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This review appeared in Volume 1 (3) of The Semiotic Review of Books.

Art and Metaphor

by Frank Nuessel

Metaphor and Art: Interactionism and Reference in the Verbal and Nonverbal Arts. by Carl R. Hausman, Cambridge, England, and New York, New York: Cambridge University Press,1989. Pp. XIII, 238. (ISBN 0-521-36385-3)

A treatise which seeks to relate the primarily verbal linguistic properties of metaphor, itself a topic of concentrated and ever-expanding inquiry during the past decade, to the nonverbal arts is bound to be fascinating and provocative simply because such an effort raises a number of collaterally interesting and polemical issues. Among the questions that such a study must address are: theories of metaphor, literal versus figurative language, and the applicability of a verbal property to nonverbal domains. These pertinent topics will be addressed in this essay.

Language and Theories of Metaphor

Scholarly research on metaphor is extensive and well documented (Shibles 1971, Beardsley 1972, Bosque 1984, Van Noppen, DeKnop, and Jongen 1985). Therefore, the task of encapsulating all of the theories on metaphor would be impossible and foolhardy in a brief review essay. Even Hausman acknowledges the enormity of this sort of an endeavour (p. 22) and the consequent duplication of such an effort and thus he refers the reader to extant critical reviews of the major theories (cf. Mooij 1976, Ricoeur 1975). In order to lay the foundation for the role of metaphor in art, the Pennsylvania State University philosopher necessarily addresses language based theories of metaphor.

For discursive purposes, Hausman reduces the major theoretical hypotheses on metaphor addressed in this book to an essential dichotomy: originativism and reductionism (p. 24). These models represent antagonistic poles in debates over the literal versus figurative language polemic.

The originativist approach, delineated by Hausman and reproduced below is essentially the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in modified form (p. 24):

some metaphors can create unique insights and ... these metaphors are irreducible with respect to the antecedents in their contexts. This view assumes at least some metaphors are creations that constitute the things, qualities, or relationships they signify. Metaphors are interpreted as creations of linguistic meanings. In its strongest form, this view also regards metaphors as creating constituents of the world.
Hausman summarizes the reductionist viewpoint when he observes that (p. 24):

the reductionist interprets metaphors as cognitive expressions translatable into analogies, similes, or, in general, 'literal' language that meets antecedently accepted standards of significance.

The dual positions outlined by Hausman represent quite well two very common, albeit opposing views on metaphor which merit further commentary. The crux of these antithetical models with regard to metaphorical language lies in the supposed primacy of literal language over figurative speech. The argument that literal language is basic and figurative language secondary or derivative is not novel. Philosophers have long held that literal language is fundamental and the essence of human cognition and expression. For Lakoff (1986:292), this conceptualization of verbal expression means that "the nonliteral is seen ... as dispensable -- a matter of indirectness, exaggeration, embellishment, interpretation, metaphor. The literal is the indispensable sacred rock that forms the bulk of our language and thought."

The reductionist view of language is a thoroughly entrenched notion, and one exemplified and espoused by MacCormac (1985), who rejects the claim that language is largely metaphorical, contrary to current research in cognitive linguistics (e.g., Lakoff and Johnson 1980, Lakoff 1987, Johnson 1987, Langacker 1987). about which we shall say more later.

Reductionism dictates that a core segment of language is literal. According to MacCormac (1985:73), such non-figurative speech is "the use of ordinary language to express concrete objects and events. When we employ ordinary words in their ordinary dictionary senses to describe objects or situations that are publicly perceptible, we are speaking literally." That such an account of literal language is insufficient requires no protracted justification. In fast, the author himself (Mac Cormac 1985:15, 20-21, 49-50, 55-57) on several occasions alludes to the essential circularity of his argumentation.

