Metaphor and writing

Metaphor and writing: Figurative thought in the discourse of written communication. By Philip Eubanks. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Pp. x, 214. ISBN 9780521191029. $90 (Hb).

Reviewed by Siaw-Fong Chung, National Chengchi University

Philip Eubanks argues that the treatment of metaphor has not been given enough attention in writing, and this book calls attention to the importance of figurative language and thought in writing. In Ch. 1, E provides some examples of metaphors in writing. The kind of metaphors E refers to is conceptual, referring to the process or even to the conceptual manifestation of writing which may or may not reflect a particular linguistic phenomenon. For illustration, E explains that well-organized or well-structured are examples of metaphors used when describing the spatial organization of writing (20, citing Peter Elbow, The music of form: Rethinking organization in writing. College Composition and Communication, 57.4, 620–66, 2006).

In Chs. 2 and 3, E compares the meanings of writer versus to write. The prototype of writer, however, ‘is incompatible with and yet inseparable from the prototype of to write’ ( 40); that is, although writer and to write are both seen as basic-level categories, ‘writing cannot, in fact, occur at a general level’ (42). In Ch. 3, E further discusses the varying generality of writer and to write, which he calls ‘conflicting theories’ among ‘the general-ability view and the specific-expertise view’ (41). For example, prototypical writers usually possess non-prototypical writing ability.

In Ch. 4, E begins a discussion of metaphor and metonymy in writing. Three stories of writing are discussed, namely the literate-inscriber (e.g. lists, emails, notes), the good-writer (e.g. essays, workplace genres), and the author-writer (e.g. complex compelling texts) stories. These three stories generally ‘rely on two fundamental metonymies: Writing Is Thought and Writing Is Identity’ (63). In Ch. 5, E examines the figure of voice in writing. According to E, voice reflects a complex metonymy because writing involves not only the Writing Is Speech metonymy (e.g. personal voice, passive voice), but also can be broken down into Writing As Transcription (e.g. the text says, he or she says), Writing As Talk (i.e. to write like you talk), and the Discovered Voice (i.e. the underlying voice).

In Ch. 6, E discusses the conceptual blends among writing, speech, and the different selves (multiple voices), be they a singular self, multiple selves, or the core self (the real me). Nobody, however, is able to tell whether any of these selves are the writer’s true self as ‘all constructions of self potentially have sophisticated rhetorical motivations’ (141) and this explains why a complex conceptual blend is present. In Ch. 7, the conduit metaphor is discussed (e.g. putting thoughts into words, getting the message across). Although E mentions many weaknesses of the conduit metaphor, he claims that this type of metaphor reflects the Language is Power metonymy. One of the alignments between these two is that the latter involves a force model (direct force model) and a model which ‘retrains or moves any object in its field’ (159).

Ch. 8 provides examples that help to explain the conduit metaphor. E also discusses the conduit metaphor with regard to the three stories of writing. Ch. 9 contains a final note about other possible metaphors, such as Argument Is War, which may also exist in writing, and the book ends with a reminder to the readers that in writing the writer needs to determine which ‘choice of figures’ (197) one has to employ.