Publication details [#7272]

Levin, Samuel R. 1988. Metaphorical Worlds: Conceptions of a Romantic Nature. New Haven: Yale University Press. xv, 251 pp.
Publication type
Book – monograph
Publication language


Levin summarizes his view as different from other theories on metaphor in holding (1) that the metaphorical expression is to be taken literally and (2) accepting the epistemological consequences that follow from this literality (p. 4). Typical approaches avoid the literality problem by supposing that the deviant metaphorical language translates into actual literal language which can refer truthfully to the actual world. Instead Levin argues that metaphors create metaphorical worlds in which they have literal and true referents, and this literalness of conception is what is at the core of how poetic metaphor works. He proceeds to attempt to distinguish his theory from those of Lakoff and Johnson, Donald Davidson, and Paul Ricoeur using (1) and (2) above. He argues that Lakoff and Johnson, in treating almost all language as metaphorical, have made a move of questionable validity (p. 11) as many of their examples of metaphors have become entirely lexicalized. Thus Levin argues the fact that we do ordinarily speak of time as a resource does not require us to conceive of time as a resource, as conventionalized metaphors do not cause us to conceive of anything new. By contrast, poetic metaphor does - it causes us to imagine a metaphorical world in which "trees actually do weep." Thus Lakoff and Johnson do not satisfy Levin's assertion that conceptual metaphors are to be taken literally. Similarly, he distinguishes his theory from Davidson's in pointing out that Davidson, while asserting that metaphors are to be taken literally, argues it is their "patent falsity" that instigates a process in the reader to construe them as metaphorical and divine their truth-value by reconstructing the poetic intent. In addition to pointing out problems with the notion of "patent falsity," Levin argues that Davidson's account also robs poetic metaphors of their ability to create metaphorical worlds, as ultimately the truth-value (the meaning) of the metaphor has to do with the hearer's cognitive reconstruction of the poet's words, rather than the relation of the poet's words with the actual world. Poetry, Levin argues, is an attempt to describe literally extraordinary experiences (such as that of sublime beauty). Naturally, ordinary language is not adequate to such experiences, and thus a successful poetic metaphor brings us a conception of a metaphorical world to which the words are literally true. (Tim Rohrer)