In an incisive review article of A Cognitive Theory of Metaphor, Danesi (1989:526) extracts the intrinsic point of Mac Cormac's study when he observes that "Mac Cormac's treatment of metaphor is a tour de force in rationalist philosophical analysis." Likewise, in a response to Mac Cormac (1985) concerning literal and figurative language, which everyone engaged in metaphor research would be wise to read, Lakoff (1986:292) enumerates four common understandings of the term "literal" and demonstrates the difficulties encountered when linguists fail to recognize the meaningful differences and the profound theoretical implications of such divergent uses of the term "literal".

The originativist proposal of metaphor, as indicated in the above citation, holds that at least some language is essentially metaphorical. This statement, however, leaves open the question of whether or not all speech is figurative. Turbayne (1970), for example, has argued that all language is metaphorical and that all theories derive from basic, albeit camouflaged metaphors. In this same vein, Goodman (1981:226) observes that "metaphor permeates nearly all discourse". Empirical verification of the pervasive nature of metaphor is evidenced by the statistics evinced by Pollio et al. (1977) who have observed that approximately 3,000 novel metaphors per week are produced.

Because the originativist model is diametrically opposed to the rationalist vision of metaphor, some elaboration of its basic features is in order. Since 1980, when Lakoff and Johnson (1980) first articulated their innovative, if not controversial, model of figurative language as a fundamental and basic element of all language, the way in which we view this form of verbal behaviour has changed radically. Cognitive linguistics, as formulated most completely and clearly by Langacker (1987), presents the theoretical foundation of this branch of linguistic analysis. This linguist notes that the current dominant linguistic paradigm of linguistics is generative grammar, even though originally trained by the first generation of Chomsky's disciples, he rejects many of its rationalistic assumptions (cf. Langacker 1987:5, and passim ). Langacker's groundbreaking work is, of course, a precise and comprehensive theoretical extension of the Saussurean (1959:65 78) notions of sign, signified and signifier.

Linguistic Evolution and Mental Imagism

A decade ago, Lakoff and Johnson (1980:5) observed that "the essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one thing in terms of another (emphasis in original, FN)." Although this assertion is basically correct, such a statement lacks adequate detail and explication. The theoretical details of this proposition would appear in later, separate treatises, all published fortuitously in 1987 by Lakoff, Johnson, and Langacker. The essence of these discussions, which are of fundamental significance for any iconographic application of metaphor, was to demonstrate that the basis of human language was essentially metaphorical and rooted in a bio-psycho-genetic semiological imprinting process. Just such a model has been recently sketched by Danesi (1990) in an essay that constitutes a distillation of what will, hopefully, become a monographic treatment of this important topic. This Vichian model (cf. Bergina and Fisch 1984:116-169) involves an evolutionary model of language development which situates primordial bipeds in an increasingly sophisticated ecological relationship with their environment, and which ultimately resulted in a bio-genetic internalization of this chronologically-sequenced process through an initial visual impact.

In essence pre-literate, pre-linguistic humans interacted with their environment and projected their own corporeal functions and anatomical structures onto the surrounding ambience in a type of sympathetic response. With the passage of time, much of this ecological interaction became internalized, an d ultimately, programmed bio-genetically into human cognition and verbal ability. Most of this pre-verbal activity involved a type of metaphorizing which is likely to have been essential to the development of the language faculty.

The visual channel played an essential role in the development and evolution of primeval language. The acceptance of the primacy of this means of perception as the ancestral source of verbal communication enjoys a long tradition. In his excellent review of the subject, Hewes (1976) enumerates the major precursors of the gesturalists in counterpoint to the vocalists who would espouse a direct "vocal-auditory" function in prehuman antecedents. Nevertheless, this anthropologist offers persuasive evidence for the gestural origin of language, e.g., behaviour of profoundly deaf infants, and certain aspects of hemispheric dominance and hand-gesturing. Likewise, Danesi (1990) further notes the persuasive and cogent testimony of this hypothesis evinced by ubiquitous prehistoric cave illustrations. In this same vein, Hill (1988:20) cites Viberg (1983) who states that in Western languages "the assimilation of knowledge to vision is a 'pervasive trope'. Linguistic evidence for this claim derives from the persistent use of the predicate 'see' to indicate cognition. A chain of historical events (repeated ecological interaction --- imaging --- abstraction --- thought --- verbal language), it seems, played a fundamental role in the development of the linguistic faculty.

