Sunday, March 04, 2012

Clarity & Metaphor

I just took notice of (though I'd previously been aware of) the call for the annual essay prize at The Philosophical Quarterly. This bit of the theme description ("Philosophy and the Expressive Arts") caught my attention:
Some philosophers insist with Wittgenstein that “whatever can be said at all can be said clearly”. In that case, are artistic uses of language such as metaphor and imagery just "colour", as Frege called it - just ways of dressing up thoughts that philosophers, by contrast, should consider in their plainest possible form?
It struck me quite at once that metaphors can arguably be clearer than their non-metaphorical equivalents. Compare:
1. I got very drunk last night.
2. I got hammered last night.
For my money, (2) shows more. The "colour" adds something. It seems that this idea is something (at least the later) Wittgenstein would have readily acknowledged, though I don't have any passages at hand to support that suspicion. (This is all a quick thought.)

If I can find the time, this might be the right time to re-visit Coetzee, as well, as I think his work speaks volumes to some issues that are worth exploring under this theme, such as the limits of language (and of rationality to contain and/or make sense of things that "wound" us, as with Elizabeth Costello, and also David Lurie).

1 comment:

  1. I agree, and even thought of Coetzee too in the same connection. The plainest possible form might involve "colour" or "dressing up," i.e. things that are likely to mistaken for color and dressing up. Everything should be said as clearly as possible, but no more clearly than that. And it's often tempting to go too far.