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The Many Lives of Metaphor

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Organizer: Tom Eyers

Co-Organizer: Thomas Ball

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For all the talk of a revival of formalism in literary studies, it is still rare to find contemporary, theoretically sophisticated criticism that engages in depth with a particular literary device in all of its ramifications. Much of the debate around ‘form’ has remained at an analytical remove from particular forms themselves, preferring instead to renew various abstractions (network, hierarchy, rhythm, and so on) that evade as often as they engage the question of how distinct devices produce distinct effects. In opposition to this trend, this seminar will investigate that most widely mentioned but stubbornly enigmatic of rhetorical phenomena, metaphor, while thinking seriously about the device’s relations – as continuous or disjunctive as they may be – with science, history, politics, time, nature, gender, race, and any number of other variables.
While welcoming a plurality of approaches to the problem of metaphor, we are especially concerned with the ways in which literary metaphors may covertly support or even enable ostensibly non-figural modes of discourse. What, in other words, is the role of figural language, with metaphor its star player, in domains – scientific, philosophical, ecological – whose claims to objectivity often involve the expunging of metaphorical trappings? This theme may be posed more generally as a concern for the ways in which non-conceptual and conceptual, literary and extra-literary, forms of knowledge cross-pollinate, cancel one another, or, conversely, establish each other’s constitutive grounds.
Any reinvestigation of the many lives of metaphor will also need to address, even if only implicitly, the still fraught question of ‘close reading’. What kind of reading does metaphor call forth, and is ‘close reading’ still sufficient as a catch-all descriptor? Participants are invited to mull alternative attempts to theorize the various modes of reading that metaphor may induce, from D.A. Miller’s suggestive ‘too-close reading’, to bleeding-edge computational practices of information retrieval and analysis.

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