Research in the important and emergent field of psychology known as "mental imagery" (Finke 1989) may be seen to have a direct bearing on metaphor research, especially as this subdiscipline relates to the essential iconic component of language development. Imagery plays an essential role in memory, and influences perception. As a result of experimental efforts, this realm of psycholinguistic inquiry has come to verify claims made by cognitive linguists such as Langacker, Johnson, and Lakoff concerning the role of metaphor in epistemology. Finke (1989:2) defines the notion of mental imagery as "the mental invention or recreation of an experience that in at least in some respects resembles the experience of actually perceiving an object or an event, either in conjunction with, or in the absence of, direct sensory stimulation" (emphasis in original, FN). This avenue of research reinforces the originativist view of metaphor sketched by Hausman and noted above by verifying the assertions of linguists and anthropologists concerning the origins of human language and the way in which this faculty must have evolved.

Several mental image researchers (Gibson 1979, Neisser 1976, Shepard 1984) have demonstrated the ecological significance of the laws and principles governing the internalization of mental representations by living organisms (cf. Finke 1989:146-147). This current branch of psycholinguistic research provides contemporary evidence for the likely metaphorical nature of the historical process of the speech development hypothesized above (Danesi 1990, Hewes 1976, Hill 1988, Viberg 1983).

Interactionism and Reference

Black's (1979, 1981:77-78) now familiar interactionist view of metaphor, itself an extension of Richards' (1981 (1936)) essay on this same subject, is the one ultimately selected by Hausman as the basis for his extended notion of metaphor. Acceptance of this conception of metaphor, of course, requires its defense (pp. 41-45) against Searle's (1979) objections. In the second ('A Reconsideration of Interactionism') and third ('Metaphorical Reference') chapters of this book, Hausman's expanded interactionist model is developed by creating a theory of metaphor which "treat(s) metaphors as creative designations of extralinguistic conditions" (p.117). More precisely, in this refinement of the classical interactionist conceptualization of metaphor, Hausman adds a step to the process and "these extralinguistic designations are individuals that provide independent constraints on our system. At the same time, the individuals that are creatively designated are unique" (p. 117). A related appendix (p. 209-231) offers a peripheral comparative note on C.S. Peirce's view of the sign and Black's notion of metaphor.

In his approach to metaphor and art, Hausman identifies three key elements of metaphor (p. 59): "(1) tension, (2) the presence of two 'subjects' or 'anchoring' meaning units (tenor and vehicle in Richards (1981)) and (3) the interrelation of meaning units in an integration of family resemblance that functions like a community." By integration, Hausman means a prowess by which parts are ordered in order to contribute to the whole without losing their individuality (p. 72).

Reference, of course, plays a key role in any theory of metaphor, and Hausman appreciates this aspect of figurative language, especially as it pertains to the nonverbal domain. In fact, this philosopher (Hausman 1989:95) incorporates Boyd's (1979) notion that metaphors "may be reference fixers of something extralinguistic (cf. Kuhn 1979)." Although Boyd applies his model of metaphorical qualities to the scientific enterprise, his essential insight is to recognize that "creative metaphors create new insight by designating new referents" (Hausman 1989:95). Of course, Hausman realizes that his own "realistic" proposal (cf. Verbrugge 1980:87-105) is fraught with the peril of circularity occasioned by a perpetual referring back to systems originally available prior to the introduction of the allegedly creative metaphorizing. The principle of uniqueness in metaphor offers the chance of individuality of referent. At the same time, the extralinguistic condition adds a centre of relevance. In this manner, uniqueness and extralinguisticality are seen to be the basic features of Hausman's revisionistic approach to the extension of this figure of speech into nonverbal domains.

