Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hans Blumenberg, Paradigms for a Metaphorology: Chapter 7, "Myth and Metaphorics"

77: "[M]etaphorology -- as a subbranch of conceptual history, and like the latter itself considered as a whole -- must always be an auxiliary discipline to philosophy as it seeks to understand itself from its history and to bring that history into living presence. Our typology of metaphor histories must accordingly endeavor to distinguish and work through particular aspects ... of philosophy's historical self-understanding. In the process, it is above all the transitions that will allow the specificity of each metaphor and its expressive forms to appear in sharper focus."

Blumenberg explores the transition from myth to metaphorics in Plato and his followers. Myth in Plato, like absolute metaphors, is not simply a preliminary and inadequate form of reason: it circumscribes and provides answers to those aporias which resist reduction to reason but are necessary to deal with in order for the argument to proceed.

78: "In myth, too, questions are kept alive that refuse to yield to theoretical answers without thereby becoming obsolete. The difference between myth and 'absolute metaphor' would here be a purely genetic one: myth bears the sanction of its primordial, unfathomable origin, its divine or inspirative ordination, whereas metaphor can present itself as a figment of the imagination, needing only to disclose a possibility of understanding in order for it to establish its credentials."

The myth of final judgment in the Gorgias functions as a postulate which the philosopher is compelled to assent to in order to risk his life on behalf of truth. It is turned to when the hopes of proving that justice will ultimately be done are exhausted.

The myth of the cave from the Republic draws on a background tradition of cave mythology. Its fundamental image is a movement from darkness to light. There are already intimations of this theme in the Prometheus myth of the Protagoras and the cosmological myth of the Phaedo. Blumenberg sees more to the use of this myth by Plato and his successors, however, than anchoring the fundamental narrative of the self-liberation of human reason. Plato's elaboration of the myth allows him to use it as a model which explains, for example, how the Sophist is possible.

According to Blumenberg, the myth of the cave has become an absolute metaphor with the Neoplatonists, Gnostics, and Church fathers. Porphyry (the stand-in Neoplatonist here) -- the cosmos as a cave separated from a transcendent reality which is not reachable by learning alone. Gnostics and church fathers -- salvation irrupting into existence like light into a cave.

Plato's myth of the demiurge in the Timaeus amounts to a constructive model explaining how the world is generated given certain premises. Blumenberg likens it to Descartes' hypothetical cosmogonic model in the Principles. The Church fathers claimed this myth derived from Genesis. This created a problem of assimilating the different consequences of the metaphor of creation by hand in the myth of the demiurge (which is fundamentally constructive and attempts to explain everything) and creation by mouth, which is to say by command, in Genesis (which seeks submission and attempts to explain nothing).

background metaphor - metaphor that implicitly anchors use of terminology
absolute metaphor - metaphor that provides a way of bracketing or provisionally answering otherwise unresolvable questions

Monday, November 28, 2011

Hans Blumenberg, Paradigms for a Metaphorology: Chapter 6, "Organic and Mechanical Background Metaphorics"

Background metaphorics - background of images that makes it possible to reconstruct and understand seemingly non-metaphorical (and even purely theoretical) statements.

The language of imaginative horizons here is reminiscent of Heidegger and Gadamer.

62-63: "Metaphorics can also be in play where exclusively terminological propositions appear, but where these cannot be understood in their higher-order semantic unity without taking into account the guiding idea from which they are induced and 'read off'. Statements referring to data of observation presuppose that what is intended can, in each case, be brought to mind only within the parameters of a descriptive typology: the reports that will one day be transmitted to us by the first voyagers to the moon may well require us to engage in a more thorough study of American or Russian geography if we are to grasp the selective typicality of these reports, corresponding to the eyewitnesses' (anticipated) background. Faced with an artificial structure of speculative statements, the interpretation will only 'dawn' on us once we have succeeded in entering into the author's imaginative horizon and reconstructing his 'translation'. What preserves genuine thinkers from the crabbed scholasticism of their imitators and successors is that they keep their 'systems' in vital orientation, whereas academic routine uproots concepts and suspends them in idiosyncratic atomism. In undertaking an interpretive reconstruction, we will succeed in reviving such translations, which we propose to call 'background metaphorics', only within the parameters of a certain typology, and this is most likely to occur where a prior decision between opposed types of metaphors -- between organic and mechanical guiding ideas, for example -- has been made. It is not just language that thinks ahead of us and 'backs us up', as it were, in our view of the world; we are determined even more compellingly by the supply of images available for selection and the images we select, which 'channel' what can offer itself for experience in the first place."

Blumenberg argues that the contrast between mechanical and organic metaphors is itself not fixed, but emerges in the post-classical world. The classical machina has a broader meaning than the modern machine, referring to all sorts of contrivances and tricks. Lucretius' machina mundi does not yet have the connotation of automatism that would come with later clockwork metaphors, it merely contrasts the world as contrived or artful in contrast to the Stoic metaphysics of providence. The distinctive use of machine as a concept opposed organism arrives with the French Enlightenment. Blumenberg thinks that this emergence is more than coincidental, given how it serves the materialistic program of Enlightenment thought. (63-64)

For Plato, the universe was both constructed and living. It had to be conceived of as alive because it was understood to move itself, and ability to move oneself was the criterion of life. Mechanical models, like Archimedes' sphere, were seen by classical authors like as inferior imitations which merely demonstrated the rationality which must exist to a superior degree in the original. In Lactantius we see a Christian recasting of the interpretive function of Archimedes sphere: now it shows that the universe can be in motion after an initial impetus without requiring any animation. There is a clear theological interest behind this: reducing the world to a mere mechanism leaves God alone in transcendence. (64-66)

Nicolaus of Cusa characteristically saw Archimedes' model as a projection of the human mind, an invention created in place of divine creativity rather than an imitation of the universe. While an Aristotelian view of technology as mimetic lent itself to organic metaphors, Cusanus' opens a way to distinctively mechanical metaphors. (67)

Descartes abjures the project of understanding what the world or organisms are in themselves. Instead, he proposes to understand them externally, by transferring our knowledge of mechanical devices as hypothetical stand-ins. Having made the metaphorical substitution of machine for world or organism, however, Descartes is also able to substitute a pragmatic view of the aims of inquiry for a theoretical one: since there is a surplus of possible mechanical constructions which could be made to stand in for any natural entity, the choice between them is made on the ground of what works best (and if the model works better than its natural counterpart, then it a truer example of the original function than what is in nature). (68-70)

Blumenberg contrasts the book of nature and clockwork universe metaphors. The output of the clock -- the actual display of time -- is not significant in the use of the metaphor; what matters is its predictable functioning. For the book of nature, on the other hand, the informative content is critical; what is significant in the metaphor is that there is a message that could be communicated. (71)

The clockwork metaphor emphasizes God's initial creative act at the expense of God's continuing involvement in the world. (71-72)

With the book of nature, man remains external to the metaphor, as the intended reader. Human beings are among the things brought under the clock metaphor, however, in the works of Voltaire and Vauvenargues. The French moralists typically indentified the passions with the internal working of the clock, and reason as the display (in a way that hoped to gain assent and accomplish their aims) of those hidden instincts and passions. (72-73)

In The Crisis of the European Sciences, Husserl metaphorizes the scientific enterprise itself as a mechanism, and metaphorizes the implicit goal of the enterprise as an ideal textbook which puts together all of its achievements in a coherent whole. (75-76)