Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Anna Aragno on Metaphor and Metapsychology

"In summary, the following are the main points psychoanalysis brings to the current status of our collective understanding of metaphor:

1. Just as metaphor pervades everyday thought and language, so is it an integral part of the processes, phenomena, and interpretive activities of the psychoanalytic situation. "Psychoanalysis is essentially a metaphorical enterprise" wrote Arlow (1979, p. 373); we listen metaphorically to capture and translate unconsciously enacted, felt, and fantasized meanings into linguistic form, again, "largely through the use of metaphor" (Arlow, 1979, p. 363).

2. As in all forms of symbolism, firm ego boundaries are required for metaphorical thought to be used and understood in discourse and in treatment. Traumatic and/or overwhelming affects and conflicts interfere with, and degrade, the capacity for entering that region of imaginal ideation where conceptual metaphor and meaningful symbolic communications can be exchanged. The restoration, or development, of this capacity—the loosening of concrete and literal thinking—plays an important part in the therapy of more
primitive pathologies.

3. Metaphors are conceptual and figurative, and only secondarily linguistic, involving affective, perceptual, kinetic, and cognitive input. The metaphorical process lies between the primary and secondary processes, and is the central activity in the selection and integration of affective, mnemonic, perceptual, and kinetic registrations and stimuli in the process of dream construction, so that "Affects, metaphor, and memory form a synergistic, unified system." (Modell, 1997, p. 220).

4. Psychoanalysis specifically introduces a temporal dimension to the idea of the transfer of meaning from one thing to something else, in that the something else becomes "in terms of another time: the present is understood in terms of the past, the past in terms of the present" (Borbely, 1998, p. 925). Moreover, we look through and into metaphorical constructs in order to see and understand psychic reality, whereas metaphors usually work directionally the other way around, from organic experience to a perceptual reality (Enkell, 2001).

5. In conjunction with cognitive science, we recognize that metaphor includes a series of mechanisms designed to process and integrate new patterns, as in making correspondences, or finding the familiar in the unfamiliar; "The perceptual and motor apparatus serve memory by means of a scanning process in which there is an attempt to match current experience with old memory categories" wrote Modell (1997, p. 221). By figuring or pointing to one thing while meaning another, we accommodate experience and organize reality (Arlow, 1979).


6. Metaphor is implicated in all creative thought: It is the vehicle of novelty and new meaning in art, poetry, and science, alike, an "instrument through which to express something that cannot be captured in any other way" (Enkell, 2001, p. 236). Not surprisingly, metaphors come in various types: there are those that are playful, creative, and expansive, others that are "fixed, unambiguous foreclosed and unchanging" (Modell, 1997, p. 220). There are banal, communal, cultural, conventional, root, idiosyncratic, poetic, and theoretical metaphor varieties; metaphors that are orientational, ontological, organic, mechanic, and anthropomorphizing; those that carry collective weight and those that never make it to full form. The symptom or illness as metaphor is a somatic affect-equivalent expressing an unconscious plaint that cannot find another means of representation. Some metaphors are hung on metonymic hooks (Modell, 1997), others, fastidiously contrived, that sink. Let us not confuse the metaphoric eruptions of the personal dream with those of the consummate poet; though spun from the same spool each weaves a very different cloth, the former spontaneous but rough-hewn, the latter a skillfully brocaded tapestry." (p. 35)


Anna Aragno (2009).  Meaning's Vessel: A Metapsychological Understanding of Metaphor.  Psychoanalytic Inquiry. Vol. 29, pp. 30-47. 


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