Mediatiion Of Central Metaphors In Narrative Discourse
To set out from the logical starting-point would require a foregrounding of the employed definition of the narrative from among all the various and discrepant definitions suggested for it. As H. Porter Abbot points out, the number of the events or actions and the necessity of a narrator are points of deviation. In that, some scholars raise the essentiality of the presence of at least two events or actions related causally for there to be a narrative. Furthermore, there is this camp of scholars who highlight the role of the narrator(s) as the inextricably constructive constituent(s) of the narrative. To use his quotation of Gerald Prince, “[A] dramatic performance representing (many fascinating) events does not constitute a narrative” and that is due to the lack of a narrator (12-13).
From the point of view of another camp of scholars including Abbot, which is also employed in this paper, one action or event would suffice to have a narrative and that a narrator is only one of the instruments involved in the narrative process (13). The sufficiency of one event or action does not exclude the possibility of having more of them. On the contrary, it allows for a general concept generative of more complex versions. Not surprisingly, the capability of a group of events to be summed up into one narrative which would unfold underpins the fact that one event or action is sufficient. Sound-bites inserted in film previews or citations in advertisements which mostly reveal an impregnated event to be unfolded are indicative of this fact.
The illustration of the narrator not as the indispensable constituent of the narrative can be best accounted for if we take some pieces of static arts such as painting – although some caricatures or comic strips use speech or comment balloons – or lyric poetry into consideration. Their engagement with narrative can be readily perceived through their potential to trigger narratives in the mind of the perceiver. For example, Rene Magritte’s painting The Fall has a great potential for arousing the narrative perception – the tendency to know not only what is there, but what happened – by triggering in the mind of the perceiver such allusions as to the myth of the Fall of Man and or inter-textually to the recurrent image of the man in hat dressed up in a suit in his other paintings, and also such questions as “Where do they fall down from?” or “Why do they fall dressed-up?”.
Every narrative – static cases included – comprises “story” and “narrative discourse”. N. J. Lowe recognizes the distinction made by Aristotle between story and its narrative presentation (7). It can be briefly proposed that “story is an event or sequence of events (the action), and narrative discourse is those events as represented” (Abbot 16). This differentiation between story and narrative discourse – how the story is conveyed – is very important in that the term story is most of the time used casually to refer to the narrative and to include the narrative discourse, too. However, the recognition of the distinctive narrative discourse contributes much to the identification of the mediating participants in the narration process which are otherwise ignored.
To approach the case from a more general point of view – because some examples of arts other than literature have already been included – that covers arts in general, Aristotle’s triple differentiae for the typology of arts in his Poetics as paraphrased by Lowe is sure appropriate: “What the things are, what the images are made of, and – a third criterion for the special case of narrative – how the image is created” (8). To consider this third criterion, in filmic representation, for example, the image is created by actors, scene, director, lighting, camera angle, etc. That is, a story is quiet dependent on the way it is represented, or more specifically, the way it is constructed.
A story cannot ever be seen or accessed in isolation from its representation; for one thing, it is existent and viable through the narrative discourse. It is always mediated by some other elements such as writing style, point of view, character’s interpretations, etc. One of the legible reasons suggested to justify this statement is that “they [stories] can be adapted” (Abbot 18). We can recognize the adaptation of a novel as a film or the reproduction of an exemplum as a beast fable, and identify a painting with a certain event. Moreover, we can identify the same story in a parody or a historical event in a poem. Even more interestingly, we can distinguish a full-fledged narrative as the expansion and foregrounding of a minor narrative out of a novel, which is the case with Jane Eyre and Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea.
It is not only the story which is mediated. To make a daring generalization, all experience is mediated. Providing an imaginary situation might help concretize this point: suppose that you are a guest at some friends’ house whose television is on while you are having a conversation; the volume is, nevertheless, so low it makes no interruptions. Expectedly, you have the feeling that your hosts are not so interested in your conversation as to switch the television set off. Vexed with this event, after some days, you come across this aphoristic statement that “television is the modern hearth-fire.” You realize that extinguishing the fire in the fireplace for the mere reason of a conversation going on nearby is irrelevant. This experience is thus mediated and constructed in a different way.
