Darko Suvin                                                                                                           (1984, 7000 words)

0. This essay presupposes that any text unfolds a thematic-cum-attitudinal field, and that fiction does so by necessarily presenting relationships between fictional agents. According to the way these relations are presented, a fictional text is either metaphorical or narrative. I wish to discuss here what is the basis and hallmark of this differentiation. To that purpose, I shall first discuss metaphor, mention briefly larger “metaphorical texts” and textual paradigms, and then focus on the connecting link between a metaphoric and a narrative text, the parable, in order to find out what is the differentia generica of narrative texts or narrativity. My hypothesis is that all texts are–by way of their paradigm, model, or macro-metaphor–based on a certain kind of metaphoricity, but that the narrative texts add to metaphorical ones a concrete presentation in terms of space and time, the chronotope. (The upshot of my argument would therefore, more precisely, lead to calling these subdivisions “only metaphorical” vs. “metaphorical-cum-narrative,” but it might be confusing to start by changing accepted meanings.)

  1. On Metaphor

1.0. In one of the most recent and most illuminating syntheses of metaphor analysis, Umberto Eco notes that the incomplete l97l bibliographie raisonnée by Shibles registers ca. 3,000 titles, and  yet that these thousands of pages contain only few which add anything fundamental to the two or three basic concepts introduced by Aristotle.1/ I shall therefore in my first part, dealing with some basic properties of metaphor, focus only on those key aspects which are indispensable for my argument, without at all pretending to a complete survey, much less a new theory of metaphor. I simply wish to derive from the discussions of metaphor which I found most useful (Aristotle, Beardsley, Bellert, Black Models, Black “More,” Eco “Metafora,” Henry, Lewis, Richards, Ricoeur “Process,” Ricoeur Rule, Shelley, Whalley) the basic orientations necessary for envisaging similarities and differences between metaphor and narrative.

Both on imagery and on feeling in connection to metaphor, I am in sympathy with the horizons of Ricoeur (cf. “Process”) that cognition, imagination, and feeling presuppose each other. Already from Kant on, it seems clear that one major kind of Urteilskraft or power of judgement consists in imaginative reflection upon a field of representations, searching for universals under which a particular might fall, though Kant then waffled on the possibility of this subsuming the particular under a determinate concept. Since this disclaimer is part of Kant’s general sharp distinction between concepts grounded in the object and our subjective (teleological or aesthetical) judgments, I believe it should be disregarded in favor of Ricoeur’s stance. However, I would wish for some clarification of his oscillation between invoking metaphors for space or seeing and suggesting that metaphor literally evokes iconic or pictorial images (142seqq.), as well as for further analysis of the distance between knower and known, which I do not believe is or can be entirely abolished. PHAPS CF. MORE ON HONECK 60-67.

1.1. This domain, as all of its students know, is both a “somewhat boundless field” (Ricoeur “Process” 141) and a minefield. I am trying to leapfrog most of it by adopting a probably incomplete, working definition of metaphor as a unitary meaning arising out of the (verbal) interaction of disparate conceptual units from different universes of discourse or semantic domains. It should be added that metaphor presents a complex cognition not by literal or analytic statement but by sudden confrontation: it is a language deviance that results in the perception of a possible relationship which could establish a new norm of its own.

       It follows that it is not necessary to think of metaphor, romantically, as either peculiarly imagistic or peculiarly emotional (cf. Manzoni, Shklovskii O teorii, Richards, and della Volpe), though the metaphor often contains a visualisable image and always embodies a value-judgment correlative to an integral, i.e. also emotional, involvement.

        1.2. If “connotation” is taken to mean the difference between an ideal dictionary entry and an ideal encyclopedic entry about the same term, i. e. any meaning of a term which is “normally” thought of as secondary (Eco, “Metafora” 206-08 and passim), then metaphor “create[s] new contextual meaning by bringing to life new connotations” (Beardsley 43). Its synthesis does not obliterate discordances, but in order to have any unity at all, its two terms have to share some connotations. In the canonic example “This man is a lion,” the meaning of the lexeme “man” and the lexeme “lion” which are the metaphor’s two terms gets to be extended by the context or intratext of the metaphor as a whole. From literal dictionary meaning current in a given culture and sociolect, the meaning modulates into some selection from the encyclopedia of cultural commonplaces, presuppositions, and categories (cf. also Eco Lector, passim). This is usually an encyclopedic entry current in a given sociolect and ideology, but it can also be a new entry, invented ad hoc by the metaphor’s author and enforced by its context.

