The Depictive Image

Metaphor and Literary Experience


In scholarly writing on metaphor, there is a great gap between literary theory and critical practice. Phillip Stambovsky here attempts to close that gap by presenting a theory of literary metaphor that is grounded in actual literary experience.

Stambovsky begins by critically reviewing the most well-known and influential theories of metaphor, including those based on notions of comparison, substitution, transfer, analogy, semantic interaction, and context.

He then introduces a phenomenology of literary experience, drawning from the writings of Whitehead, Cassirer, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, and Frye, among others. With this as his theoretical foundation, Stambovsky stresses the primacy of presentational awareness in literary experience, arguing for the reader's collaborative involvement in the creation of textual meaning.

In the third chapter, Stambovsky examines how literary imagery functions in narrative discourse, showing how Henry James's imagery in The Golden Bowl depictively renders the relationships of characters, their thoughts, and their feelings so that the reader perceives them with the immediacy and aesthetic impact of perceptual, as opposed to conceptual, experience. Turning to the very concept of depictive imagery, Stambovsky next discusses experiential approaches to metaphor, particularly those of Marcus Hester and George Yoos. He concludes his study with an explication of a metaphor centered in the closing line of Dickinson's poem, "A Bird Came Down the Walk."

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