As mentioned earlier, one of the ways in which a story is mediated is the writing style. For the sake of manageability, only metaphor is approached concerning the figurative style of writing. The classification of metaphor as the figurative use of language, which might imply that it is simply a deviation or departure from the literal or the standard, however, is challenged. I. A. Richards claims in his The Philosophy of Rhetoric that metaphor permeates all language and affects the ways we perceive and conceive the world (qtd. in Abrams 156). In like manner, yet from another approach, Donald Davidson brings metaphor from a position of deviation to a literal plane of language. He argues that metaphors are the meanings of the words as such. This paper, however, strives to maintain an eclectic view of metaphor.
At the face value, metaphor is a system which allows us to say in a variety of ways that “this” is another “that”; that is, to understand one thing is terms of another. As Lakoff and Johnson argue, “the essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another” (qtd. in Chandler 127). “Television is the modern hearth-fire,” for instance, is a metaphor in that we imply that television = modern hearth-fire. Obviously, this metaphor mediates the experience or concept of “television” by suggesting a relation to “hearth-fire”. It can be regarded as a means of rendering the unfamiliar, cognitively speaking as well as concretely, more familiar. Whenever equation marks are used or inferred, there are surely some conventions at work without which, the equation cannot make sense. For instance, we can understand a structurally interrogative utterance, “Can you give me a hand?” as a polite form of request; this is understood by the users of a language as H. P. Grice says through, among other factors, linguistic and cultural conventions ( Abrams 67). In like manner, returning to metaphor, our understanding of metaphor is enabled through some codes and conventions.
These codes, rhetorical codes, refer to “how” things (events) are represented (Chandler 124). This semiotic proposition fits well with the definition of the narrative discourse mentioned above. That supports the significance of figures of speech in narrative as playing a prominent role in mediating the story. To understand a metaphor at the level of its constituents, a resort to Saussurean linguistics might be clarifying.
In his revolutionary model, Saussure suggests that language is a signifying system, and that any signifying system is constructed of signs whose dyadic nature and the internal vertical alignment accounts for the signification. A sign consists of two interdependent parts, namely the “signifier” and the “signified”. Although Saussure himself insisted that both the signifier and the signified are purely psychological and neither is substance (18), eventually, linguists came to assign a more materialistic nature to the signifier making it the material form of the sign; that is, something that can be seen, touched, smelled, heard or tasted. On the other hand, signified maintains its classical definition as the concept to which the sign refers. For instance, bed as a sound pattern (the signifier) refers to a psychological concept as bed (the signified).
Saussure also elaborated on the way in which the signifier and the signified are related. He argues that the arbitrariness of sign is the utmost principle in it (26). Saussurean semioticians believe that there exists no intrinsic, direct or inevitable relationship between the signified and the signifier. The arbitrariness of this relationship means that the connection between the signifier and the concept to which it refers – between the sound pattern and the concept – is not transparent or natural. A certain sound pattern may refer to any concept as well as the concept to which it refers. For example, there is nothing “treeish” about the sound pattern of the word tree. They, of course, avoid alluding to any reference between the sign and an object in the outside world, and it should not be implied that being “treeish” means having similarities to the plant which is called tree. This principle of arbitrariness explains the possibility of interpretation. The fact that one signifier can refer to many signifieds (as in puns) or that one signified can be referred to by many signifiers (as in synonyms), is because the relation between these two constituents is not fixed.
Apart from the relationship between the signified and the signifier, there is a relationship between the signifieds and the signfiers of different signs. Thus, two amorphous and featureless planes are created. Louis Hjelmslev refers to the plane of signifiers as the plane of expression and that of the signifieds as the content. The arbitrary principles apply to these planes too. Some coding processes such as condensation and displacement which are at work in representation account for this arbitrariness.