Metaphor and the Nonverbal Arts

The effort to explain how metaphor, traditionally considered a property of the verbal arts, may be applied to the nonverbal arts (visual or auditory) is the author's chief concern. In the fourth chapter ("Metaphorical Interaction and the Verbal Arts"), Hausman specifies the two major problems to be encountered in any effort to bridge the gap between the two. First, he states that "it might be said verbal and nonverbal meanings are intrinsically different"(p.118). Second, any account of such a relationship Is necessarily discursive and hence verbally grounded. In spite of such potentially awesome challenges to an application of this verbal trope to a nonverbal, artistic realm, Hausman marshals a credible analysis in favour of such a possibility.

In order to interconnect these two distinctive creative domains, the author is faced with a decidedly ambitious task. The tack taken by Hausman is to demonstrate that "the function of the components of nonverbal artworks is isomorphic with the interaction found in verbal metaphors (p. 121). As a second stage of his plan, the author must also show that the relationship between the nonverbal arts and the world are similar to those of the verbal metaphor and its proper designation.

To this end, Hausman develops a general theory of art which includes three elementary factors: the work of art, the creator, and the aesthetic observer. In addition, a context is required which both affects and is affected by the three factors just enumerated. These four features recall Jakobson's (1960) description of a "speech event" with its associated six features of sender, receiver, code, context, contact, and message. The work of art, according to Hausman (cf. Ziff 1970), has five overlapping and distinguishing features (p. 127): "(1) a physical object or presence, (2) a perceptual thing, (3) a representation of symbol, (4) a formal-expressive thing, and (5) an aesthetic object." To relate metaphor and the arts, the author establishes sets of correspondences or isomorphisms between the verbal and the nonverbal domains. Aldrich's (1968, 1971) contention that visual metaphors are real is embraced with modification by Hausman.

In related research which examines the mediation of verbal and the nonverbal aspects of metaphor, Franklin surveys the phenomenon of the titling of artworks as an important symbolic gesture (cf. Bann 1985, Fisher 1984, Gombrich 1985, Levinson 1985). Selection of a title constitutes a significant act of naming which may be designed to invoke mental images in the mind of an unseen and unknown audience. This indirect communicative deed is an eidetic interpretive function which predisposes the viewer to imagine what the artist sees, and intends that his or her public will also visualize. In this sense, the denomination of an objet d'art serves as a specific referential function to relate an artistic creation to a particular environment. The titling of art verbalizes the tripartite semiological features of sign, referent, and user and adds a linguistic dimension to artistic invention. In this sense, a title is a lexico-referential bridge for metaphor which mediates the verbal and nonverbal dimensions.

Consequently, Vygotsky's (1972) observations about children's metaphorizing stage of language acquisition are particularly relevant to the act of labelling a work of art. Vygotsky (1971:298) states that "the primary word is not a straightforward symbol for concept but rather an image, a picture, a mental sketch of a short concept, a short tale about it -- indeed a work of art." Franklin (1988:169), who employs Black's (1979) interactionist approach to metaphor, states that "much titling is akin to metaphorizing: when the meanings of language are brought to bear on a nonlinguistic aesthetic object, some bridging of domains necessarily occurs." Thus, in some cases at least, titling of artistic works amounts to an act of metaphorizing which is a meaningful and transformative function and constitutes a kind of Jakobsonian (1960) "speech event".

Up to this point, discussion has centred on metaphor and the representational arts. It should be noted that Hausman also relates this rhetorical figure to music. To be sure, this facet of his study seems to receive less discussion than does representational art (pp. 155-157, 169-180). On every important difference in the application of an interactionist model of metaphor to the musical arts merits consideration -- the temporal element. Whereas art may be consumed globally, music requires a sequential or chronological evolution for its appreciation. Nevertheless, the basic meaning units of music may be isomorphic with metaphor.