       The sum of all the cultural topoi and categories implied and presupposed by a text constitutes the ideological system of its social addressee. The maxims of this system encompass the connotation chosen in a metaphor. In “This man is a wolf,” e. g., the “normal” connotation of a wolf in our epoch would probably be cruelty, a connotation encompassed by the ideological maxim of Social Darwinism where man is necessarily wolf to man. On the contrary, under the maxim of a tribal society, where wolves may be totemic ancestors or reincarnations of people, the above metaphor will work in a totally different, axiologically quite opposed way. The two semantic domains and cultural categories of “wolf” and “man” which in a metaphor act as lenses and filters for seeing each other, will be very different; a fortiori, so will be their interaction, which in a feedback spiral uses the movement between these domains to emphasize some and suppress other traits potentially present in “wolfness” (lupineity) and “manness” (humanity). “The wolf-metaphor…organizes our view of man” (Black Models 4l) and vice versa: when wolf and man are projected upon each other, a new whole emerges (cf. Richards, Black, Models 38-42 and 236-37, Eco “Metafora”). This does not necessarily imply (as in Black) that the interacting domains must both be equally illuminated by the metaphoric process: in Plautus’s “Homo homini lupus,” man is already more stressed, while in Leonardo’s Time as swift predator of all created things, or in “eddying time,” time clearly dominates over its predicates–we will not spend much thought over just how is a predator or an eddying temporal.

       The two semantic domains interacting in any metaphor can work upon each other because the connotations of their representative terms within the metaphor have a common ground. Aristotle (chap. XXI: 1457b) defines metaphor in two main ways, the strongest way being “transference by analogy”:

. . . for example, to scatter seed is to sow, but the scattering of the sun’s rays has no name [in GreekJ. But the act of sowing in regard to grain bears an analogous relation to the sun’ s dispersing of its rays, and so we have the phrase ‘sowing the god-created fire’.

In modern language, Aristotle has here picked out the single semantic property or seme of scattering and used it as the common ground between the relation sowing/grain and the relation sun’s beaming/light rays. All other semes are neglected in order to establish this common ground; however, while suppressed, they continue to function subterraneously as qualifying dissimilarities: in this case such is, far example, the action of the hand in throwing grain, which also implies a person sowing, the corpuscular nature of the material being scattered, etc. (cf. Henry 65-67).

1.3. The discussions of 1.2. hold fully only far what is variously called the high-grade, full(-fledged) or true metaphor (Whalley 491 and 494; Black, Models passim; Lewis 140-41ff.)–a unique presentation of previously non-existent meaning. On the other end of the metaphor spectrum is the low-grade metaphor, which transposes pre-existent meaning. In the ‘full-fledged’ metaphor new meaning, accessible to us in no other way, is being formed and thus explored. We have no other ways at hand far thinking through the relationship such a metaphor refers to; if it fossilizes or dies by lexicalization into a ‘literal’ lexeme, we shall far the time being cease thinking about that relationship (cf. also Köller 40). For an example from cultural-cum-ideological history, animales comes in classical Latin from anima = breath; when this is later lexicalized into the dead metaphor of ‘soul’, the dead-end quandary of medieval theology, whether animals bave souls, could arise (and SF has to go back to Greek far its lay naming of beings with souls or conscious intelligences — psychozoa). To the contrary, if a low-grade metaphor – such as the late Latin word for and root of  ‘arrive’, adripare, whose literal meaning is ‘come to a shore’ – dies, no great harm is done since we bave other ways of thinking about the relationship of bodily translation in space up to a final point. I shall have occasion to return in section 3.5. to the parallel between this polarization of high vs. low-grade metaphor and my opposition of true vs. fake novum. Here I would just like to note that the low-grade, or indeed fake, metaphor can be recognized, first, by the lack of textual preparation and sustainment of the metaphoric confrontation; and second, by the fact that inserting a copula such as “to be” or “to seem” will destroy the metaphoric confrontation or fusion and reveal the emptiness of that metaphor. Using Whalley’s example “When the play ended, they resumed/ Reality’s topcoat” (494), if we put “Reality is (or: seems) a topcoat” (or viceversa), it becomes apparent that the resumption of a topcoat upon leaving theatre is already a re-entry intro extra-ludic reality of which any topcoat is a part. Thus, the supposed modifying term is contained in the first term, and we do not enter upon a synthesis of discordant semantic domains. Instead, we are here faced with what is in relation to the full metaphor only a formal mimicry.

       Therefore, the full-fledged, “interaction” or transformational metaphors cannot be paraphrased without a significant loss of cognitive yield (Black, Models 45-46); while the low-grade, “substitution or comparison” metaphors can be exhausted by paraphrase into commonplaces–e.g., “on leaving theatre, spectators pick up coats and reenter reality.”