He later modified his stance to include degrees of arbitrariness. What makes arbitrariness relative is the fact that some signs – to use his terminology – are “motivated”. For instance, compound nouns are motivated for they are to some extent determined by the real object. The word “screwdriver” refers to an object in the real world and is determined by the function of that object. Onomatopoeic words follow the same course and are motivated by the sounds present in the nature. However, none of them is exactly identical with the referent.
One more point needs be elaborated upon and that is the referent of the sign: if the definition of the signified is the concept to which the sign refers, then any referent in the existing world is excluded. The rationale behind it might be, as Sussane Langer represents, that in talking about things, we have the conception of them not the things themselves (19). For instance, upon hearing the word “Edison”, we do not stand up in homage to the inventor of the electricity. This counter-argument can be brought forth that in some certain cultures, contexts or discourses the sign is treated as the object or referent itself. In Islamic culture, in certain contexts, the utterance of the name of certain religious people entails certain reactions – either bodily, such as standing up to do homage to the referent, or oral citations – as if the referent was present. The history of the Jewish word “Yahweh” referring to God, is also worth mentioning. This word was at some time written in consonants only “YHWH”– a word to be, ironically, written and not read. To answer this counter-argument, the metaphor should preliminarily be approached as a sign.
Metaphor is made up of the combination of two signifieds from different signs to make a new sign. In other words, two elements from the plane of expression relate to each other one of which stands as the signifier. This fact leads to the generalization that, as Roland Barthes declares, “Humanity seems doomed to analogy” (125). That is, the moment a form is perceived, it is examined to resemble something else. This tendency to use figures and tropes reflects that our understanding of reality is relational. This substitution of signifieds and signifiers in producing a new sign defers from one trope to another and in terms of a metaphor, this substitution is based on unrelatedness. There is no resemblance between the two signifieds. In terms of literature, metaphor is a primary subject (tenor) in terms of a secondary subject (vehicle). In “Television is the modern hearth-fire”, television is the tenor which is understood in terms of hearth-fire which is the vehicle. If a metaphor is meant to be understood, it needs put an abstraction or unfamiliar object in terms of a well defined model.
Metaphors can take place in different media such as visual media. In filmic representation, the juxtaposing of two shots can create a metaphor. In advertisement, for instance, if a shot of fresh flowers are followed by a shot showing a deodorant, we understand that we will smell fresh as flowers with this product. Thus, the feature of flower is superimposed on the deodorant although there is no access to the real smell. It works in this way: a signifier – flower – is related to a concept – aromatic – by the virtue of its physical features; another signified – deodorant – refers to the same concept by showing the two images in sequence. It is as if two signifiers refer to the same signified as it is in the case of synonyms. This can be called visual metaphor in comparison to the verbal one.
So far, the importance of mediation in narrative discourse, the significance of tropes and figures of speech – in particular, metaphor – in this mediation, and the way metaphors work in terms of semiotics and literature have been introduced. Based on this information and with regard to the identification of visual metaphor, the logical course would be to declare a centrality for the metaphor in narrative. Redekop declares that narratives are always framed by some sort of central metaphor (4). As was already noted, metaphors play a prominent role in the shaping of reality by their mediation. Reality, however, can never fit the scope of this paper, but metaphors are significant in the shaping of narrative. What Saussure says about the immateriality if sign contributes to the concept of the transparency of a medium. When a medium – narrative discourse, for example – is frequently and fluently used, its reference to itself decreases and the awareness of it slides beneath the content or the message.