In his penultimate chapter ("Metaphorical Reference and the Arts"), Hausman continues to grapple with the crucial issue of reference in establishing an isomorphism between metaphor in the verbal and nonverbal arts. The notion that fine arts and music refer to something has long been assumed, though the issue has only begun to receive the attention it deserves. Along these lines, Hausman (1989:161) states that "a work of art, as a nonverbal metaphor, refers to something that is creatively designated or fixed by the work." In an invocation of Peirce, the author argues that all signs, and hence creative art, have some indexical function. The latter theme is discussed in greater detail in an Appendix subtitled ("Metaphorical Reference and Peirce's Dynamical Object").

Aware that his sketch of metaphor and the nonverbal arts is based on a realism that presumes a latent ontology, Hausman devotes his final chapter to ("An Outline of an Ontology Evolved from Metaphor"). In what he labels an "adumbrated ontology" (p. 208), the author describes the world as

manifesting its evolution in a metaphorical interaction and reference that i8 verbal, nonverbal, and extra-conceptual. This is to say that evolution of the world as well as evolution in thought and language is the outcome of metaphorical interaction that is adequate and effective because It is referential.
This essentially Vichian perspective on metaphor is one which will, no doubt, be controversial in those circles in which a humanistic perspective on language and its relation to the arts continues to be objectionable. Nevertheless, current research in the cognitive sciences (Lakoff 1987, Langacker 1987, Johnson 1987) supports, in part, such a philosophical claim. It is to be hoped that Hausman will amplify his tantalizing proposals of his incomplete ontology in future essays.

Concluding Remarks

Semiotics enjoys a unique status as an exemplar of interdisciplinary investigation. While much lip service is paid to the value, indeed the necessity of interdisciplinary scholarship in an increasingly complex world, effort such as those as the present work by Hausman demonstrate the insights to be gained by marshalling a variety of disciplines in the analysis of the metaphorical aspects of the arts and music. Since the latter are, in fast, not uni-dimensional structures but rather, the fine and performing arts operate in an interwoven and patterned context of culture, creativity, and innovation. Although the true work of art will ever elude total analytical dissection of its uniqueness into clearly identifiable components, studies such as Metaphor and Art will certainly aid in the achievement of a plausible interdisciplinary aesthetics.

Hausman informs the reader on several occasions that the effort to apply an essentially verbal trait, metaphor, to nonverbal domains is no easy task. To do so requires the development of isomorphisms between these two creative domains. In this regard, Hausman manages to show an equivalence in the two areas by invoking the semiotic concepts of sign, stand-for relationship, and referent (Sless 1986:5). This study represents a well-developed example of interdisciplinary research which serves as a model for the study of metaphorical communication and cognition through nonverbal means. Scholars in philosophy, the fine and performing arts, semiotics, and cognitive linguistics will find this work informative and rewarding.

Somewhat distracting was the inconsistency and often incompleteness of Hausman's bibliographic referencing. This difficulty, coupled with the lack of a complete listing of references at the end of the work would certainly render problematic the task of tracking down related research for the scholar interested in additional information.


Aldrich, Virgil (1988) "Visual metaphor", Journal of Aesthetic Education 2:73-87.

Aldrich, Virgil (1971) "Form in the visual arts." British Journal of Aesthetics 11:215-226.

Bann, S. (1985) "The mythical conception is the name: titles and names in modern and post-modern painting." Word and Image 1:176-190.

Beardsley, Monroe (1971) "Metaphor." In the Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 5, Edwards, Paul (ed.). New York: MacMillan, 284-289.

Bergin, Thomas G., and Fisch, Max H. (1984) The New Science of Giambattista Vico. 2nd ed. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Black, Max (1979) "More about metaphor." In Metaphor and Thought. Orton. Andrew (ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge

Black, Max (1981(1955)) "Metaphor." In Philosophical Perspectives on Metaphor. Johnson, Mark (ed.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press: 63-82.

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Boyd, Richard (1979) "Metaphor and theory change: what is 'metaphor' a metaphor for?" In Metaphor and Thought Ortony, Andrew (ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 356-408.

Danesi, Marcel (1989) "The role of metaphor in cognition." Semiotica 77:521-531.

Danesi, Marcel (1990) "Giambattista Vico and semiotics." In The Semiotic Web. Sebeok, T.A. (ed.). Berlin Mouton de Gruyter, in press.

