Poetry by Henry Marsh – Other work



A Study of the Modes of Imagination
Ph.D thesis, University of Glasgow, 1999

Chapter Headings:
Identification and Imagination
The possibility of Imaginative Synthesis
Paradigms : Entrapment or Freedom
Token Symbolism and Vitiation
Identity and the Manufacture of Meaning
Nature and Imagination
Imagination and Beauty
Monochromatic and Imaginative Readings
Metaphor, Symbolism and Individuation

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Chapter Nine

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In listening or reading we are engaged in a range of modes of relation.  The mediation effected through metaphor in the process of imagining supposes both a semantic context and a projective reference whose power of depiction is manifest in an holistic structure.  On the other hand, the explicative power of the discursive is confined to a cumulative series of signs and referents.  Critical discourse tacitly assumes that its characteristic discursive relation is the paradigm case of understanding.  However, its structures of interpretation must be beside the point, establish a sort of critical idealism – in the sense of an exalting exaggeration – unless their role as elements in the dialectic of imagining is understood.  This chapter explores some of the epistemological issues inherent in the different modes of relation.

In Howard’s End, E.M. Forster presents a spectrum of responses in describing how his characters respond to music:
It will be generally admitted that Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is the most sublime noise that has ever penetrated into the ear of man.  All sorts and conditions are satisfied by it.  Whether you are like Mrs Munt, and tap surreptitiously when the tunes come […] or like Helen, who can see heroes and shipwrecks in the music’s flood; or like Margaret, who can only see the music; or like Tibby, who is profoundly versed in counterpoint, and who holds the full score open on his knee; or like their cousin, Fräulein Mosebach, who remembers all the time that Beethoven is ‘echt Deutsch’; or like Fräulein Mosebach’s young man, who can remember nothing but Fräulein Mosebach: in any case, the passion of your life becomes more vivid, and you are bound to admit that such a noise is cheap at two shillings.
    These responses are exaggerated in some cases for the purpose of satire but taken together they could stand for a rough and ready exposition of the experience of a single listener in the course of a concert.  Helen’s response is indicative of appropriation through fantasy, nevertheless, at some level, mediation through the music is presupposed, if manifest, predominantly, in affective terms.  Tibby is trapped in the discursive – mediation is presupposed here too but at the level of the cognitive though there must be some motivating value.  The most interesting case is that of Meg who can only ‘see’ the music. Why should Forster employ synaesthesia to reach for an account of her experience?
    It is as if Forster were distinguishing between the kind of transaction that Meg makes compared to those of the others who ‘see’ in the music what they bring to it – the music as mirror.  Much then depends upon the ‘only’, which suggests that she ‘sees’ the music in and for itself.  But what does that involve?  It is as if Forster assumed that if Meg were described as simply ‘hearing’ the music we would drift over the transaction assuming we knew what it meant – that is, we would assimilate through identification.  That would, ironically, engage the same relation in the reader as is satirised in most of the other characters in their responses to Beethoven.  Does metaphor, then, in some way, give us privileged access?
    So far we have understood metaphor to be a structural analogue which effects a mediation with the world and with the capacity to render experience from redundancy.  Paul Ricoeur locates its imaginative power both at the referential and semantic levels:
The creative moment of metaphor is concentrated on this grasping of resemblance, in the perception of analogies. […] We now see a similarity that nobody had ever noticed before.  The difficulty […] is to understand that we see similarity by construing it, that the visionary grasping of resemblance is, at the same time, a verbal invention.  The iconic element has therefore to be included in the predicative process itself.
    […] a novel metaphor does not merely actualize a potential connotation, it creates it.  It is a semantic innovation, an emergent meaning.
    In effect, he endorses here the prescriptive power of language.  Additionally, in our terms, it is as if there is redundancy within language itself: ‘when we speak, only a part of the semantic field of a word is used.’ (p.73)  It is through exploiting the redundancy in language that redundancy in the world rendered:
It is the very experience of making that yields that of discovering.  And discovering is to confront the opacity of the world.  The world is included – excluded as the horizon of each intentional aiming.
    It is through ‘intentional aiming’ that double prescription is engaged, and through such prescriptions that redundancy is inscaped – structured – and thereby charged with meaning.  The phenomenon of double prescription was first described in terms of visual experience.  It can be seen that the framing intention that limits and thereby structures visual experience is replicated in the process of selection and simultaneous foredrawing implicit in metaphor. But whether such innovation supposes the priority, as it were, of the semanticor the world proves to be an issue that involves closer examination of the nature of symbolic mediation – it is, after all, the intention of, say, Wordsworth or Hopkins or Cézanne to render the world.
    In so far as a text or conversation is intelligible at all, symbolic mediation has occurred. Mediation involves a simultaneous dual transaction.  The consideration of a single noun – ‘sparrow’ – distorts the issues in that the noun appears to depend for its meaning exclusively on a single transaction, its reference, suggesting, fundamentally, the priority of ostensive definition.  On the other hand, its meaning – its use in the language – presupposes that the sign takes its place – becomes a symbol – as a constituent in a complex matrix of concepts – ‘bird’, ‘flight’, for example.  The sign becomes a symbol in the context of a language game.
[…] words function as meaningful entities only within the framework of the sentence.
    Of course, words are based on lexical entities which are undoubtedly semiotic things.  But a lexical entity is not yet a word.  It is only the possibility of a word.
Even a single noun is intelligible only at the nexus of a dual transaction – a reference and a semantic context.
