is as much a part of my actual world as a flower that grows in my garden, and the meaning as well as the force of the poem by Blake, as against that of trivial statements about a non-existent king of France, derives from that actuality. The image-charge is enlisted, and it is somehow manipulated by the crossing of selection classes (weary implies +animal as an attribute synonym for tired and +human as a particular locution. We say men are weary, animals tired.) Second, the reference to “possible” worlds will not do (though initially correct) because it ignores the crucial difference between the triviality of “the present king of France is bald” and the force, ultimately illocutionary, of “Ah, Sun-flower! weary of time.” One could generate the bare statement through “possible world” classifications and “I imagine” deleted head sentences. But one would not generate the expression; and as Austin said, “the total speech act in the total speech situation is the only actual phenomenon which, in the last resort, we are engaged in elucidating” (p. 147). The world that the poet “instantaneously construes” (Levin) is an actual one. When Leontes in The Winter’s Tale says “I have drunk, and seen the spider,”(II, i, 45) comparing the apprehension of imagined adultery to taking poison in a drink with a poisoned spider at the bottom, his syntactically simple statement enlists a complex psychic substructure of hysteria before the female genitalia and acts analogous to breast-feeding (Schwartz), and also a Renaissance context of fraudulent methods to do away with rulers, as an item of a fictive situation (there is no adultery here) within a fictive situation (it is a play), as part of a moment of complex interaction whose ultimate reference is an actual world in which we all live, of love, authority, age, generation, marriage, friendship, parenthood, as well as imbibable liquids and dangerous insects.
Blake’s “Ah, Sun-flower” performs a number of interrelated metaphorical operations, including the overall one of analogy and antithesis to a corresponding poem in “The Songs of Innocence,” “The Blossom”:
Ah, Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the travellers journey is done.
Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow:
Arise from their graves and aspire,
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.
The Sun-flower is not just the garden plant, but a kind of hybrid, as its hyphenated name indicates. The goal of its desire involves nothing less than something at once comprising full sexuality and death after a full life, and yet beyond them—since the Youth and the Virgin arise from their graves there.
There are degrees to the amount of symbolization in the use of an image—the largeness of the significative area to which, say, Blake’s “Sun-flower” refers. And there are also degrees to the number of selection classes which are crossed to form a metaphoric expression like “weary sunflower”; much of the discussion of metaphor by linguists from Aristotle on has attended to the logic behind the acts of reclassification that a metaphor may carry. And in addition there are degrees to the presence of an image-charge; the charge is strong or weak, or all-but-absent, as in most cases of metaphor in natural language and in such myth-shedding forms as proverb and riddle.
The degree of symbolization and the degree of selection-class violation can be largely accounted for by attention to the lexical and syntactic components of an utterance. But the degree of image-charge derives mostly from pragmatic context and illocutionary thrust. Even though a high degree of symbolization may accompany a high degree of image-charge, one reinforcing the other, the two are not identical. The image-charge of “I have drunk, and seen the spider” is quite high because of the richness of the context; but the degree of symbolization is quite low.
To say of metaphor that it harnesses the likenesses and the differences between tenor and vehicle in order to set up reverberations between them is to allow of metaphoric syntax some of the same effect that the image-charge, taken by itself, may produce. Metaphor reinforces image-charge just as symbolization and image-charge reinforce each other—in poetry. And distinct from strength and weakness there is a scale of lightness or heaviness for the image-charge. “Ah, Sun-flower! weary of time” or “O Rose, thou art sick,” or “Thou still unravished bride of quietness” are moderately heavy, at least in comparison with the image-charge, still strong, in this nursery rhyme:
How many miles to Babylon?
Three score miles and ten.
Can I get there by candle-light?
Yes, and back again.
If your heels are nimble and light,
You may get there by candle-light.
