Publication details [#5826]

Markgraf, Sarah. 1992. Review of 'Metaphor and Film' by Trevor Whittock (Cambridge Studies in Film, Henry Breitrose, and William Rothman, Eds.). 1990. New York: Cambridge University Press, 178 pages, $39.50 (hardcover). Bakhtiniana: Revista de Estudos do Discurso 7 (1) : 45–49.


Compared to the many self-consciously stylized titles of scholarly books about metaphor, the title of Whittock's new book, 'Metaphor and Film', seems perversely plain. It is, however, a proper introduction to what we find on its pages. Across the seven chapters and two appendices that constitute 'Metaphor and Film', the author presents what he sees as a rarity in film scholarship: a no-nonsense account of cinematic metaphor - what it is, where it is, and how to interpret it. This project is at the service of a larger one, which is to argue for "a more inclusive theory of metaphor" (p. 20), that is, an understanding of metaphor as a principle of human psychology that extends into any area of human expression. "How," Whittock wants to know in the concluding chapter of Metaphor and Film, "does the mind seek for meaning and sense through metaphor?" He urges us to privilege an "imaginative account" (p. 127) of metaphor, one that places it "at the level of category formation" (p. 127) and not at the level of an ornamental device. The result of understanding metaphor in this way is a certain futility to any attempt to spell out "a definitive taxonomy of metaphors" (p. 49) in film, because metaphor by definition eludes categorization. But Whittock is not paralyzed by this paradox, and he argues that "a method [for identifying metaphor in film] has to be adopted, if only to organize the material to be examined and to crystallize problems" (p. 49). The author's method of choice is first to outline a working definition of metaphor (chap. 2), one that relies primarily on Richards's (1936) concepts of tenor and vehicle, and then to show - sometimes with the help of tables, lists, and symbolic notation - how metaphor understood in this way can apply to film images. (chapters 3-5) (Sarah Markgraf)