    Put in another way, ‘sparrow’ remains generic – a sign, not yet a symbol until made specific through predication: it follows, that the reference presupposes a semantic context.  Making something specific presupposes an already complex, intelligible structure.  Hywel Thomas observes:
[…] logicians (post-Frege) have accepted that it is only in the context of a proposition (i.e. the representation of a situation or state of affairs) that a name succeeds in acquiring a reference; that is, that an arbitrary sound becomes, or can be construed as a name.
    Our early education predisposes us to assume that somehow dictionaries are repositories of meaning but in learning a foreign language we discover that they are never quite enough – meaning is a function of how the word is used.  The predications that constitute Hopkins’s inscape render specific characteristics of the world that have remained redundant, previously undisclosed, or have been obscured by familiarity.  In this is revealed the link between inscape and individuation: Hopkins, in exploring the resources of language through metaphor, simultaneously effects a definition or redefinition of some aspect of the world.  Individuation and inscape are logically related.
    In the analogical context, the referential power of language is not a function of single, ostensive definitions but depends on internal relations between semantic configurations and states of affairs in the world – that is what symbolic mediation means.  Reference is a product of successful mediation.  Only a symbol – presupposing a semantic context – can function as a component in a series of internal relations.
    Earlier, in discussing issues concerning the Romantic imagination, I suggested that for something to function as a symbol involves a sense of purposiveness engaged by an holistic apprehension of a complex structure.  It seems that a linguistic symbol becomes so only in fulfilling a purposive role in a semantic context.
    If reference supposes successful mediation the issue resolves into the consideration of the fit between analogue and world – mediation becomes a function of the projective efficacy of symbolic structures.  As we have already noted, (Chapter 4) Wittgenstein refers to ‘the law of projection’ in his discussion of the relation of the ‘symphony’ to ‘the language of musical notation.’
6  Ricoeur comments:
It is a fact that no articulate theory of imagination is available which does justice to the basic distinction between image as fiction and image as copy.  Stubborn prejudices tend to identify the notion of image with that of replica of a given reality.
The image asreplica supposes the priority of what might be called literal reference:
[…] if you treat fiction as a complex image you may refer your elementary images one by one to corresponding entities in the world.  But you have only displaced the difficulty.  It’s the new combination which has no reference in a previous original to which the image would be a copy. (p.120)
It is the consideration of the projective reference of the symbolic structure presupposed in internal relations that resolves Ricoeur’s problem.  The assertion of the priority of image as replica – with its insistence on piecemeal, literal reference – is, effectively, a reversal of logical priorities: specific reference presupposes projective reference.  Mere replication denies the prescriptive power of the mediating structure.  The potentiality for creativity lies in the complexity of the structure that seeks to effect mediation; that complexity allows for the shifting of emphasis and focus that renders hidden redundancy.  Internal relations underpin projective reference; creativity within the analogical structure depends upon the development of constituent relations. But there is a simultaneous, dual transaction which finally denies priority either to language or to the world – the analogue is constitutive of experience and that disclosure with its double prescription is the paradigm case of imaginative transactions.  At that moment, to see and to discover and to value are one and the same.  Herein lies the conceptual basis for imaginative synthesis, the reconciliation of head and heart.
    Seeing things ‘as if’ supposes an internal relation.  The image then shares with that which is represented, an aspect of its constituent form.  Projective reference marries an aspect of the necessarily complex form of the image with an aspect of the complex form of the phenomenon.  But just as in the process of our imagining the image discloses itself as intelligible – we unpack the metaphor – the projective reference must, in effect, bind the aspects of some state of affairs in the world into a limited whole.  The disclosed intelligibility is read into it – this limitation thereby constituting and establishing the initial prescription of a double prescription.  It is in this experience of complexity holistically realised through the image – the dynamic process of imagining – that there is generated the possibility of symbolism.  Indeed, it is difficult to avoid some sense of the purposive in an aspect of the world so revealed – it is inherent in the fundamental intelligibility of the image. 
    Hopkins’s inscapes – symbolic analogues – are extended into the matrix of constituent relations that are the fabric of the poem.  The novel and the drama are as securely inscaped through symbolic mediation as a Hopkins poem or a Cézanne landscape:
In his Poetics Aristotle paved the way for a generalizing of metaphor conceived as heuristic fiction by linking metaphor as a rhetorical trait to the main operation of poetry which is the building of a mythos, of a fable.  The invention of the fable in tragedy is the creative act of poetry par excellence.
Ricoeur argues that a metaphor ‘is a work in miniature’
9  Characteristically, what is inscaped in the novel and drama are forms of life – this is presupposed in their very intelligibility.
    It follows that learning about the text – making discoveries about it – through exploration of constituent relations presupposes extension of the intelligibility of the ground of reference through internal relations, but the extension of meaning implicit in the presupposition remains a mere potentiality and waits upon the act of imagining for its realisation. This is a departure from Ricoeur’s argument which fails effectively to differentiate between the discursive and aesthetic modes.  
 Put in Kantian terms – and to reverse Kant’s argument – in so far as a representation is analogically constituted, objective and subjective finality coincide in the aesthetic mode but not in the discursive.  This is because in the discursive mode, double prescription cannot take place: the world cannot, therefore, be manifest as inscape – in holistic structures.  It cannot, in these circumstances, be individuated.  In the discursive mode structure is experienced as extended through time; it is conceived in components with discrete reference.  In the aesthetic mode, dual reference is irreducible.