Like many nursery rhymes, this delights in its own seeming nonsense, and it may be, as the Opies suggest (p. 64), that “Babylon” is a corruption of “Babyland.” If “Babylon” refers to the archetypally corrupt city of scripture, its range of symbolization is quite wide however—and quite unchildlike. The poem, in its context of playfulness is addressing, even singing to, a child about something a child could know only as a future—and so the imputed hearer of the poem could only know as a future—Babylon as Babyland but also as Babylon.
“ ‘Can I get there by candle-light’ was a common saying in Elizabethan times,” (Opie, p. 64) which makes this expression a dead metaphor, brought into live re-use. For the Biblical reference of “three score and ten” is firmly to a human life span. Taken this way, the nursery rhyme has a central underlying metaphor of space (three score miles and ten) for time (three score years and ten), a strongly charged version of the life-as-a-journey metaphor. The terminus of this journey, however, is not Babylon but the implied Biblical opposite of Babylon, the heavenly Jerusalem. To get to Babylon and back again, metaphorically to live one’s life, is to open the earthly city out into a heavenly city. This requires a sort of dexterity (“if your heels are nimble and light”) where the prudence that the proverb enjoins and the spiritual readiness that the parable implies are fused. Moreover, the puzzle of a riddle is approximated in the mysteriousness of this nursery-rhyme, and the rhyme is, in fact, well on its way to being a riddle, the answer to which is “human life.” There are riddles that take the form of nursery rhymes, like the fire-riddle beginning “little cow crummy,” quoted on p. 227.3
In this nursery-rhyme the act of symbolization is strong, the metaphors cross large selection classes, and the image-charge is strong. Yet all this richness is lightened by the abstract context of this rhyme, adult-to-child, and by its illocutionary thrust. It enjoins a spiritual salvation upon the hearer and reassures him that the whole matter, although mysterious, is rather like taking a candle on a long but delimited trip, skipping the whole way. “Jack be nimble, Jack be quick/Jack jump over the candlestick,” has some of the same force, derived as it is from a form of fortune telling and from a St. Catherine’s Day Festival (Opies, p. 227)—from which, however, the rhyme has been de-ritualized; it lightens and attenuates whatever myth-references may have informed this particular ritual, while retaining the image-charge, precisely as in a fairy tale. “Jack and Jill,” which could derive from loaded Scandinavian or other myths (pace the Opies, p. 226), takes what looks like a sudden death (“broke his crown”) and makes it a minor accident (“old Dame Dob, who patched his nob”). The lightness and disconnectedness of the references themselves point to the wonder of a world where such easy resurrections occur in homely circumstances—something that myths rarely allow without long and painful initiation, though fairy stories do, as in “The Juniper Tree” and elsewhere.
Thus the figurative language in literary use offers a particularly salient case of the dialectic activated between a speaker and a hearer. As Ricoeur puts it, there is necessarily a transcendental reflexion (in Husserl’s terminology) in the hermeneutic act, or else it traps itself in the semantic structure of the symbol. The myths in a tribal culture fix this dialectic in a closed network, even where the network, under Lévi-Strauss’s interpretation, provides a principle for the management of discontinuities along the nodes of the network. The metaphors in a literary work liberate this dialectic, enabling its components to enter into various relationships—even the relationship of automatic cyclic interreference, which is the status of the symbols in Finnegans Wake. As Lacan has suggested of this novel (1975, p. 2), the technique of the portmanteau word at once universalizes and foregrounds the psychic substructure, or “sympome” of language.
The modality of the assertions implied in a poem’s use of an image or metaphor is determined by much more than the selection classes it cuts across, the strength or weakness of the image, and its relative lightness or heaviness. A woman is already a complex image even in the voices of silence emitted by the Venus of Willendorf. Ovid performs quasi-ironic manipulations upon his muses or upon Persephone, playing fast and loose with the locus amoenus and the lovely denizens who are in some senses at home in it and analogous to it. His “lightness” modulates the kind of devotion his acts of virtuosity call up, though he is still less dialectical than, say, Charles Olson:
mother-spirit to fuck at noumenon, Vierge
(A Prayer to Our Lady of Good Voyage
Sunday November 25th
Here we are offered many areas of statement—the sense of anthropological reconstitution; personal psychic history; Jungian archetype; Christian symbolism; art typology (vierge ouvrante) and its blasphemous opposite, erotic readiness; Kantian epistemology; an actual church in Gloucester, Massachusetts, which embodies a stated relationship between the economics of a dangerous voyage and less questioning religious devotion; and the precise diary-entry of a speaking persona. All these are put into dialectical interaction so as to call up, to cancel, and to set in angled lines of relationship to other historical-geographical complexes of date, the layered image of the virgin for a short utterance that is defined unironically as a qualified prayer.
