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Politics, History and Aesthetics as Tropes: An Introduction

  Wang Zhuo

  School of Foreign Languages, Shandong Normal University

  88 East Wen Hua Road, Lixia District, Jinan, Shandong Province, 250014, China


   The studies of trope and literature have been closely connected on both theoreticaland textual levels ever since antiquity, and many great literary works were writtenby writers who were well versed in tropes. It is therefore worthwhile to examinethoroughly what these writers know about tropes and how literary creationandliterary criticism have been enriched through rhetorical knowledge. As early as 16`"century, Richard Sherry has already come to the realization of the relations betweentrope and literature. In his ground breaking monograph A Treatise of Schemes andTropes(1550), Richard suggests that trope is the tool for "achieving ornateness"in both secular and religious writing and speaking(Hildebrandt2). In this mode ofthought, the tropes like metaphor, metonymy and synecdocheare basic human toolsof understanding, and they are both mentally and physically anchored in literature.

   The meaning of trope goes through a long process of transformation fromfigure of speech to discourse. From the perspective of rhetorical tradition, the valueof trope to literature lies in its feature of deviation (Harland4). In standard rhetoricalterminology, a trope is a deviation from the normal use of an individual word;But with the development of literary criticism, trope is endowed with broader andmore complicated meanings. Recently many literary debates hinge on competingdefinitions of "trope" between motif and rhetorical turn(Dvora&New), leadingto rhetorical studies of politics, economics, space, history and aesthetics acrosscultural divides in literary works. Therefore in order to understand these exchangesbetween literature and other various dimensions of the world, it is productive totake different tropes into consideration in our critical readings and writings.

  The three essays presented below address the aforementioned relationsbetween trope and literature in very different ways. They are diverse in terms ofthemes, subjects and theoretical approaches, which, at first glance, bear no relationto one another.Anne-Marie Mai, professor of Nordic Literature at the Universityof Southern Denmark and a Fellow of the Danish Academy of Arts and Sciences,begins this special cluster of articles with her study of welfare metaphors andwelfare critique in works by Danish writers Kirsten Thorup, Vibeke Gronfeldt andJette Drewsen. Shelooks closely at how these Danish novelists' works interact withthe development of the Danish welfare state. The second contribution to this specialcluster comes from Agnieszka F,obodziec, of the University of Zielona Gora inPoland. She focuses on Toni Morrison's novel A Mercy examining how Morrisonelucidates the emotional dynamics between white subjects and black objects andtheir individual feelings at the genesis of racial and social bifurcation of mainstreamAmerican society that subsequently evolved into systemic racialized slavery.Another contribution to this cluster comes from Jorgen Veisland, of the Universityof Gdansk in Poland. He explores the issue of the aesthetics of loss in Americanwriter Paul Auster's Sunset Park.Based on Kristeva's analysis of abjection, JorgenVeisland examines how Paul Auster combines realism and abstract form in anattempt to capture pure thingness and the in-betweenness of things.

  Although the three articles are varied in many ways, however, on a deeperlevel, they do have one thing in common. The tropes of politics, history andaesthetics are the unifying metaphors among the three essays and trope as thekey word runs through the three essays. In Anne-Marie Mai's essay, welfare is ametaphor which, as a "dreamwork of language," establishes a metaphorical houseto accommodate rich political and social meanings(Davison 435). Mai holds thatthe house metaphor is not substantial, but it forms a clear metonymic basis in theimagery used, and it has a reference back to the biblical metaphoric of the houseand the temple building that was used in the labour movement songs from the endof the 19th century, where for example Ulrich Peter Overbuy made use of biblicalexpression when writing about the new society as "a strong house we build toprotect us in need."In terms of cognitive pattern, house is a spatial pattern anda part-whole pattern which can be used in the study of the deep framing of thewelfare state and its objectives.

  Mai's house metaphor explores the abstract welfare issue in two differentways. First of all, to concretize and visualise the abstract object. The metaphoris the "main mechanism" through which we comprehend abstract concepts andperform abstract reasoning. Therefore the idea of the welfare state becomes "spatialand concrete" when it is visualises as a home for the people and a societal family tothe public. Secondly,to fill in the gap between writer and reader. The productivityof metaphor results from the fact that the interpretations of metaphor reflects asmuch on the interpreter as on the originator. So to understand a metaphor is as much a creative endeavour as to make a metaphor (Davidson 435). Based on thiscognitive feature of metaphor, Anne-Marie Mai sets up a bridge across the readersand writers, through which the linguistic framing of the welfare state and itsmetaphorical patterns created by the writers are transmitted to the readers and aretransformed to a social and political sphere of experience of the readers.

  In Agnieszka Lobodziec's essay, Toni Morrison's emotional trope in A Mercyis viewed as a literary representation of historical truth. It is interesting to notethat Agnieszka Lobodziec starts her analysis from "the etiology of the AmericanDream." To women, and especially to black women in the U.S., the realizationof American Dream is a process of "Housing" or "Unhousing" the "genderedse1P'(Kalfopouloul). In some sense, Agnieszka Lobodziec continues and extendsthe house metaphor initated by Mai in her article, but Lobodziec's house metaphortargets to a completely different point. To African American woman writer in theU.S., their American dream is a struggling out of the father's house, the slaveryhouse and the interiorized slaverized house. And therefore their fulfillment of self isa process of "coming home"(Kalfopoulou173).

   However Agnieszka Lobodziec's American dream metaphor and interiorizedmetaphor are only parts of the story. It is obvious that Agnieszka Lobodziec istaking good use of the concept that the balck tradition is double-voiced utterance,or as Henry Louis Gates, Jr. put, possesses "two mouths" (341). This spirit of thedouble-voiced utterance is in the same vein with the nature of metaphor in whicha word or phrase denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of anotherin order to suggest similarity or difference between them. Via these two mouths,Agnieszka Lobodziechopes to enhance the reader's experience of black texts byidentifying levels of meaning and expression that might otherwise remain buriedbeneath the surface.

  Jorgen Veisland explores Paul Auster'sexperiment in trying to dissolve andthen reconstruct the relation between thing and sign, res and signum in SunsetPark. It is obvious that Jorgen Veisland adopts a Lacanian perspective. Germanscholar Heiko Jakubzik in his dissertation proposes that there are two centralinfluences in Paul Auster's writing, one is Jacques Lacan's psychoanalysis and theother the American transcendentalism of the early to middle nineteenth century.This Lacanian psychoanalytical approach to the relations between world andlanguage, between thing and sign is metaphorical in the sense that Lacan's keyconcept symptom is first described as a metaphor, then as an ego: the subjectof literature, the writing and written subject will ultimately become a myth forculture(Rabatel9). Auster's text reverses the history of semiotics in trying to capture existence prior to the sign, which in some sense explains the reason whywe need a metaphor. The sense of being outside language, and thus outside of theworld is exactly the reason why we need a metaphor, and why we need art. Just asJorgen Veisland put in his analysis that access to "the world of others" is "throughthe work of art only." It is perhaps not an exaggeration to say that Jorgen Veisland'sstudy in some sense provides a theoretical framework for the other two articles interms of linguistics, psychology and language philosophy, or in other words, it is anaesthetic trope for the other two essays in this special cluster.

   It is somewhat surprising how differently and extensively tropes play theroles in literary expression. The three critics identify politics, history and aestheticas epistemological tropes that offerdifferent and effective ways to rethink identity,otherness, society and art. In other words, politics, society and aesthetics areexciting and useful tropes for the epistemological shift from reading the word toreading the world so as to detect the truth deep beneath the surface.

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