    As Ricoeur says, ‘mimesis is not a copying of reality, but a redescription in light of a heuristic fiction’.
10   Poetry is not associated with making discoveries about the nature of the world, it ‘gives no information in terms of empirical knowledge […].  What is changed by poetic language is our way of dwelling in the world.’ (p.85).  On the other hand, it may be that science itself does something very similar.  Was not the ‘discovery’ of DNA associated with finding a model, an holistic structure, that explained the interrelation of previously unsynthesised data?  At a fundamental level, paradigm shifts change the nature of what we take to be the world.  It could be argued that these alter the scientific community’s way of ‘dwelling in the world’.  It is not the nature of their imagining that distinguishes the poet from the scientist but their distinctive intentions in the contexts of different kinds of assent.  Newton himself is perfectly clear that what is revealed by the empirical method is inherent purposiveness and from that insight he takes the further step into the ascription of purpose:
As in mathematics, so in natural philosophy, the investigation of difficult things by the method of analysis, ought ever to precede the method of composition.  This analysis consists in making experiments and observations, and in drawing general conclusions from them by induction […].  And if natural philosophy in all its parts, by pursuing this method, shall at length be perfected, the bounds of moral philosophy will also be enlarged.  For so far as we can know by natural philosophy what is the First Cause, what power He has over us, and what benefits we receive from Him, so far our duty towards Him, as well as that towards one another, will appear to us by the light of Nature.
The nature of Romantic symbolism is adumbrated in this.
    From the author’s perspective (the pursuit of reality) the exposition of insight gleaned in his world in the process of analogical development – that is, through symbolic mediation – drives the subtlety of the constituent matrix.  From the reader’s perspective, obscurity is inevitably generated according to the degree of novelty of the insight.  To confront this is, in effect, to enter into a process of defamiliarisation, which is a precondition for the conceptual shifts that allow for the establishment of novel projective reference – new insight.  Ricoeur associates such defamiliarisation with,
[…] the central paradox of the theory of fiction, namely, that only the image which does not already have its referent in reality is able to display a world.
[…] fiction reveals its ability to transform or transfigure reality only when it is inserted into something as a labour, in short, when it is a work […].  When the image is made, it is also able to remake a world.  It is at this stage that the break with philosophic tradition is most difficult to perform and preserve.  The constant tendency of classical philosophy to reduce fiction to illusion closes the way to an ontology of fiction.  Kant himself has rendered this step most difficult both in insisting on the subjectivity of the judgement of taste and in placing fiction within the aesthetics of genius.
     In the aesthetic mode, it is dual reference – the lateral, semantic relation in combination with projective reference – and the consequent coinciding of objective and subjective finality that release art from subjectivity and establishes imagining as the paradigm case of intelligibility.
     But here there is a problem: the actual shift and accompanying double prescription is not directly available through linear logic – the shift is, of its nature, spontaneous.  The shift can be worked for but the very working may serve merely to consolidate the discursive mode.  This explains why the creative imagination – as in the case of Wordsworth – can be had and lost.  It also explains why a new configuration of reality may not be engaged.  Ricoeur hints at such spontaneity when he refers to the ‘visionary grasping of resemblance’.
     In identification the reader is denied the full potential of dual reference because the cognitive is reduced to recognition, which merely slides over obscurity – every reader must have experienced being hit by an image or line in a familiar text that they have never ‘seen’ before – and is thereby responsive only to the minimal cues necessary to sustain an impoverishing stereotype.  In this mode discovery is precluded for it is contingent upon the dual transaction.
    Just as the sign is not-yet-a-symbol when denied its semantic context so the semantic – the potentiality of meaning – is vitiated when denied projective reference through mediation by way of internal relation: this reflects the dual nature of the transaction.  Deconstruction, for example, is condemned to play within, effectively, locked sets.  It is in these terms, also, that the vitiation effected both by the discursive and identification are explicable.  The discursive is denied access to holistic structures and the inherent value disclosed in double prescription; in identification, value is a function of the narcissistic appropriation of structures which then serve as pretexts for emotion – the imagination is blocked because identification reduces structures to stereotypes.       
    Learning to drive involves participation in a complex symbolic matrix.  The priority here is to shift perception as quickly as possible into the recognition of signs, deliberately to cultivate stereotypical responses so that they become a matter of reflex.  The sanctions for learning effective responsive action are danger and expense. These preclude the desirability of alternative iterations – imagine being stuck at traffic lights while the person in front works through the possible permutations in the sequence of colours.  It is our habituated reflexes in the context of responsive action – the pressures of life – that make full symbolic mediation unavailable if not absurd for most of us.  Given the constant reinforcing of vitiating modes of relation it is hardly surprising that for many of us reading habits are confined to the mode of identification.
    Many children are initially unresponsive to literary texts not because they are stupid but because their reductive modes of assimilation are being frequently reinforced by their life’s experiences.  In difficult family circumstances the last thing a child may be moved to do is imagine – this does not preclude indulgence in fantasy.  
