Artists Picturing The World Is Important

by Mark Staff Brandl

But what feature will the speculative discourse on being answer to the paradox of the copula, to the apophantic is/is not? Paul Ricoeur1
To state “that is” — such is the moment of belief, of ontological commitment, which gives affirmation its “illocutionary” force. There is no better testimony to this affirmative vehemence than the poetic experience. Along one of its dimensions, at least, this experience expresses the ecstatic moment of language — language going beyond itself. It seems, accordingly, to attest that discourse prefers to obliterate itself, to die, at the confines of the being-said. Paul Ricoeur2

A theory is a picture of the world, one way to think about reality, a suggested method for seeing experience in that way. It suggests both is and is not, and even, I assert, should be and should not be. Artists can picture life particularly well, thus being implicitly theorists. Small changes in the pictures with which we think, in our metaphor base, the stuff of the creative arts, have major importance. The operations of extending, elaborating, composing and, most of all, questioning may seem slight tools, yet they can build impressive edifices of understanding. Metaphor theory in general and my metaphor(m) idea in particular point out some of the instantiations of this drive. Trope-as-reasoning links theorization and creativity to everyday thought on the one hand, and to revelatory ideation on the other.

 An enclosed quotation is enlightening here. This is Bloom citing Emerson, adding framing comments which are equally important.

Emerson is totally Vichian when he identifies rhetoric and reality, in his late essay “Poetry and Imagination”:

For the value of a trope is that the hearer is one: and indeed Nature itself is a vast trope, and all particular natures are tropes. As the bird alights on the bough, then plunges into the air again, so the thoughts of God pause but for a moment in any form. All thinking is analogizing, and it is the use of life to learn metonymy.

What Emerson is not saying is that we are in the dungeon of language. Lacan asserts that “it is the world of words that creates the world of things,” and Jakobson, less figuratively, allows himself to insist that the poetry of grammar produces the grammar of poetry. Emerson, like all central poets, knows that the grammar of poetry produces the grammar of poetry, since poetry is a discursive and not a linguistic mode. Holmes remarked that “Emerson was eminently sane for an idealist,” and such sanity is eminently useful now in current discussions of the arts of interpretation. Harold Bloom (citing R. W. Emerson)3

Equally resonant is Bloom’s typical lack of footnoting. He sees interpoetical, as opposed to intertextual, metaleptical analogizing as part and parcel of his own thoughts. Borrowed metaphors are reformed by the glass of one’s own fashion, thus becoming one’s own. He is scholar enough to name the people from whom he has borrowed, but artist enough to see no reason to make a specific roadmap to an idea’s “first” expression. This can be academically frustrating, yet yields an (I believe unconscious) unity of form and content — thus it is Bloom’s own metaphor(m). It assumes the visual, graphic presence of a double indentation when quoted by me, highlighting this trait.

The aim of my PhD dissertation and most of my “theorizing” has been to delve into how the process of art-making produces the “grammar” of art through embodiment in the stuff of lived reality, seeing art as a corporeal, dialogical mode. Again, trope-as-reasoning links theorization and creativity to everyday thought on the one hand, and to revelatory ideation on the other.

  • This article is based on the Conclusion chapter of my dissertation.
  1. Paul Ricoeur, The Rule of Metaphor: Multidisciplinary Studies of The Creation of Meaning in Language, trans. Robert Czerny (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977; paperback 1993), p. 306.
  2. Ibid., p. 249. Ricoeur’s italics.
  3. Harold Bloom, A Map of Misreading (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975; Oxford University Press Paperbacks, 1980), p. 68.
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