Davis, Sara N. (1988) "A reader's structuring of symbolic content." Metaphor and Symbolic Activity 3:147-156.

Doyle, Charlotte (1988) "Living and knowing in an imaginary world: a discussion of the articles by Wallase, Davis and Franklin" Metaphor and Symbolic Activity 3:175-182.

Finke,Ronald A. (1989) Principles of Mental Imagery. Cambridge M:MIT Press.

Fisher J. (1984) "Entitling." Critical Inquiry 11:286-298.

Franklin, Margery (1988) "'Museum of the mind': an inquiry into the titling of artworks." Metaphor and Symbolic Activity 3:157-174.

Gibson, James J. (1979) The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Gombrich, E. (1985) "Image and word in twentieth-century art." Word and Image 1:213-241.

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Johnson, Mark (1987) The Body in the Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kuhn, Thomas S. (1979) "Metaphor in science." In Metaphor and Thought. Ortony, Andrew (ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 409-419.

Lakoff, George (1986) "The meanings of literal." Metaphor and Symbolic Activity 1:291-286.

--- (1987) Woman, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About The Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, George and Johnson, Mark (1980) Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Langacker, Ronald W. (1987) Foundations of Cognitive Grammar. Volume I. Theoretical Prerequisites. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Levinson, J. (1985) "Titles." Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 44:29-40.

Mac Cormac, Earl R. (1985) A Cognitive Theory of Metaphor. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Mooij, J.J.A. (1976) A Study of Metaphor, on the Nature of Metaphorical Expressions, with Special References to Their Reference. Amsterdam: North-Holland.

Neisser, Ulric (1976) Cognition and Reality. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman.

Noppen, J.P. van, DeKnop S., & Jongen, R. (compilers) (1985) Metaphor: A Bibliography of Post-1970 Publications. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Pollio, H., Barlow, J., Fine, H., and Pollio, M. (1977) The Poetics of Growth: Figurative Language in Psychology. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Richards, I.A. (1981 (1936)) "The philosophy of rhetoric. Lecture V: Metaphor." In Philosophical Perspectives on Metaphor. Johnson, Mark (ed.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press: 48-62.

Ricoeur, Paul (1975) The rule of metaphor: multidisciplinary studies of the creation of meaning in language. Trans. by Czerny, Robert with McLaughlin, Kathleen and Costello, John, S. J. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Searle, John (1979) "Metaphor." In Metaphor and Thought. Ortony, Andrew (ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 92-123.

Shepard, Roger N. (1984) "Ecological constraints on internal representation: resonant kinematics of perceiving, imagining, thinking, and dreaming." Psychological Review 91:417-447.

Shibles, W. (1971) Metaphor: An annotated Bibliography and History. Whitewater WI:Language Press.

Sless, David (1986) In Search of Semiotics. Totowa, NJ: Barnes and Noble Books.

Turbayne, Colin (1970) The Myth of Metaphor. rev. ed. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.

Verbrugge, Robert R. (1980) "Transformations in knowing: a realist view of metaphor." In Cognition and Figurative Language. Honeck, R. P., and Hoffman, R. R. (eds.). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum and Associates, 87-125.

Viberg, A. (1983) "The verbs of perception: a typological study." Linguistics 21:123-162.

Vygotsky, Lev S. (1972) "An experimental study in concept formation." In Language and Thinking. Adams, P. (ed.). Harmondsworth: Penguin: 277-305.

Wallace, Doris B. (1988) "Secret gardens and other symbols of gender in literature." Metaphor and Symbolic Activity 3:135-146.

Ziff, Paul (1970) "Art and the 'object of art'." In Aesthetics and Language. Elton, William (ed.). Oxford, England: Blackwell: 170-186.

Frank Nuessel is professor of Linguistics and Spanish at the University of Louisville (KY, U.S.A.). His scholarly activity includes research in metaphor, Hispanic linguistics, second language education, the language of prejudice the fine arts and discrimination, and Esperantic studies.

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