l.4. If we do not confine cognition to analytical discourse only but assume, in a more realistic vein, that it can equally (and in all probability necessarily) be based on imagination, then metaphor is not an ornamental excrescence but a specific cognitive organon. Its specificity of reference is still poorly understood, but metaphor seems to be directed toward and necessary for an insight into continuously variable processes when these are being handled by language (which is composed of discrete signs) (Hesse, Ortony; curiously, Thom [120, 159] founds mathematics in the same insight). If metaphor is such a dialectical corrective of all analytical language, it necessarily refers, among other things, to what a given culture and ideology consider as reality. This means that some conclusions educible from any metaphor–e. g., “people are cruel,” “wolves are conscious”–are pertinent to or culturally “true” of given understandings of relationships in practice. The metaphor can affirm such an understanding or (in the case of full-fledged metaphors) develop “the before unapprehended relations of things” in ways at that moment not formulatable except by way of metaphor (Shelley 357, cf. Shklovskii, Khod 115 and O teorii l2). Exploding literal semantic and referential pertinence, turning heretofore marginal connotations into new denotations, it proposes a new, imaginative pertinence by rearranging the categories that shape our experience. Metaphor sketches in, thus, lineaments of “another world that corresponds to other possibilities of existence, to possibilities that would be most deeply our own…” (Ricoeur, Rule 229). In so doing, it redescribes the known world and opens up new possibilities of intervening into it.

       In more analytical language, the sum of all literal statements which can be educed from a full-fledged metaphor will be both too restricted and too abundant. Too restricted, not exhaustive: people are perhaps cruel like wolves, but how should one formulate the hesitation between “people are instinctive” and “wolves are conscious”–connotations or implications simultaneously also present within the over-determination of this, as of any metaphor–in sense-making literal propositions? Too abundant: for “the implications, previously left for a suitable reader to educe for himself, with a nice feeling for their relative priorities and degrees of importance, [will be] now presented explicitly as though having equal weight” (Black, Models 46). Thus, literal statements are both frozen into connotative univalency and ponderated into cognitive equivalency; in order to acquire  analytical functionality, such propositions are left with a binary choice between the 1 of true and the 0 of false rather than with a spectrum of possibilities. To the contrary, cognition through a full metaphor, reorganizing the logical space of our conceptual frameworks, increases understanding of “the dynamic processes of reality [dinamismi del reale]” (Eco “Metafora” 212). It is, thus, not necessary to think of any such imaginative cognition as a mystical insight or magical transfer but rather  as a hypothetic proposition with specifiable yields and limitations. Parallel to other forms of cognition–say, analytic conceptual systems, plastic representation, music or mathematics–metaphoric cognition can be partly or wholly accepted or rejected by feedback from historical experience, verbal and extra-verbal.

       The potentially cognitive function is, then, not an extrinsic but a central quality of metaphor. Technically, it is graspable as the distinction between vehicle and tenor (first introduced, though not fully clarified, by Richards). Following refinements by students of parable (cf. Bultmann, Crossan, Dithmar, Funk, Jeremias, Jones, Linnemann, Via), I propose to call vehicle the metaphoric expression as a whole taken literally, and tenor the meaning it refers to.2/

1.4. What can, then, be considered to be the basic conditions for a full-fledged metaphor? I think there are three:

       (1) it is coherent or congruent: the connotations admissible in interpretation must have a cultural-cum ideological common ground;

       (2) it is complex or rich: consonant with (1) above, it uses all the connotations that can be brought to bear, “it means all it can mean” (Beardsley 144);

       (3) it contains or embodies a novum: “it constitutes a set of conclusions which would not follow from any conventional combination of words…” (Bellert 34); it is “not inferrible from the standard lexicon” (Black, “More” 436); it is “the emergence of a more radical way of looking at things” (Ricoeur, “Process” 152). This novum is necessarily (at least in part) historico-referential insofar as it disrupts the synchronic cognitive system current when it was coined. The criteria for deciding which metaphors are to be seen as dead, remotivated or farfetched are all drawn from historical semantics and pragmatics.

     We may call these basic conditions the three axioms of coherence, richness, and novelty. Beardsley — who admits only the first two — notes that such axiomatic conditions may be considered as analogous to Occam’s razor in literal, e.g. scientific, texts (145). While I agree with Bellert not only that among the conditions for metaphor are consistency and novelty but also that any metaphor necessarily contains a multiple reference to what in a given sociolect and ideology is taken for reality, I do not think it is necessary to erect such a partial “reference to reality” (38) into a separate condition or axiom, since it is already implied in my second and third axioms as the norm against which both the richness and (as I just argued) the novelty are necessarily measured: Occam’s razor again.

  1. Fictional Texts as Paradigms and Possivble Worlds

2.1. This argument can be opened up in the direction of larger texts by adopting Bellert’s delimitation of a metaphorical text. It is “a text not supposed to be interpreted literally…but assumed to have an interpretation different from that which would follow merely from the application of conventional semantic rules to the constituent expressions and their combinations” (25). I would point out that this delimitation holds for a text of any kind, and there is no reason to confine it to lyrics or small forms.