    In summary, it can now be seen that defamiliarisation is a pre-condition for double prescription.  The prescriptive power of the novel configuration implicit in metaphor not only reconfigures the world but simultaneously renders the revealed structure expressive.  In an imagination that operates within a teleological context this expressive power is interpreted as the work of a Creator – as with Hopkins or Coleridge.  On the other hand,  the whole transaction is intelligible within the logic of imagination and, indeed, constitutes its paradigm case.  It is essentially neutral with regard to religious commitment but, nevertheless, serves to sharpen the mystery of there being intelligibility at all.
    It follows, that the idea that the text exists only at the semantic level involves a circularity consolidated by the characteristics of the assimilating mode – the discursive.  This is not to say that discursive iterations are condemned to be reductive fantasy – they can be reconstituted as elements of the constituent matrix, elements of inscape, available for the imaginative transaction – but the spontaneous nature of imagining allows for no guarantee that it will happen.  What counts, is the mode of relation with the text.
    Identification presupposes intelligibility but is blind to innovation.  It is, therefore, blind to double prescription -its rewards are available as a sort of narcissistic recognition with the possible admixture of fantasy.  The discursive becomes blindness when it stands for interpretation, usurps the imagination by arrogating to itself the power of the text which is, ultimately, a function of the imagination, an expressive power derived from double prescription.
    We can be richly appreciative of the brilliance of the discursive iteration but it is condemned to relativism, condemned to be perpetually beside the point unless it becomes bound in to the matrix and thence becomes a constituent in imaginative refiguration.
    There is an inherent difficulty in the discussion of specifically imaginative transactions in that it is possible to indicate that here they occur or have occurred, but the explication is inevitably discursive.  The problem is extended through the elaboration of discursive interpretative models which may be entirely independent of the actual experience of imagining – a sort of ideal, Platonic form of explanation, a product of pure, transcendental reasoning.  This is the stock-in-trade of much that passes for education: we elaborate structures of interpretation for experiences that we haven’t had and these become canonical for the learning community.
    We can recognize the value contingent in the mediation effected through, say, a poem – but that value is not thereby located within the worldas it is for Hopkins – or Cézanne, for that matter.  For the imagination, the poem is a means to an end, an attempted mediation with reality; for the discursive, the poem is an end in itself – the aesthetic is reduced to aestheticism.  The search for that lucidity where objective and subjective finalities coincideis, for Hopkins and Cézanne, the whole point and finding it would constitute their success.  The discursive, with its rewards of cleverness, seduces us from the final and only significant imaginative transaction that would restore us to the world and simultaneously disclose and proclaim its value.  It seeks to establish reference – and thereby authenticate itself – and in reference achieves only objectification.  Such reference is merely a local contingency and is, thereby, inevitably reductive – it awaits upon its apotheosis in the synthesis of double prescription.
    Discursive iterations are, inevitably, monochromatic.  They establish a relativism that can see daylight only in its constituent elements – as a spectrum.  The imaginative and the religious suppose a common, synthesising transaction – double prescription – the final outcome of which depends upon differentiating mediations, contexts of significance.  The movement from the discursive to the aesthetic is dialectical in its nature, but it involves a shift across modes, it is not a straightforward synthesis of monochromatic readings.  Such readings are, in effect, reductive fantasies if they remain unsynthesised.
    Ricoeur describes a dialectic depending on a synthesis effected by the reader between two modes of mimesis.  The primary ground of intelligibility of a text presupposes a ‘prior acquaintance’
14 with the sufferings and actions that constitute life.  This ‘pre-understanding’ (p.142) – mimesis¹ – is the ground of a second mimesis ‘which is textual and literary’ (p.142).   The material ‘prefigured’ in mimesis¹ is ‘configured’ through mimesis².
    In the context of narrative, this configuration
 […] consists in ‘grasping together’ the details […] of the story.  From these diverse events it draws together the unity of one temporal whole.  We cannot overemphasise the kinship between this ‘grasping together’ […] and Kant’s presentation of the operation of judging, where the transcendental meaning of a judgement consists not so much in joining a subject and a predicate as in placing some intuitive manifold under one concept. (p.146)
    This configuration is essentially what Hopkins calls ‘inscape’ and for him, as we have seen, the writing of the poem involves ‘overing and overing’, a process of  ‘accentuating the message “for its own sake”‘.
15  This seems close to what Ricoeur calls ‘iconic augmentation’  – a term which he takes from Francois Dagonet:
What is iconically augmented is the preliminary readability that action owes to the interpretants that are already at work in it.  Human action can be oversignified because is already pre-signified by all the modalities of its symbolic articulation.
That human action is oversignified  – over and overed – in, say, the context of the drama, amounts to a clarification of inscape so that redundancy can be cleared away for the emergence of an emphatic, expressive structure – but that is contingent upon an imaginative transaction.  In the discursive mode this clarity can be appropriated as a didactic feature :
[…] I think it may be manifest that the poet, with that same hand of delight, doth draw the mind more effectually than any other art doth.  And so a conclusion not unfitly ensues: that, as virtue is the most excellent resting place for all worldly learning to make this end of, so poetry, being the most familiar to teach it, and the most princely to move towards it, in the most excellent work is the most excellent workman.
Thus Sidney makes use of Aristotle’s didactic defence.
