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.


Narrative Criticism:

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.

Metaphorical Criticism:

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.

Key Words/Phrases/Concepts:






conceptual metaphors

image schemas

distributed cognition

cognitive frameworks

Key Citations

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?

6 Responses to “CCR691 – Week 3 – Ch. 2 Blog for Comment”

  1. Luce

    I too had a lot of trouble with this and other chapters. I am at a loss to see some solid connections between this and my own work as well as the work of others I have read.

    One thing that struck me is the seeming pointlessness of finding repetition for the sake of repetitions. Archetypes, while useful to discuss tropes and thus cultural, social, political and mythical representations of self and community, only draw attention to the repetition of an image/concept/referent after a point. In other words, business is like war becomes the trope that we seek out in the metaphor of Bill Gates, but what has identifying that metaphor done beyond explaining the ethos that Gates wishes to project? Perhaps I’m being horribly reductive, but I think what I am trying to highlight is the frustration I have with the purpose or contribution that this methodology provides.

  2. Anna

    I think the summary you’ve provided here is really helpful. I liked Eubank’s chapter because I can identify a lot of what I do with the kinds of narrative analysis he talks about, even if I wouldn’t have labeled it “narrative analysis” before reading this chapter.

    Eubanks talks about both the stories Gates tells and the stories that are told about Gates as though they are just strategic ways of painting an image of Gates/Microsoft. But it seems to me that the real power of narrative is the fact that the meaning constructed through the creation of the narratives simultaneously forms the basis of and reflects belief. I don’t think that Gates is simply telling his “business as a journey” or “business as a game” stories to make himself look better. I think these stories probably reflect what he believes about himself, and I also think that the act of continually telling and retelling these stories gives him even more reason to continue believing that they constitute his truth.

    For me, this is where the significance of narrative analysis lies. The kinds of narratives Eubanks is talking about aren’t merely rhetorical strategies that we use to try to reach audiences who might feel alienated by non-narrative approaches. Narrative is fundamental to the way that we come to know ourselves in relation to others. And it’s this dynamic process of asserting the self through always already social means of communication that narrative analysis can help us better understand.

  3. Eileen E. Schell

    I kept thinking of Lakoff and Johnson’s notions of “frames” and framing as I read this chapter. I think you did a good job of characterizing this, Justin.

    Amber, in response to you comment above, I had moments where I shouted “stop counting” and “coding” and just analyze (going back to my own comfortable method of rhetorical analysis), but I also think there is something to the systematic reading and accounting that these essays force us to consider. What struck me, again and again, is the time that it takes to do this kind of work carefully. It is hard to have a large “corpus,” although I know that many writers who do discourse analysis do address large bodies of texts.

  4. Missy

    First, I must admit that I haven’t done much reading or analysis on tropes or metaphors and their influence on rhetorical constructions of perception and knowledge. However, I really get a kick out of thinking about how metaphors (and language more generally) shape the way we think and view our social world. Maybe it’s because I get a kick out of how students respond to this. When I asked my class recently why Times Magazine would alter OJ Simpson’s mug shot to make him appear to have a darker complexion, many responded that making him darker made him seem evil or like a criminal. When I went one step further and asked them why “dark” suggested “evil” or “criminal,”–besides saying, “Because dark things are evil”–they were at a loss as to why they unquestionably make such associations. Although I agree that meticulous counting is not an approach I’d prefer, I imagine that such analyses won’t only speak to how a single text frames our thinking of a certain subject, like Bill Gates; I imagine that such analyses will also help us question and challenge more generally how metaphors effect our thinking about certain subjects in the first place. I hope that made some sense.

  5. Luce

    I think what is so difficult with the “counting and coding” aspects is the margin of error or the error of invention. I think one question that was asked previously was “is this generative or method of execution” and I have gotten very comfortably with using evidence generatively or inventively, so the whole counting thing seems locked in and thus shutting down potentiality.

    But often we have an idea of what we want before we approach evidence, so this method has more potential than I give it credit. And I think this dilemma speaks more to a panic for direction and a sense of “authority” over evidence than it does how to actually use a generic method.

  6. Eileen E. Schell

    Amber–So you are now doing rich-feature analysis, I see!

    What strikes me (see Justin’s summary of all readings this week) is the difference between Huckin’s content analysis, Barton’s rich-feature analysis, and then Selzer’s rhetorical analysis (see also Wysocki’s visual analysis).
    All are in the same book on discourse analysis/textual analysis. Yet as class members argued this past week, they are radically different in terms of politics, ethics, and views of language. How much room is there in our field for true methodological diversity, as Kirsch would say? How might we benefit from trying some of these methods and seeing what they might yield? As I think Missy said, these methods might be more effective for some audiences than others.

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