Chinese Thing-Metaphor: Translating Material Qualities to Spiritual Ideals

Philosophy East and West 70 (2):522-542 (2020)
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This article compares the use of Romantic metaphor with the Chinese literary device xiang 象 (which I translate as “thing-metaphor”) in regard to how they embody different metaphysical relations between humans and things. Whereas Romantic metaphor transports a physical thing to the immaterial realm of imagination, xiang is a literary device in which the material qualities of the thing, while creatively interpreted to generate human meaning, retain ontologically a strong physical presence. Xiang therefore epitomizes a theory of creation that challenges the Western dualistic paradigm: that the poet creates not virtual copies of the thing, but meanings of the thing, and therefore our relationships with things. The article concludes with Heidegger’s discourses on metaphor to suggest that my discussion of thing-metaphor has universal applicability.
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