     Thus, the interpretation of metaphorical texts can, on the one hand, not even begin unless an intertext of the literal or conventional senses of its constituent propositions is first assumed. On the other hand, the metaphor is defined by violating at least one semantic, syntactic or pragmatic conventional rule in a meaningful way, by a “paradigmatic deviance” (Ricoeur “Process” 144). A shuttling operation is established between the metaphor’s initial semantic im-pertinence, its pars destruens, and (in successful cases) the pars construens of its final heightened pertinence.

I shall proceed by assuming that I can also largely leapfrog an argument I developed at length elsewhere (Suvin, “Science Fiction”) on such “metaphorical texts” larger than one single sentence-metaphor or micro-metaphor, as well as the equally boundless and mined domain of narratology, by means of a pair of extremely foreshortened devices. First, by referring to a large bibliography; second, by adopting an incomplete working definition not only for metaphor but also for narrative.. I shall get to a definition of narrative in the latter half of this paper, in order to proceed, by logic of size, from metaphor through the “small form” of parable to narrative.

2.2. My argument in “Science Fiction” tried to show how there is a theoretically almost unbroken continuity between a single or micro-metaphor, a sustained series of metaphors (the métaphore filée), a metaphor theme, and finally the model or paradigm (a property of each and every fictional and indeed doxological — e. g. scientific — text). If one accepts that metaphor is a cognitive organon, then both it and the model  or paradigm are heuristic fictions or speculative instruments analogically mediating between two semantic domains. To take the example of a scientific text (an example a fortiori applicable to any fictional text), such a metaphorical mediation prevails between the atom and the solar system in Bohr’s early model of electron orbits. While believers in orthodox 19th-century scientism would claim that model differs from metaphor by controlling a coherent theory, i. e. a set of linked and falsifiable concepts and not merely presuppositions, I believe this claim has by now been refuted (Hesse, Ricoeur “Hermeneutics,” and cf. on the debate also Black Models and Hoffman). There is an unbroken theoretical continuity between the “strict” or natural-science and the “loose” or sciences humaines verifiability (Thom et al. 53-55). In other words, the verifiability proper to the model seems to me in principle to repose on what I have called the three axioms for metaphorical texts: coherence, richness, and novelty–even if a scientific model will as a rule be more coherent and less rich than a fictional one (cf. Gentner). Thus, by the time the term “model” is applied to a fictional text, say a writer’s opus, I can see no useful difference between saying “Balzac gives us an insightful model of the French society at his time” and saying that his opus is something like a complex and not yet fully understood macro-metaphor.

     An example very pertinent to this discussion is given by C.S. Lewis. He argues that Flatlanders–beings living in two dimensions–can be a useful metaphor for understanding the fourth dimension. The analogy would go: as Flatland is to the sphere of our three-dimensional life and understanding, so our three dimensions are to the fourth. Therefore, the Flatland metaphor can make us begin cognizing the fourth dimension, by way of understanding at least some of its implications: e. g., we should not be surprized if a four-dimensional being could control our space and time, since this what we could do to the Flatlanders (139-40). Mischievously, Lewis omitted to mention that his example is taken from a remarkable science-fictional parable, Flatland (1884) by Edwin A. Abbott. This novellette, however, uses the geometry vehicle for ethico-political tenor, so that the dimensions and cognitive limitations in physics signify also those in ethics and politics. Clearly, in this case “englobing metaphor,” “model,” and “narrative text with metaphor-like paradigm actualized in a metaphoric series” mean the same thing.

2.3. The discussion of Flatland can serve to indicate also a crucial coinciding: both metaphoric and narrative texts can in contemporary semiotics be treated in terms of the implied possible worlds. Eco in fact also uses the example of Flatland when discussing that concept in his Lector (148-54). To summarize a long argument very briefly, whatever possible worlds might be in logic, each and every fictional text implies in semiotics a possible world, specifying a state of affairs which differs from the “normal,” and analyzable as if based on counterfactual conditionals or “as if” hypotheses (Eco Lector 122-73, and cf. Elam 100-14, Pavel “Possible Worlds” and “Incomplete Worlds,” Petöfi, and the special Versus issues no. 17[1977] and 19[1978]). As different from the logicians’ possible worlds, the fictional ones are not exhaustively posed but are created by the reader on the basis of interaction between the fictional “counterfactuality” and feedback references to his/her own presupposed factuality. The world of any fictional work is understandable only as the reader’s  set of cultural and ideological norms–the social addressee’s verisimilitude, be that an illusionistically mimetic or a frankly conventional one — changed in such-and-such ways. Most pertinent to my argument, if both metaphorical and narrative texts entail possible worlds, then the main differences between a single metaphor and a fictional text would have to be correlative to the latter’s quite different articulation. The paradigm of a longer fictional text must be sufficiently articulated in its syntagmatic development to permit exploration of the text’s key hypothesis–which is also its founding metaphor–as to its properties, most prominently the relationships between people it implies; i. e., to permit falsification of its thought-experiment. In any prose tale, it must be possible to verify examined aspects of the central propositions which have by means of coherence, plenitude, and novelty created the narrative universe of that tale.

