Conveying Perspective and Marking Membership

Interpreters of metaphorical language need to make decisions about which aspects of the source domain to map and which aspects to ignore. This involves a process of selection and construal that tends to foreground and background particular aspects of the target domain. This allows strategic selections to be made that can convey one particular meaning over another (Deignan, 2005). In other words, metaphors, rather than merely conveying information equivalent to that of parallel nonfigurative expressions, evoke a particular point of view. This is summarized in Semino’s (2008) statement that “metaphors are seldom neutral” (p. 32).This characteristic of metaphor makes it particularly suited for the conscious or subconscious expression of ideology or the consolidation of certain perspectives over others (Goatly, 2007; Semino, 2008). Related to this is the subtle persuasive pull of metaphor in that it requires “receivers ... to enter the perspective of the producer in order to understand it” (Cameron, 2003,

p. 111).

Metaphoric construals can also function as membership markers of a particular belief community (Cameron, 2003). The god is father metaphor is crucial in Christian discourse, but largely absent from the language of Muslims (Dorst & Klop, 2017). Particular uses of the god is father metaphor promote specific conceptualizations of divinity and, therefore, can be used as markers of specific sectarian affiliations. Christians who acknowledge that God cannot be properly described as possessing a gender still often resist using the metaphor god is mother. The domain of motherhood, after all, provides a different set of mapping possibilities, some of which may challenge current conceptualizations of God within many traditional Protestant Christian communities.

Construing the Abstract as Concrete and Tangible

When a more physical, embodied domain is used to talk about a more abstract domain, the inevitable effect is to make that target domain appear more concrete and tangible. The following examples come from three Zen testimonials taken from Kapleau (2000) that describe the moment of achieving kensho, an initial experience of self-realization:

I’ve totally disappeared. Buddha is! |...J

The substance of Mind—this is now luminously clear to me. My concentration in zazen has sharpened and deepened.

(pp. 231, 232)

All at once the roshi, the room, every single thing disappeared in a dazzling stream of illumination and I felt myself bathed in a delicious, unspeakable delight.

(p. 253)

Deeper and deeper I went ...

My hold was torn loose and I went spinning ...

To the center of the earth!

To the center of the cosmos!

To the Center.

I was There.

With the sound of the little kinhin bell I suddenly knew.

(p. 281)

Kenslw, according to advanced practitioners, involves a realization that a person’s regular view of the world around them is “illusory”, allowing them to “experience absolute undifferentiated Reality” (Kapleau, 2000, p. 52). This reality is viewed as inexpressible, non-dualistic, and ethereal. Kensho thus involves the practitioner glimpsing an experience that calls into question subject-object relationships. However, when meditators talk about their experience, they often draw on established, embodied conceptual metaphors. The first two extracts above view the moment of achieving kensho through the overlapping conceptual metaphors


the first extract views the concentration involved in sitting meditation as both a physical instrument for achieving kensho and a container to hold it. The third extract graphically depicts the experience as a downward descent to the center of everything, which draws on the conceptual metaphors religious experience is


One motivation for this use of conceptual metaphor to talk about the inexpressible and highly abstract was touched on above: believers are simply trying to make their experiences accessible to others. However, another factor is also at play here. Not only do these descriptions make the experiences easier to picture, but they also add physical weight and a visceral quality that raises them above the plane of subjective conjecture. The use of conceptual metaphor has transformed experiences into something that can be clearly seen and appears as self-evidently true. It assigns the same sense of tangible reality to a journey to the center of the cosmos as it does to the sound of a bell.

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