In Pound’s progression from the cancelling of image-charge in imagism to the deliberate dialectical re-evocation of image-charge in The Cantos, the woman already emerges as a central figure whose modality does not admit of simple presentation. There is a strategy of image-circling that is psychologically indistinguishable from the strategy of reconstituting a plenary, numinous universe, the “poetry as a substitute for religion” of many commentators. Open form, in fact, may be characterized as a structural technique for trapping the image-charge at an angle so as not to oversimplify its verbal proportions. The nets of language need this extra dimension to trap the myth. The strategy of omission, of pretending to sap the image of its charge, lends dialectical leverage to the prose of Hemingway and Robbe-Grillet, understandable in its modality only if it be apprehended as the result of a sapping rather than as the simple set of declarative structures to be found on the page.
The same is true of surrealism, wherein the positive openness to free combinations of image interacts with the negative exclusion of logical connection between images to produce an illusion of a homogeneous and plenary dream universe:
Le papillon philosophique
Se pose sur l’étoile rose
Et cela fait une fenêtre de l’enfer
—André Breton, “Hotel des Étincelles,” 117.
Butterfly, star, rose, and window are all drawn from the typology of a modern locus amoenus, but the metaphorical connections between them are cancelled by being stretched, while singly the images are evocatively presented—except for the hint that butterflies do land on roses, though rose has been displaced from noun to adjective of color. And all these terms stand on a par with the abstract philosophique and the theological enfer (a lightly suspended antithesis to the paradisal images of the window).
The strategy here of circling the image by levelling linguistic procedures at once parallels and reverses the philosophy that is haunted by metaphor.4 In this midnight the sun always shines, and a complex strategy of language opens the door to a simple utopia.
Already in the Renaissance a priest set upon by a problematically liberating eros performs a re-demystiflcation upon his images through rich, self-neutralizing metaphors whose own irony dramatizes their own submissiveness to the robustness of their evocation:
If they be two, they are two so
As stiffe twin compasses are two . . .
. . . were we not wean’d till then?
But suck’d on countrey pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the seaven sleepers den?
To simultaneously evoke and suppress the image is to intensify the gravity of the poem’s linguistic act of relationship to myth by paradoxically calling it into question. So Montale decharges and re-fuses his Romantic words (Cook, 3, pp. 31-32). So Pound trains poetic images, a torch and the night, along a flat, pseudo-historiographic discourse that mimes Herodotus, as Olson learns to do from him, in order to reconstitute dialectically a usable version of what Herodotus has replaced:
So that Tien-tan chose bulls, a thousand
and covered them with great leather masks, making dragons
and bound poignard to their horns
and tied torches, pitch-smeared, to their tails
and loosed them by night from ten points
(Canto LIV, 1-5)5
So Valéry and Stevens set their images in the brackets of philosophical discourse, re-abstracting them, neutralizing them, and at the same time liberating them for poetic use. Even Blake’s Sun-flower carries, along with its earnestness, some tinge of an art-song re-rendering of what the Metaphysicals and others had toned down and out as a way of recapturing it: the “sublime” of Collins has been intensified by being subjected to what on the surface looks like simplification.
