Language and gaps: why to make a metaphor of metaphor

Wolfgang Iser‘s interests in prose may not allow him to consider what he calls a text’s “deviation” in the radical sense that it may demand. In Hans-Georg Gadamer‘s terms, we can note that with all his talk of horizons meeting (one of Gadamer’s most important ideas), nevertheless a gap emerges. It is not purely within these horizons, but between them, the horizon of me as a reader, and the horizon of an author’s text, or even the gap between the horizons of you and me as two people trying to communicate. The gap is the distance in time and space that communication seeks to negate, but it is also the gap of mis-communication, of things ill-said, or of things not said.

I have always thought about this is in terms of kenosis, chiasmus, and plerosis. Kenosis, I define as an “emptying out”, and plerosis as a “filling up”. Most usefully in these terms, for me, is the Greek -sis ending which implies that a process is on-going. Completion is not necessary for discussion. Nor is the theological source of these words significant. Harold Bloom used, in his Kabbalah and Criticism, the strategies of Jewish mystical interpretation to develop a theory of poetic interpretation. I do something analogous here. The link to Bloom’s book above suggests that aside from fashionable co-option by celebrities, or misunderstanding as a result of cheap books beside the check-out,

“The great lesson that Kabbalah can teach contemporary interpretation is that meaning in belated texts is always wandering meaning, even as the belated Jews were wandering people. Meaning wanders. Like human tribulation, or like error, from text to text, and within a text, from figure to figure. What governs this wandering, this errancy, is defense, the beautiful necessity of defense, but meaning itself is defense, and so meaning wanders to protect itself.”

Wandering and errancy, there is nothing to pin down, there is no original meaning to find. The gap is to be lived with because the gap is integral to meaning. It does not come before meaning as with some theories, it is simply always there. That is the point I wish to make in this little picture.

In this space (which I consider a kind of chiasmic crossing, which is the gap between horizons for Iser and Gadamer), Iser postulates that the ‘act’ of meaning takes place. Paul H. Fry has an arresting image to explain this, with the spark-plug which cannot function without the gap to traverse. The gap is not an impasse of permanent parabasis (which the deconstructionists turn into a sacred term, a fetish). The gap is the call to duty to communicate, and the call to duty to theorize and discuss this gap. The point is that meaning happens “in spite of” everything that stand in its way. Fry escapes the temptation to which Iser succumbs, namely the hypostatization of deviation. Fry, by having recourse to a metaphor, enacts the way out of the chiasmic crossing. We could describe it literally, as do the deconstructionists, but by simply describing, and by avoiding the literary truth of metaphors we are separated from its power, power which we can use. This is the value of Fry’s outline. It is descriptive as a schematic, but it runs builds the model and runs the current of metaphor through the thing, making it alive.

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One thought on “Language and gaps: why to make a metaphor of metaphor

  1. Pingback: Rilke’s angels and metaphor « Wetwiring

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