  1. On Chronotope and Parable

3.0. Any argument about continuity between a micro-metaphor and a longer literary text needs, then, to be supplemented by an argument about their clear differences. It is here that I believe Bakhtin’s inexorable insistence on narrativity is quite indispensable. The central thesis of this paper is that the necessary, and I believe the sufficient differentia generica.between metaphoric and narrative texts can best be grasped by formulating it in terms of Bakhtin’s chronotope. I propose to discuss briefly this concept of chronotope, and then look at its key cognitive status with help of a fictional form which is generally acknowledged to be somewhere between metaphor and story–the parable.

3.1. I shall assume to begin with that what Bakhtin means by chronotope is by now well enough known for me to content myself with a few pointers and to isolate one or two necessary foci. At the beginning of “Formy vremeny i khronotopa v romane,” Bakhtin explains that in the chronotope, “spatial and temporal marks are fused into a meaningful and concrete whole. Time here thickens, grows denser, becomes artistically visible; likewise, space becomes more intense and drawn into the movement of time, plot, history” (235; Imagination 84)3/. A chronotope is, then, the method for “artistically assimilating time and space in the novel, and thus for assuring its unity” (“Formy” 236, Imagination 86). In particular, what we might today call the kind of agents (and actions) to be found in any narrative is correlative to a given concrete chronotope: “the image of man in literature…is always intrinsically chronotopic” (“Formy” 235, Imagination 85). To give just one significant example, “[t]he rogue, the clown, and the fool create around themselves their particular little worlds, their particular chronotopes” (“Formy” 309, Imagination 159).

       The richness of Bakhtin’s analyses in a “historical poetics” of the chronotope and the potential fruitfulness of this concept are well-nigh overwhelming; the obverse is that possible traps are abundant too. Here I wish only to record my basic disagreement with Bakhtin’s theoretically unsupported and practically (one is grateful to see) contravened contention that time rather than space is thg dominant principle in the chronotope. Thus, Bakhtin’s best developed chronotope, the Rabelaisian one with its roots in pre-class, agricultural societal relationships, is magnificently characterized as follows:

This time is profoundly spatial and concrete….Time here is sunk deeply in the earth, implanted in it and ripening in it. Time in its course binds together the earth and the laboring hand of man; its pace is impelled, perceived, smelled…, seen by people. Such time is fleshed-out, irreversible (within the limits of the cycle), realistic.  (“Formy” 357, Imagination 208)

And the artistic world of another from his great triad of favorites, Goethe, “is the budding seed, utterly real, present and visible, and at the same time filled with an equally real future that grows out of it” (Èstetika 232).I trust these two examples can serve to point out that such a time of “productive growth” (“Formy” 356) is consubstantial with and not dominant over space, as well as to prepare my discussion of the parables of sowing.

       It is curious to note in the present context Bakhtin’s unqualified — though, as far as I can tell, never argued — disapproval of metaphor. It is most evident in his non-dits, such as his total refusal to discuss lyrical poetry. (This is one of the main differences between Bakhtin and the critic who has best continued his space analysis, Lotman.) But it can also be glimpsed in a few overt statements. In the popular-cum-Rabelaisian chronotope, e.g., human and natural events are equally grand, so that the same words and accents can be used for both, “and in no sense metaphorically” (“Formy” 360, Imagination 211). In Homer’s style, again, metaphors (and “tropes in general”!) “have not yet utterly lost their straightforward meaning, they do not yet serve the purposes of sublimation” (“Formy” 367, Imagination 218; emphases DS). But by the time we get to the love idyll (in the 18th century, or maybe even in the ancient pastoral?), the potentially positive aspects of the idyll as such are for Bakhtin weakened and blurred by reducing life to “a [completely sublimated] love…, conventional, metaphorical, stylized.” This bad, metaphorical character of the idyll is only counteracted by an orientation eschewing convention and focussing on “the real life of the agriculturist,” based on labour: “the element of agricultural labour creates a real link and community between the phenomena of nature and the events of human life (as distinct from the metaphorical link in the love idyll)” (“Formy” 375, Imagination 226-27; emphases Bakhtin’s). I must regretfully note that I find this mixture of vulgar sociologism, vulgar (anti-)Freudianism (“sublimation”), and vulgar muzhik-worship untenable. It should suffice to confront Bakhtin’s example of the good Georgics with Virgil’s other, pointedly unmentioned and thus disqualified “idyll” of Bucolics, to make this clear. In the final analysis, the metaphor is for Bakhtin identical to an effete and by definition upper-class sublimation, to “the official sphere of speech and literature” (“Formy” 386, Imagination 238). He perceives all tropes as diametrically opposed to those other “forms of indirect use of language” serving for laughter: “irony, parody, humor, the joke, various types of the comic, etc.”–because the tropes do not reinterpret “the point of view contained within the word…, the modality of language and the very relationship of language to the object and to the speaker” (“Formy” 385, Imagination 237). I would basically disagree with such an one-sided tropology, but I want to note here only that this allotment of monologic authoritarianism to the all-pervading lyrical voice explains Bakhtin’s banishment of it into outer darkness. In a way, he conceded metaphor and lyrics to his Formalist enemies: he conceded much too much.