Literature has generated a number of figurative techniques not just for individual statements in poems or stories but for their initial fictions. One of the most persistent is pastoral, the implied comparison of nature, abstracted and idealized to harmonize it in the order of the work, with art or the sort of factitious artfulness that makes the language of a poem itself analogous to highly mannered, courtly speech. Shepherd-as-poet-as-lover and green-landscape-as-world ring changes on each other: this whole literary act, taken globally, highlights artfulness and fiction, glorying in its instrumentality for creating an order in the work. The end-product of pastoral is thus nearly always a kind of accomplished delight, and the varied uses of pastoral deepen only in combination with other rhetorical-semiological structures, with the paradisal vision when comedy enters into the combination (McFarland), with encyclopedizing celebration in the potpourri of forms in Finnegans Wake: Anna Livia Plurabelle at the stream includes the pastoral as part of its rhetorical framework.
Pastoral can be described as an allegory, in which there is a one-for-one correspondence between ordered verse spoken by a shepherd and any civilized discourse,6 as also between the benign landscape and any more complex sphere of human activity. The simplification, redundancy, and boundary crossing of semantic classes are all semiological strategies common to formed literary works; in both pastoral and allegory, one initial conception comprises simplification, redundancy, and boundary crossing.
Allegory, by advertising its discontinuities through persistence, at once appeals to and avoids the image-charge. “O Rose, thou art sick” has a strong, heavy image-charge, and “ring-a-ring-a roses, A pocket full of posies” a strong and light image-charge. The rose of the Roman de la Rose, persisting through the work, has an image-charge which is held on a tight rein by the advertised sign-reference of its discontinuity between flower and woman. This is the case, too, for the mystic rose of Dante’s Paradiso. Its elaborate composition, the tiers upon tiers of the blessed, becomes possible as a communicative act because the initial discontinuity between petals and people is maintained; consequently the fourfold senses can at once be distinguishable and converge, in a fusion which the prose allegorical interpretations of Richard of St. Victor, for example, do not permit (Cook 1966, p. 217-18).
Dante, through his converging structures, including those of sound-recursion, does keep the image-charge alive, whereas allegorical interpretations of classical or Biblical myth refer merely to the abstract patterns which in a literary allegory are a mode of manipulating, rather than translating, the image-charges. Since allegory proceeds by a rather stiff set of one-for-one correspondences, the abstract significances are a potential threat to the image-charges; they may take over entirely, and then we would have Boethius’ Philosophia instead of Dante’s Beatrice. Romantic writers were keenly aware of this threat, Melville and Kafka no less than Goethe and Coleridge, and all wrote allegories in spite of (or rather as a counter-assertion to) their awareness of the threat.
In allegory the one-for-one correspondence generalizes in a uniform set the kinds of correspondence between fictive and real that any literary work must initially embody. Consequently allegory, too, enters as a component, an abstract rhetorical form, into the rhetorical structure of many works not exactly classifiable as allegories: the late plays of Shakespeare, Finnegans Wake, and those fairy tales that have as their hero a sort of abstract figure (Lüthi, cited by von Franz). In fact, the “monomyth” pattern of heroic self-realization, which may be seen to underlie any story in some form, from awareness to journey to risk to test to purification, is itself phrasable as an allegory. Typological interpretations of scripture, too, provide an allegorical schema as a means of correlating two points on a time-line of overall narrative, Mary as a version of Eve, Christ as a version of Moses when he is also a version of David and of Jonah, etc. The future and the past, identified semiologically, become sacramentalized as versions of each other (Daniélou).
For Dante to take such systematizing procedures and use them in a comprehensive poem, a whole context of discourse must first stand ready to hand. He must stand in an anthropological situation of all but totally shared belief, and the belief would have to have undergone the most rigorous sort of inspection: universal Catholicism and a developed scholastic philosophy are contextual preconditions as well as semiological areas of reference in his poems. For Dante’s trans-allegorical use of metaphor, as for all other uses, the act, and the possibility of the act, that manipulates the image-charge in the free construction of a literary work, at once testify to, and create some mastery over, the unknown forces to which the denizens of tribal culture were content to be slaves. Metaphor is no deviance into mistake, but the sign of a richly asserted relative freedom.