    In our terms, mimesis¹ supposes identification as its relational mode – this involves tacit recognition of ‘forms of life’.  To be effective, mimesis² involves the dialectical twist across modes into holistic apprehension – in other words, imagination.  To speak of the ‘textual and literary’ could be misleading in so far as it suggests discursive analysis whereas the imagination supposes a dynamic process, the actual mediating effected through our experiencing, say, metaphor.  Nevertheless, excursions into the discursive mode are necessary to indicate the facilitating ‘literary’ characteristics of the text.
    What must be remembered are the epistemological implications of the relational modes.  Identification is the ‘speed reading’ of the imagination.  It finds cues for the engagement of habits of perception, stereotypes of behaviour.  It is blind to anomaly and experiences value as convention.  It effects rapid assimilation within familiar and, thereby, secure paradigms.  It shades into fantasy – in this mode fantasy and identification cannot often be effectively distinguished.  The ‘text’, therefore, can have no clear autonomy.  Tipped into fantasy the relational mode posits the text as a source of make-believe.
    Whereas identification works through both association and the internal relations presupposed in recognition, in imagination, perceptions, stereotypes and conventions of value are challenged, not for their own sake, but implicitly in the disclosure of new insight with its concomitant disclosure of value.  Internal relations are discovered and in these holistic apprehensions lie their symbol-making potential.  The relational mode radically changes the relationships between self, text and world: the text can be a mirror with no projective efficacy – as in identification and appropriation through fantasy – or effect a mediation which simultaneously extends self and world.   
    Ricoeur designates these relational issues mimesis³:
[…] I shall say that mimesis³, marks the intersection of the world of the text and the world of the hearer or reader.  Therefore it is the intersection of the world unfolded
by fiction and the world wherein actual action unfolds.
He is aware that this intersection constitutes ‘a very complex problematic’:
This is due first of all to the diversity of its modalities.  A whole range of cases is open, running from ideological confirmation of the established order […] to social criticism. (pp.148-149)
The problem is that each of the three modes of relation that I have explored – identification, imagination and the discursive – in their distinctive epistemological prescriptions endow the artefact with a protean nature – there is, in a sense, no single artefact any more than there is, say, a single language game. 
    In his discussion of the nature of the relations between fiction and reality Frank Palmer observes:
In order to understand Macbeth’s motives for killing Duncan we have to enter Macbeth’s mind […].  For this we need to put ourselves in his place and imagine, as through the play we do imagine, what it feels like to have that kind of ambition […].  It is not possible to understand why Macbeth did what he knew to be wrong without understanding him.
I take it that such ‘understanding’ is what Palmer means by ‘primary engagement’. (p.87)  However, ‘to put ourselves in his place’ supposes identification – Macbeth as mirror.  I no more feel myself obliged to do this than identify with Genghis Khan.  A crucial aspect of the drama is to disclose the character – Macbeth – but a grasp of the entire tragedy is presupposed in that.  I might try to think myself into his situation but that would suppose a discursive relation.  Palmer does not adequately differentiate between the implicit modes – identification, the discursive and imagining are conflated.  Imagining – with its ultimate resolution in ‘understanding’ – supposes the whole dialectical transaction including ‘iconic augmentation’.  We don’t experience an inscape and then experience its being over-and-overed: the latter presupposes all the devices of the poetry available to us bound in to the mediation effected through the text.  That is not to deny, of course, that following upon further discursive scrutiny more may be taken up into the dialectic of imagining so that our experience of the poem is enhanced.  Nor is it to deny that imagining may have its origins in identification.  In the end it is the discursive that is tacitly endorsed by Palmer and as a consequence of what might be called a modal circularity an epistemological problem immediately asserts itself:
Yet for all that, novels and plays are not ‘real’ (i.e. actual) life.  First, because it is part of what we mean by the term ‘fictional world’ that no matter how great its resemblance to actual life or to actual events it is not an actual world.  Secondly because a representation is not just a copy of life, but life seen under the perspective of the artist’s work.  (p.137)
But the work is already presupposed in the understanding.  It is not a matter of ‘resemblance’ to actual life.
    Ricoeur approaches these issues when he considers ‘the apparent invincible exteriority between the inside of fiction and the outside of life’ that arises from considering art as ‘representative illusion’:   
 We must stop seeing the text as its own interior and life as exterior to it.  Instead we must accompany that structuring operation that begins in life, is invested in the text, then returns to life.
    To do this, we must balance the autarchy of a theory of writing through a theory of reading and understand that the operating [opérativité] of writing is fulfilled in the operating of reading.  Indeed, it is the reader – or rather the act of reading – that, in the final analysis, is the unique operator of the unceasing passage from mimesis¹, to mimesis³, through mimesis².  That is, from a prefigured world to a transfigured world through the mediation of a configured world.
    My argument, in summary, is that this dialectic cannot occur at the discursive level and awaits the transactions of imagination for its realisation.  In the mode of imagination the problem of representation is resolved.  Metaphor and its extension in inscape are characterised by projective rather than specific reference.  Projective reference, a function of complex structure, is consolidated through the constituent relations wrought in the artefact.  Familiar structures – inviting identification – are thereby defamiliarised thus opening the way for the dawning of refiguration.  The metaphor or inscape constitutes a framing, or re-framing, a prescriptive limit which engages double prescription.  Paradoxically, they contract – limit and select – in order to extend.  In the discursive mode, what passes for imaginative transaction can only be experienced as representational for the nature of reference is changed from projective to indicative with the concurrent loss of expressive power.