       Finally, it is very noteworthy that the already mentioned discussion of Homer explicates also when can a trope be redeemed, placed among the sheep rather than the goats, so to speak. This is the case when its image is not enmeshed into “sublimation” but retains an independent existence, which is judged by nearness to narrativity: Homer’s razvernutye sravnenia (drawn-out or sustained comparisons) become “almost [underline DS] an introductory episode, a digression.” Narrative equals “autonomous significance and reality”  (“Formy” 367, Imagination 218); trope equals the opposite.4/

3.2. For easier comparison to Aristotle’ canonic example of full-fledged metaphor, the analogy of sowing quoted in 1.2, I am choosing the three parables of sowing from Matthew 13. This has also the advantage of allowing me to use some insights from the witty analyses of that text (Gerhardsson, Marin, Ricoeur “Hermeneutics” 54seqq.; cf. also on parable in general Angenot, Bultmann, Crossan, Dithmar, Funk, Jeremias, Jones, Linnemann, Via) while taking a different tack from them.

       The common ground within each of the three parables embedded in Matthew 13:1-43, is–exactly as in Aristotle’s classical example of the analogical metaphor and as in Bakhtin’s rhapsodic description of the Rabelaisian, people’s chronotope–the seme of implanting or taking root (successful or failed). It arises out of the basic analogy between sowing the good seed and preaching the kingdom of heaven, which is carefully explained in the framing parts of the text. As Ricoeur rightly remarks, “[t]he parable is the conjunction of a narrative form and a metaphorical process“; he then observes as correctly that the problem of “how a metaphor may take the mediating form of a narrative” is “only partially” solved by the contemporary theory of metaphor (“Hermeneutics” 30-31). For, the classical (lyrical or micro-) metaphor is a local unit of discourse, operating at the level of sentence or lexis, whereas the parable is a literary genre (even if a small form) operating at the level of text composition, Aristotle’s taxis (ibidem 92-93). I submit that the major significant accretion to metaphor effected in parable is that the relationship between sowing/good seed and preaching/kingdom of heaven is actualized through a narrative action leading to a change of state in a determinate spacetime. This can be exemplified on the briefest of the three “sowing” parables, the Parable of the Mustard Seed:

  1. …The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field:
  2. Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof. (King James Version)

The vehicle of this parable is a minimal story involving precise space and time, whose characteristic is the deployment of hyperbole and paradox by which the least shall become the greatest given some preconditions. The space begins with the very small seed, fitting into a man’s hand; it is cinematically (both in the sense of moving and of movies) enlarged by way of the connecting “shot” of sowing to the horizontal dimension of a field (Luke 13:19 speaks of a garden); in it, the mustard seed grows after a lapse of time–tacitly filled in by the hearers from their empirical norm–to a large tree, whose greatness is verified by the last cinematic shot of many birds finding enough place to lodge in it. The spacetime dimensionality unfolds thus from the point-like seed, through the implied hand and the two-dimensional field, to the dimension of vertical development (accommodating both the upward arrow and the arrow of time) and to a final four-dimensional shot of birds flying into and finding protection within the tree (in Mark 4:32, “under the shadow of it”). As important, the story’s spacetime is consubstantial to changes through action: first the sower taking the seed into his hand and sowing it out over the field, second the growth of the seed into a tree, and third the arrival and nestling of the birds.

     Now whereas in a metaphor like “The chairman plowed through the discussion” there is certainly an action (the metaphoric focus is a verb), a micro-metaphor or sentence-metaphor cannot, I would maintain until proof to the contrary, envisage a sequential change of state, a succession of events tied to a mutable chronotope (cf. Bakhtin 84 ff.). Though the metaphor compensates for this impossibility by a  point-like flash of insight, the cognitive necessity of subjecting aspects and elements of any complex proposition or hypothesis to detailed scrutiny can only be satisfied by a story. It is, therefore, not action (by a narrative agent such as the plowing chairman) which differentiates story from metaphor; it is the development of space and time from seed to field to tree and from sowing through growing time, which add story to metaphor and form the parable — so much richer and more persuasive than an unsupported metaphor would be. The story–the plot–is the organizing backbone of the whole message. Varying Ricoeur, I would say that the kingdom of heaven is not as who but as how (i. e. what changes have happened when-and-where); indeed, “the metaphorical power of the parable proceeds from the plot” (“Hermeneutics” l25). It is the plot that functions as an analogue model, a developed cognitive vehicle, of the tenor (the kingdom of heaven), and not the mustard seed by itself. Precisely because of this model-like function of the plot, the parable shares in the basic common traits of model and metaphor, those of being “heuristic fictions” and “redescriptions of reality” (Ricoeur ibidem 95, 125, and passim), while adding to it chronotopic, story-telling articulation in which agential and spatial relationships will be unfolded as choices. Any narrative (even a small parable) is an articulated, i.e. multiply falsifiable thought-experiment.