As for metaphor, which has an important role in narrative discourse, a central metaphor can make certain images related to it gain a degree of transparency – or conversely –and thus, act upon the course of the narration. For, the transparency makes the mediation capable of transformation and, as Chandler declares, “May modify our ends” (4). For example, the rhetorical question that begins Jeanette Winterson’s novel Written on the Body, “Why is the measure of love loss?” and its recurrence at crucial points (39) creates a central metaphor: “Loss is a measure.” In another sentence, “What you value reveals what you risk” (81) value assignment is introduced in terms of risk taking – which is more concrete. These two central metaphors can be held as contributing to the course of narration that leads to the protagonist’s abandonment of her lover (the risk of the eternal loss which is considered as measure) for the sake of her goodness and well-being (value assignment).
As the main concern of this paper is the novel Wide Sargasso Sea (WSS), the concept of metaphor can be distinguished from two aspects, namely those of inter-textuality and visual metaphor. As it was mentioned earlier, signs (words casually) are about object as their referents and not the objects as such. The identification of Bertha Mason in WSS with the Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre is metaphor in that there is a conventional relationship between the two. We understand and identify Rhys’ Bertha Mason in relation to Charlotte Bronte’s Bertha Mason. This relation, however, is not totally arbitrary, but motivated with resemblances to features of the latter. The system, to repeat the earlier definition, that allows us to say this is that, is metaphor (or figurative language in general). Thus, the way we see Bertha Mason in WSS (provided that the earlier text is read), is highly influenced by the context which is created in Jane Eyre by the relationships among the signs. Moreover, it affects the ways in which Rhys demonstrates Bertha. Consequently, this metaphor mediates the narrative discourse of WSS and, obviously, not only modifies, but determines the end.
More explicitly, visual metaphors can also be distinguished in WSS as central to the narrative discourse and as a result, the story. In discussing visual metaphors, the concept of transference is of paramount importance which is the carrying certain qualities from one sign over to another. While these signs need not be in the same clause, they typically happen in adjoining stretches of language. A visual metaphor which seems central in WSS is depicted in two clauses: “I [Bertha] let the dress fall on the floor, and looked from the fire to the dress and from the dress to the fire” (121). This sequence of looking from one object to the other, which equals the camera movement in filmic terms, transfers the qualities of these objects to each other.
In figurative language, and in particular, metaphor, the combination of two signifieds produces a new sign. In the case of the above mentioned visual metaphor, there is a symbol in place of the primary subject (tenor). Symbols or symbolic mode, as Chandler paraphrases Charles Pierce, “is a mode in which signifier does not resemble the signified but which is fundamentally arbitrary or purely conventional – so that the relationship must be learned” (Chandler 36-37). As for the case of the red dress in WSS, this mode must be taken into consideration. The red dress is closely related to the concept of identity. For instance, after the drastic visit paid by Richard to Bertha and her recovery from the short-term oblivion, she recalls (129):
I remember now that he did not recognize me. I saw him look at me and his eyes went first to
one corner and then to another, not finding what they expected. He looked at me and spoke to
me as though I were a stranger. What do you do when something happens to you like that?
Why are you laughing at me? ‘Have you hidden my red dress too? If I had been wearing that
he’d have known me?’
As it is clear, the red dress is closely identical with the concept of identity. This symbolic reference, however, is understood not in terms of any intrinsic resemblance or connection but constructed throughout the narrative by being motivated using the context. The vehicle of this visual metaphor is fire to which, the red dress’s value of identity is transferred.
This case of visual metaphor controls one of the narratives in WSS which can be summarized in this sentence: “Bertha puts the house on fire.” What leads Bertha to this end is the central metaphor which fosters the idea of the possibility to redeeming the identity through the accessible means of fire. Identifying the central metaphor makes the prediction of the course of the narrative possible to a certain degree. It, however, misses out on the details of the events and the sequence of them – story.
To conclude, if it is admitted that the rendering of reality is done by figures of speech which play a paramount role in the narrative discourse, then the identification of central metaphors or tropes in general, help the understanding of the ways in which certain codings are at work and the ways in which mediation can transform the end as well as communicate the message, if any.
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