    It will not do, however, to exaggerate the potential for novelty of imaginative transactions.  Double prescription may effect a re-valuation of what is already familiar – this explains the power of Vermeer, where the ordinary is charged with new significance.  It is also possible to envisage how the implicit narrative of, say, Holbein’s Ambassadors, which seems to locate the painting within the discursive mode, can be transformed through the prescriptive frame so that an holistic structure becomes, simultaneously, available and charged with meaning.  It is precisely thus that fiction becomes available for double prescription. Joyce’s epiphanies exhibit the coalescence of meaning with aesthetic integrity, that is, dual reference through imaginative transactions.
    Metaphor, then, as Ricoeur argues, is the paradigm case of refiguration through configuration.  That power is contingent, though, upon a dialectic across modes – discursive, to imaginative – or is manifest simply within the imaginative.  The refiguration may not lead to anything ‘new’ but may, in the end, simply constitute a re-cognition.            
    The contact with Vermeer may begin in identification, remain there, or arrive through an imaginative transaction at a world essentially unchanged but recharged with meaning.  The contact with Holbein may remain at the narrative or discursive level – enhancing our understanding of a moment in history – or be unforgettably energised.  A Cézanne canvas may threaten rejection on the grounds of oddness or obscurity but the defamiliarisation can lead to a refiguration of the landscape.  At the aesthetic level, though the outcomes may be diverse, the imaginative transaction inevitably involves disclosure of value.  Perhaps the most characteristic outcome is to be restored to what we rediscover – this must be differentiated from identification where value is in the familiar but no imaginative transaction has been undergone.  In any event, in identification the possibility of refiguration is blocked.  There are, then, a number of possible outcomes contingent upon novel metaphor not necessarily involving refiguration.
    Additionally, it must be said that it will not do to idealise metaphor.  For example, in ‘The Eve of St Agnes’ at one point Madeline is described as ‘Half-hidden, like a mermaid in sea-weed.’
21  This could hardly be said to constitute an insight.  The image, perhaps, exploits an underlying stereotype – Venus, naked to the waist – which engages allure, fantasy in identification.  On the other hand, it fulfils a psychological purpose in so far as we are given access as to how Porphyro sees Madeline.  This insight is set up in the contrast with the immediately preceding stanzas where the girl’s purity and piety are stressed.  To be seduced into the mode of Porphyro’s seeing is a condition of subsequent imaginative insight concerning a crucial thematic issue – the relation between fantasy and reality.  If we unthinkingly identify metaphor with insight we miss the point.
    Wordsworth’s illustration of the distinction between Fancy and Imagination is instructive:
[…] I will content myself with placing a conceit (ascribed to Lord Chesterfield) in contrast with a passage from the Paradise Lost:-
    The dews of the evening most carefully shun,
     They are the tears of the sky for the loss of the sun.
After the transgression of Adam, Milton, with other appearances of sympathizing Nature, thus marks the immediate consequence,
    Sky lowered, and, muttering thunder, some sad drops
     Wept at completion of the mortal sin.
Wordsworth is arguing against Coleridge’s assumption that the fancy is ‘the aggregative and associative power’:
[…] my objection is only that the definition is too general.  To aggregate and to associate, to evoke and combine, belong as well to the Imagination as to the Fancy. (p.163)
Coleridge responds in Biographia Literaria :
I reply that if by the power of evoking and combining Mr W. means the same as, and no more than, I meant by the aggregative and associative, I continue to deny that it belongs at all to the imagination; and I am disposed to conjecture that he has mistaken the co-presence of fancy with imagination for the operation of the latter singly.  A man may work with two very different tools at the same moment.
At issue is the relationship between the ‘shaping or modifying power’ of Imagination and the ‘aggregative and associative’ power of Fancy.  Scrutiny of Wordsworth’s examples show that he is right in designating them as products of, respectively, fancy and imagination.  That ‘dews’ are ‘tears of the sky’ is certainly a metaphor.  It might invite sentimental identification but establishes nothing other than an associative link.  The couplet with its emphatic rhythms and heavy masculine rhymes seems at odds with the sentiment, a force for disintegration.  Of the Milton, Wordsworth observes,
[…] the effects from the act, of which there is this immediate consequence and visible sign, are so momentous, that the mind acknowledges the justice and reasonableness of the sympathy in nature so manifested; and the sky weeps drops of water as if with human eyes, as ‘Earth had before trembled from her entrails, and Nature given a second groan’.
Wordsworth is right when he points to the importance of the ‘momentous’ nature of the issues.  But is the effect of the metaphor purely a function of scale?   In a way it is, but in theintensityof our identification we implicitly acknowledge a form of life – dismay, grief together with its cause – and the whole of our experience of Paradise Lost has worked towards this moment.  Identification resolves into imagination.  It is not that Milton’s imagery provides a correlative for our emotional needs – supposing a dualistic rationalisation – but that our understanding of the situation is presupposed in our feelings.  Here is the synthesis of head and heart that allows us to identify an imaginative transaction.  In such a comparison poor Lord Chesterfield is on a hiding to nothing, not least, because we have no knowledge of the context of his couplet.
    Yet Coleridge is surely right in his comments on Wordsworth: fancy is a product of association which engages, at best, identification; imagination represents forms of life, internal relations, its inscapes effect double prescription, a synthesis of faculties.  Fancy and imagination are at odds because they presuppose distinct modes of relation.       
    That the ‘same’ metaphor – ‘tears’/’sad drops’ – has such radically different imaginative outcomes warns us that generalisations regarding the genus are untenable and that the expressive power of the specific metaphor depends, like that of other linguistic symbols, upon both projective reference and a context of meaning.
   That said, Ricoeur persuasively identifies the hermeneutic implications of metaphor and refiguration:

Far from saying that a subject already masters his own way of being in the world and projects it as the a priori of his reading […] I say that interpretation is the process by which the disclosure of new modes of being – or, if you prefer Wittgenstein to Heidegger, of new forms of life – gives to the subject a new capacity of knowing himself.  If there is somewhere a project and a projection, it is the reference of the work which is the project of a world; the reader is consequently enlarged in his capacity of self-projection by receiving a new mode of being from the text itself.25
I would suggest that it is rather odd to talk of ‘new forms of life’.  Rather, it may be that art involves the amplification or, in discursive terms, the elucidation, of those we already know – albeit that supposes the possibility of discoveries within the forms.  Nevertheless, in broad terms, Ricoeur’s argument is closely akin to the argument I developed earlier in the context of discussing Pinter.  It differs, crucially, in that I argued that the movement from the projected ego to the enhanced self is contingent upon the transition from identification or the discursive to imagining – that is, in the latter case, contingent upon the dialectic across modes.
    It is in this context that some of the implications of the Freudian ideology may emerge more clearly.  Freud’s exposition of dreams is discursive – inevitably so.  But his conception of their mediating symbolism is essentially dualistic – sign and referent.  Dreams, therefore, of their very nature are conceived as discursive: this would seem to be another example of modal circularity.  In so far as the logic of dreams is, as I argued, analogical, they are a function of imagining; however, their constitutive relations – their syntax – is often minimally constituted.  They are, as it were, fictions which, generally, lack the creative input of overing and overing.  It is precisely in the weakness of their constitutive relations that there lies potentiality for creativity in so far as they easily ‘jump the tracks’ so that new figurations can arise:
[…] Kekulé […] made the suggestion that in the benzene molecule the carbon atoms it contains are joined to each other in a ring formation […] chemists had always assumed that they were joined in a long chain […].  Yet it was not reasoned out logically by Kekulé: rather, he thought of it spontaneously during a day-dream, in which he saw carbon-chains like snakes, one of which seized its own tail.  Kekulé’s remarkable conclusion from this episode was: ‘Let us learn to dream, and then perhaps we shall learn the truth.’
    In so far as dreams are coherent then Jung’s argument that they are directive rather than pathological seems persuasive in that their narrative logic would suggest the adumbration of a self as distinguished from the projection of a consolidated ego.  Indeed, it is precisely the inaccessibility of the personal unconscious that is breached by the subversion of the ego in imaginative transactions.  This would suggest that our psychological health is bound up in our capacity for imagining both in the context of art and in our moral transactions.
    The dictum, ‘Where id was, there shall ego be’ is double edged.
27  Effected through a polarising symbolism with a cognitive subtext – the stuff of Freudian ideology – such narrative becomes an alternative fantasy inviting identification – faith – for its efficacy.  Within the imagination, on the other hand, an alternative narrative, symbolically mediated, would substantiate freedom in the context of commitment to aesthetic and moral transactions positing, in their activities, a dynamic self.
    By placing it within the context of imagining, the ‘hermeneutical circle’ may be understood to free itself from the charge that it involves the engaging of ‘two subjectivities, that of the reader and that of the author’ and from the charge that it is ‘the projection of the subjectivity of the reader in the reading itself.’
28  It is a circle that may encompass our individuation in the activity of imagining.
    Thomas Hardy, in a diary entry, catches the imagination at work:
As, in looking at a carpet, by following one colour a certain pattern is suggested, by following another colour, another; so in life the seer should watch that pattern among general things which his idiosyncrasy moves him to observe, and describe that alone.  This is, quite accurately, a going to Nature; yet the result is no mere photograph, but purely the product of the writer’s own mind.
Hardy’s observation is overstated.  To explore and extend his metaphor, what is discovered in the carpet cannot be ‘purely’ a ‘product of the writer’s own mind’.  In so far as the seer is a poet the pattern will be disclosed through the mediation of metaphor in projective reference.  Nevertheless the ‘working’ of the pattern in terms of constituent relations will inevitably carry the writer’s ‘signature’.  The intelligible structure will be redeemed from redundancy where it lay hidden in the general impression of the carpet.  Such disclosure involves an imaginative transaction which simultaneously discloses value – double prescription is clearly manifest here.

