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

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