3.3. The other two parables of sowing in Matthew 13 are significantly longer. The Parable of the Sower (13:3-8) involves four alternative actions: seeds devoured by the wayside, scorched because of weak roots, choked by thorns, or triumphantly bypassing all these threats and bringing manifold fruit. Its plot, thus, suggests alternative time-streams and possible worlds, based on qualitatively different spaces. Of the alternative chronotopes, the three initial ones traverse the spread of bad agricultural possibilities: “the whole plot is articulated following an almost land-registry-like topology (topique)” (Marin “Essai” 59). The chronotopes progress axiologically from the wayside, through the stony places (or rocky places, ta petrode), to the ground covered with thorns. In other words, the plot traverses the bad ground beginning with the wayside and continuing with the transitional space between wayside and field where rocks and thorns delimit the field: the plot (the story) is plotted upon the plot (the seeding ground), the tenor in time apparently derived from but in fact projected on the vehicle of space. These chronotopes are opposed but also lead up to the climax of the one and only perfect possibility–the seeds falling onto the agriculturally good or deep ground (literally: the beautiful earth, epi ten gen ten kalen). By the same token, the four locational and axiological chronotopes which make up the plot delineate four alternative possibilities in the zero world of the implied reader. They are typical, i. e. they are supposed to exhaust the pertinent possibilities of the seed’s destiny; so much so that when the parable is explained in 13:18-23, its tenor is four types of narrative agents, or four sub-types of “hearers of the word” (Gerhardsson 175; and cf. Suvin “Per una teoria”). I do not see how any single metaphor could accommodate four views.

       In the final parable of this group, that of the Tares (l3:24-30), there is furthermore a violent change of chronotope: the sowing and the (potential) springing up of good seed alone is first supplanted by the addition of tares, which spoilage is then presented as undone at the envisaged future gathering. The plot is here incipiently dramatic, because both the seeming inner contradiction of the Mustard Seed (smallness of seed vs. greatness of shrub) and the “objective” antagonists of the Sower parable (birds, rocks, thorns) have been replaced by the agential conflict between the wheat-sowing Protagonist and the tares-sowing Antagonist: again, the most typical “good guy” and “bad guy.” True, the Protagonist does not enter into a face-to-face conflict with the Antagonist, but explains to his Satellites (present servants and future reapers) how the Antagonist will be outsmarted at gathering time; however, this only serves to stress the temporal and substantial depth of the conflict. The mingled didascalic actions and dialogs define an already complex sequence of reversals, leading in a full seasonal sowing-to-reaping cycle from clean through contaminated field to a final cleansing by fire. I do not see how any micro-metaphor, however drawn out, could accommodate more than two agents (i.e. more than one action).5/

  1. Prospect on Narrative Texts

4.1. Should the above hypothesis about the constructive elements and factors necessary for a bridge between sentence metaphors and narrative texts prove defensible, it seems intuitively clear that it would be less difficult to pass from a small narrative form such as the parable to any other, larger narrative form, such as the short story and the novel. This extension may be approached, first, from the metaphoric side. As Ricoeur convincingly argues, “[m]etaphoricity is a trait not only of lexis but of muthos [story or plot] itself” (Rule 244). Frye had already formulated this precisely (except for the use of the wholly redundant concept of “myth”):

     …whatever is constructive in any verbal structure seems to me to be invariably some kind of metaphor or hypothetical identification….The assumed metaphors in their turn become the units of the myth or constructive principle of the argument. While we read, we are aware of an organizing structural pattern or conceptualized myth. (353)

       Second, however, the passage from parable to larger narrative forms could be approached from the narrative side too. In the space at my disposal, I can do this only deductively. We may provisionally define a narrative as a finite and coherent sequence of actions, located in the spacetime of a possible world and proceeding from an initial to a final state of affairs . Its minimal requirements would be an agent, an initial state changing to a commensurate final state, and a series of changes consubstantial to varying chronotopes (I am spelling out the last element from the seminal discussions of Eco, Lector 70, 107-08, and passim, where it already seems implied). Since all of these elements have been found in the above discussion of parable, there is no generic difference between it and any other narration.