    E.M. Forster suggests the variety of responses that we bring to music.  A response to the carpet may involve an appropriation of cues in a developing fantasy.  A closer scrutiny may identify traditional patterns confirming, say, its Islamic origins.  The observer may trace a pattern enjoying its ingenious intricacies.  The disclosed pattern may then become a constituent element in an holistic apprehension – the carpet in its aesthetic wholeness.  Each relation has its epistemological implications, supposes a distinctive ontlogy.  A comprehensive account will take account of its capacity to fascinate, its intricacy, the carpet in the totality of its shape, pattern and colour, an awareness of its origins and place in a tradition: yet such accounts may remain discrete, unresolvable into any simple sum.  Identification and the discursive have their contributory roles but if they remain unresolved in imagining they are exclusive and reductive.

 1 E.M. Forster, Howard’s End, repr. 1979 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1941), pp.44-45.

 2 Paul Ricoeur, ‘Word, Polysemy, Metaphor: Creativity in Language’, from A Ricoeur Reader: Reflection and Imagination, ed. by Mario J. Valdés  (New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991), pp.78-79.

 3 Ricoeur, ‘A Review of Nelson Goodman’s Ways of Worldmaking‘, from A Ricoeur Reader, p.212.

 4 ‘Word, Polysemy, Metaphor’, p.69.

 5 Hywl Thomas, ‘Gerard Manley Hopkins and John Duns Scotus’, op. cit., p.343. 

 6 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, op. cit., p.39.

 7 ‘The Function of Fiction in Shaping Reality’, from A Ricoeur Reader, p.118

 8 ‘Word, Polysemy, Metaphor’, p.84.

 9 ‘Metaphor and the Main Problem of Hermaneutics’, from A Ricoeur Reader, p.305.

 10 ‘Word, Polysemy, Metaphor’, p.84.

 11 Sir Isaac Newton, Optics, from Great Books of the Western World, ed. by R.M. Hutchins (London: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1952), p.543.

 12 ‘The Function of Fiction in Shaping Reality’, p.129.

 13 ‘Word, Polysemy, Metaphor’, p.79. (My italics).

 14 ‘Mimesis and Representation’, from A Ricoeur Reader, p.140.  (In what follows I have preserved the superscript in which Ricoeur designates the different types of mimesis though I have represented it in italic to distinguish it from footnote numbers.)

 15 Norman White, Hopkins: A Literary Biography, op. cit., p.143.

 16 ‘Mimesis and Representation’, p.150.

 17 Sidney, A Defence of Poetry, op. cit., p.42.

 18 ‘Mimesis and Representation’, p.148.

 19 Frank Palmer, Literature and Moral Understanding  (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), p.137.

 20 ‘Mimesis and Representation’, p.151.

 21 John Keats, ‘The Eve of St Agnes’, stanza XXVI, from A Selection from John Keats, op. cit., p.138.

 22 William Wordsworth, ‘Preface to Poems’, from Wordsworth’s Literary Criticism, ed. by Nowell C. Smith (London: Humphrey Milford, 1925), p.165.

 23 S.T. Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, op. cit., ch.XII, p.160.

 24 ‘Preface to Poems’, p.166.

 25 ‘Metaphor and the Main Problem of Hermeneutics’, pp.315-316.

 26 Michael Fuller, Atoms and Icons (London: Mowbray, 1995), p.25.

 27 Sigmund Freud, New Introductory Lectures, op. cit., p.106.

 28 ‘Metaphor and the Main Problem of Hermeneutics’, p.315.

 29 Thomas Hardy, ‘Diary’, June 3rd, 1882, from The Life of Thomas Hardy 1840-1928, ed. by Florence Emily Hardy (London: Macmillan, 1962), p.153.



© Henry Marsh 2008-2012

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