Chapter 2 : Poetics and Narrativity: How Texts Tell Stories – Phillip Eubanks
Main Claims / Executive Summary
In this chapter, Eubanks sets out to reclaim narrative and metaphorical criticism from the hands of “traditional poetics” in order to recognize how influential narrative and metaphor are to the creation of meaning in daily life.
To achieve this, he begins by grounding the all-pervasiveness of narrativity in two areas: 1)the metanarratives of postmodernity and 2) the claim of cognitive scientists that we use narrative to “conceptualize experience and organize memory” (36). After providing a methodological account of his work, Eubanks concludes by noting how the tension that develops between narratives of distributed cognition (stories/cognitive frameworks that allow people to think and work together ) and narratives challenging those cognitive frameworks provide ideal sites for further investigation.
Turning next to metaphor, Eubanks relies heavily on Lakoff and Johnson’s work to demonstrate how metaphor is also central in the process of cognition. In his exploration of metaphor, Eubanks demonstrates how the literal referent and the metaphoric term interact to create new, altered meanings that extend the metaphor beyond the Aristotelian conception of metaphor as “alien name.” Through an extended analysis of interviews with former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, Eubanks illustrates how image schemas (abstract referents that structure our understanding and reasoning) develop conceptual metaphors through which we can “gain insight into the ways people think – the way they approach their professions, the way they construct their culture, the way they understand themselves” (46).
Eubanks closes by noting how other traditionally literary tropes, like metonymy and irony, also deserve an extended treatment to see how they are enmeshed with one another in the production of meaning through language.
Eubanks recommends a close, critical reading of a text with an eye toward what sort of stories are being told. First, he performs a couple of reads to identify all of the “stories” being told in a piece. Next, he classifies each of the stories into larger story headings. For example, stories about developing software and stories about the Internet would be classified as “business-development stories” (37). After performing the story-finding and classifying exercise, Eubanks attempts to demonstrate how those stories construct the subject. In so doing, he also recognizes how the individual/entity/organization hasn’t constructed themselves, and, perhaps, how others have.
In performing metaphorical criticism, Eubanks notes that he intends to 1) consider the relationship between prominent conceptual metaphors and 2) take into account their problem setting and argumentative functions (45). Eubanks again recommends a close, critical reading of the text with an eye toward all of the metaphors that are developed. After collecting the metaphors, he recommends placing them into analytic categories. Next Eubanks recommends deriving a conceptual metaphor from the collected analytic categories. After doing so, Eubanks notes that the application of image schemas can allow the researcher to differentiate the importance of the deployed conceptual metaphors – and inherently allows us to note how that individual/entity/organization constructs themselves metaphorically.
Lakoff, George & Johnson, Mark. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lyotard, Jean Francois. The Postmodern Condition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Questions/Challenges (I hope these are relevant!)
1. To some degree, narrative criticism seems to be an extension or application of Burke’s dramatism. Is the narrative a symbolic action or a way of knowing? When performing narrative criticism, aren’t we also trying to figure out human motives? Anyone else see analogs?
2. Speaking of motives, how do we account for ruptures that occur when narratives aren’t probable? In other words, what happens if we’re working through narrative analysis and the stories being told don’t jive with our lived experience and don’t fit or conform into analytical frameworks? How do we, as researchers, negotiate this difference? Does it even matter/is this even possible?
3. What happens if we begin to find strings of archetypal metaphors (light-dark, life-death, sickness-health, etc.)? Doesn’t this seem to challenge the idea of recursive/self-inscribing metaphors on the literal-referent/metaphorical term model? Is this even relevant?
4. The entire metaphor criticism process is a little unclear to me. I have especial difficulties with the relationship between image schema and conceptual metaphor. Any help?