4.2. Thus, the one major addition to a metaphoric text, the differentia generica which in fact constitutes the narrative as a mega-genre of fictionality, is the existence of a chronotope, consubstantial to the action of several agents in a developed plot. As BAkhtin concluded in 1973, looking backward at his chronotope across four instructive decades, it is the backbone of the siuzhet, of what we may today call narrativity. Still insisting that in chronotope the narrative “event does not become a figure (obraz),” he defined chronotopes as “the organizing centers for the fundamental narrative events…. It can be said without qualification that they are of fundamental significance for the formation of narrative (siuzhetoobrazuiushchee znachenie). – Thus the chronotope, functioning as the dominant means for materilizing time in space, emerges as a center of concrete presentation, of incarnation, in any novel” (“Formy” 398-99; “Imagination” 250). Indeed, I would add, as the dominant means for constituting narrative in the first place. For, in its long history, the siuzhet has at different times managed to do without many elements or aspects: overt action, individuality of narrative agents, linear causality, etc., etc. Yet I cannot imagine any narrative — epic or dramatic, to use familiar terms — that would not have some form of chronotope. The undoubtedly present and important differences between forms and genres of narrative texts (say from parable to roman-fleuve, or further to Aeschylean tragedic trilogy or the Comédie humaine) are in that perspective “merely” differentiae specificae. It should be therefore possible — though not necessarily always useful — to read any longer narrative as an enlarged and otherwise modified parable. Useful examples of different length are literally innumerable. To mention only a few discussed in scholarship recently, this would include the development of the metaphor of “nightingale” from Boccaccio’s novella V/4 to Lope de Vega’s play El ruiseñor de Sevilla (studied by Segre 106-08 within a series of interesting similar confrontations); Dickens’s Little Dorritt as a paradigm of imprisonment (Olsen 44); Proust’s 80-odd pages in A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleur as the development of the metaphor (Henry 136-37) and parable of girls as flowers; or Eco’s mention of Le Rouge et le noir as a Bonapartist parable (Lector 48). The to my mind most convincing interpretation of King Lear also concludes (one generation before Ricoeur’s stress on plot as vehicle) that “all along the bare contour of the story has been expressing the play’s most inward meanings….The story is a parable.” (Danby 194). But then, all fictional (and non-fictional) texts are in this view “analogical mappings” (Gentner 109) of one semantic domain upon another. If further, and more particularly, any narrative text can be read as parable, by subtracting the chronotope each can also be read (pace Bakhtin) as a much enlarged and much transposed — metaphor.


1/  Eco “Metafora” 191. All further references, keyed to the final bibliography, will be entered in the body of the essay by last name with page. My thanks go to Marc Angenot for our indispensable discussions; to Irena Bellert for nudging me (not with complete success) toward the straight and narrow path of precision; to Clive Thomson, for the invitation to the 1983 Bakhtin conference at Queens University; to Elena Sala di Felice, for kindly drawing my attention to Manzoni’s important note on metaphor; and last but not least, to Mike Holquist, friend from the far-off chronotope of Yale SF and Bakhtinian mystagogue.

2/ INSERT NOTE FROM met-mat:  A confusion of central importance is unfortunately present, from Richards on, between tenor — or topic — vs. vehicle employed in the meaning “Subject vs. Modifier” (used by psycholinguists such as Hoffman and Ortony and also by Ricoeur) as against the meaning “metaphor focus vs. the metaphor’s semantic referent” (used by most students of biblical parable). I am in favor of the latter use, though I acknowledge the whole question still awaits clarification. I shall for present purposes eschew the probably indispensable semiotic formalization of this approach, which would have to speak about semic fields, isotopies, Porphyry’s trees, or meaning quadrangles if not hexagons (cf. Eco “Metafora” and Henry).

2/  The intensely charged language of Bakhtin is not univocally translatable; perhaps the best one can hope for is pertinence for given purposes. For my purpose, I have used but in places modified the meritorious Emerson-Holquist translation in Imagination when citing “Formy.”  It seemed both fair and useful to retain the indication of their pagination too.

4/ I do not know whether such a “metaphorophobia” was and can only speculate that it might have been one of the main reasons that Bakhtin never wrote anything of note on Shakespeare. It might seem unreasonable to demand even of this myriad-minded theoretician to do everything, and yet I must at least record here my conviction that Shakespeare’s is the crucial corpus on which Bakhtin’s historical poetics (though not necessarily his anthropology etc.) will have to be verified or falsified.–At the Bakhtin conference mentioned in note 1, the paper of Professor Anthony Wall and an anonymous discussant after this essay was presented both posed the problem of Bakhtin’s own abundant use of metaphors. I cannot at this juncture explain the discrepancy, but I can note that by exemplifying Lawrence’s “never trust the teller, trust the tale,” it strengthens my case.

 5/ For the differences between the analytical levels of actants (redefined against Greimas to the non-syntactical terminology of Protagonist, Antagonist, Satellite, etc.) and of types see Suvin, “Per una teoria.”


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