Datson (2013) wrote on an intriguing topic of metaphor and allegory, titled “Musings on Metaphor and Allegory” at Soul Spelunker. What intrigues me is how the expressed symbol (through metaphor) may be evoked from what is read, alluding to the hermeneutic process. Quilligan (1979) informed “all true narrative allegory has its source in a cultures attitude toward language, and in that attitude, as embodied in the language itself, allegory finds the limits of its possibility” (p. 15). Allegory, through the organization of an experience, or reading, allows for the reader to explore the work “by making our own running commentary as we read” (Quilligan, 1979, p. 16). This presents the notion of metaphor that I would like to discuss. We are observing a metaphorical process through the method of hermeneutics. For clarity’s sake, I am discussing poetry when I am referring to the content read, and it is the exploration of poetry that might allow us to embrace the symbolic and metaphorical expressions. We may find the formation of metaphor through the engagement of literature, which is evoked through the very act of reading.
Our experiences can be viewed symbolically through allegory, which allows for a literary expression “to point more easily to something beautiful and intangible” (Edwards, 2007, p. 126). Just as I have spoken of poetry to be a means in expressing the experience of addiction, one can engage with the symbolic musings of what unconscious material has been revealed through metaphor, yet the beauty is in embracing the meaning, and to a degree, understand. Lewis (1959) informed the allegory “is of the very nature of thought and language to represent what is immaterial in picturable terms (p. 44).
Smith (2005) stated that from the “book The Allegory of Love, C. S. Lewis explains the tradition of symbolic theology in contrast to allegory…that allegory is connected to symbolism…allegory starts with the sensible world and invents something fictional, which is less real that the sensible. Symbolism, in contrast, tries to look past the sensible world to something more real beyond it to which it points” (Smith, 2005, p. 222).
A statement from Datson (2013) had directed my thoughts to the individual’s interpretations of received, or read content that may evoke metaphor, where he had explained “an allegory is nothing but the use of something known to represent some moral truth or trope in figurative terms” (Musings on Metaphor and Allegory, para 5). What I have gathered from Datson’s statement is how symbol may represent and be expressed as truth. When discussing how through poetry the individual can expose their intrapsychic interpretations, trials, and meanings, the symbol metaphorically expressed to expand on truth, reveals an apparent beauty of poetic expression. While one reads the poetic expression of themselves or from another, as Quilligan informed there is the individual’s interpretation and interpersonal meaning that is to be consciously embraced or thwarted as either a conscious or unconscious response to what emotional complex may resonate. Our reactions to the symbolic expressions do not only provide a conscious interaction, as poetry might illuminate material from the unconscious as well; so we can engage with the metaphorical expression of symbolism through poetry consciously, and potentially experience unconscious symbolism. We then can explore what symbolism, what content has seeped from the unconscious through poetic expression.
“The metaphor is the preferred language of the unconscious because metaphors are images that catapult one beyond the literal to the Mundus Imaginalis. The unconscious speaks through imagery. This is not the imaginary kind of images, but imaginal symbols, which originate from the realm of the Imaginal” (Datson, 2013, Musings on Metaphor and Allegory, para 7).
When discussing poetic expression and the experience of reading such expressions, I am bringing our attention to how we choose to use language. There are apparent blockades in the symbolic realm of words, which might cause hesitation in the artistic utilization of language; although we are discussing symbol.
“Symbolism arises when the phenomenon…is first transformed into an idea…and later into a picture…whereas allegory is found when the concept…is turned into a picture. In symbolism or symbolic representation, the picture contains the idea…in allegory, the concept is completely absorbed in the picture and the expression forms an entity. In the symbolic the poet captures…the truth immediately without having to search for it. In the allegorical he has to search…because there is a distance to be conquered between” (Cecchini, 2000, p. 342) that of what is particular and universal.
Through the understanding of symbolism the metaphor then is of unconscious content that has been projected upon the witnessed material. I would like to briefly acknowledge some terms that can present a more elaborate landscape in regard to how we may engage with and experience symbol. On September 22, 2012, The Poetic Symbol: A Metaphoric Projection of Unconscious Material, I had described projections through the terms of dissimilation and assimilation. Jung explained dissimilation to be where the “subjective content becomes alienated from the subject and is, so to speak, embodied in the object…as projection means the expulsion of a subjective content into an object” (Jung, 1921/1990, p. 457). Introjection then refers to assimilation or “an indrawing of the object into the subjective sphere of interest” (Jung, 1921/1990, p. 452). I discussed an aspect of projection and metaphor in Alchemy: The Unconscious Act of Projecting on February 2, 2013 and on July 29, 2012, I wrote on Metaphor and Symbol: An Expressive Medium, discussing metaphor to be an “expressive medium of symbols, an expression that exists in a more raw, personified context. From a psychological perspective, metaphor provides the ability to make psychological connections (Shengold, 1981), while the narratives of what is expressed through metaphor allows for the individual to conceptualize the experience”. These terms are quite fitting as we are now observing external content as a symbol, defined through metaphor, which evokes an engagement of imagination and fantasy.
Through the act of reading poetry, metaphors may influence the individual through an internalization of the expressed content. “Poetry is a marking out of our humanity in rhythm and metaphor and abstraction; but it is also that which potentially acts as a conduit to the intuitive dimensions” (Wylie, 2007, p. 80). As a writer, one may have expressed the experiences of projection just as the reader may have projected upon the content. Quilligan (1979) explained, “after reading an allegory, however, we only realize what kind of readers we are, and what kind we must become in order to interpret our significance in the cosmos” (p. 24). In theory we could conceptualize that which is a concept, an idea, separate from the symbol or image; in doing so one can theorize on how a union is to exist and how to allow for the content to be recognized.
Cecchini, L. (2000). ‘Allegory of the theologians’ or ‘allegory of the poets’: Allegory in Dante’s Commedia. Orbis Litterarum. 55, 340-378.
Edwards, B. (2007). C. S. Lewis [Four Volumes]: Life, Works, and Legacy, Volume 4. Westport, CT: Greewood Publishing Group.
Lewis, C. (1959). The allegory of love: A study in medival tradition. London: Oxford University Press.
Quilligan, M (1979). The Language of Allegory: Defining the Genre. Ithica, NY: Cornell University Press.
Smith, J. (2005). Introducing radical orthodoxy: Mapping a post-secular theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic
Wylie, D. (2007). Unconscious nobility: The animal poetry of harold farmer. English in Africa 34(2), p. 79-92.
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Erik J. Welsh, PhD
– Author of The Addiction Complex