Resemblance and Identity in Wallace Stevens' Conception of Metaphor

In Kacper Bartczak & Jakub Mácha (eds.), Wallace Stevens: Poetry, Philosophy, and Figurative Language. Berlin: Peter Lang. pp. 113-137 (2018)
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Abstract

Aristotle and the classical rhetoricians conceived of metaphor as a figure of speech in which one thing is given a name or an attribute of another thing on the basis of some resemblance that exists between the two things. Wallace Stevens conceived of metaphor not as the production of pre-existing resemblances observed in nature but the “creation of resemblance by the imagination” (NA: 72). Resemblance, and not identity, according to Stevens, is the fundamental relation between the two terms of metaphor. This is akin to contemporary accounts of metaphor in terms of the phenomenological or experiential seeing of one thing as another thing (Yoos 1971; Davidson 1979; Camp 2006a,b; Semino 2008; Ritchie 2013). Seeing one thing as another thing on the basis of resemblance or similarity implies that the one thing is not the other. I do two main things in this paper: one, I appraise the theoretical value of Wallace Stevens’ conception of metaphor as the creation of resemblance by the imagination; and two, I pose a challenge to the view that takes resemblance as fundamental to metaphor, arguing that in the cases I present, thinking of the relation as identity and not resemblance, concurs with our ontological commitments to the things compared in the metaphor. In the final analysis, I suggest that Stevens conception of metaphor as metamorphosis can meet the challenge: rather than thinking of the ‘is’ (identity) of metaphor as an ‘as’ (resemblance), for Stevens, the ‘as’ (resemblance) of metaphor metamorphosize into an ‘is’ (identity).

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Richmond Kwesi
University of Ghana

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