Contents Contact

View from hilltop in snow over clouds to far hill.

Metaphor as Tension

...for metaphor does make what it signifies to some extent familiar because of the likeness involved (for those who use metaphors do so always in view of some likeness).

Aristotle (c. 340 BCE)

A tensive vibrancy [in an effective metaphor] can be achieved only where an adroit choice of dissimilars is made, so that the comparison comes as a shock which is yet a shock of recognition.

Philip Wheelwright (1968)


Metaphors perform a fine balancing act. In bringing together two elements they must weigh familiarity against strangeness: mere familiarity, and nothing novel is gained; if all is foreign a gulf is left intact. An image which should puzzle at first glance. The page on Emergence introduces the problem how do we get to know that which we do not know? The two elements of a metaphor enter into a kind of concord, for the metaphor to engage us, and be alive, Wheelwright thinks that the parts need a certain of tension, a tension that a new and imaginative apposition generates. The product of the metaphor may take us across the liminal; An Arctic Fox on the horizon. The importance of the liminal (and similarly distinctions) to understanding. across the horizon Sunsetting over the Southern Uplands north of Moffat in Scotland. Continues the richness of the concept of horizon and its application as a metaphor for meeting novalty. of the known. Other figures of speech also enlarge our language; the simile by gently aligning two ideas, the analogy A line of sheep passing beside a wood. There are many mechanisms doing this stitching - analogies are especially valuable. by comparing two skeletal sets of relationships. The uniqueness of a successful metaphor is that it engages us with its unpredicted novelty: it is this piquant quality of a good metaphor, the tension, that makes its matter memorable because of our delight.

Aristotle frequently returns to the idea of metaphor, this quote is from 140a9 in his Topics Book VI. The Wheelwright quote is from his book Metaphor and Reality page 74, published by Indiana University Press.

Human and metallic tension in this suspension bridge. The psychological tension for the Westerners negotiating its failing structure, and the ‘suspensive’ tension in the supporting wires of the bridge were photographed on the road running south from Mèo Vạc in Hà Giang Province, northern Vietnam. A local enjoys watching for possible problems!

Above, hovering on blue introduces a link: click to go, move away to stay.


Saturday 16th April 2022

Murphy on duty to this site