Last updated: July 12, 2019
Topic: ArtPoetry
Sample donated:

In this analysis, I will be evaluating the use of metaphor within poetry and the way in which Relevance Theory is particularly used to uncover and enlighten particular themes and hidden nuances within poetry. In particular, I will be closely analysing the use of metaphor within U. A Fanthorpe’s poem, “Casehistory: Alison (Head Injury)”. (AQA, 2010: 20) Theory:Prior to Relevance Theory, Traditional and Gricean accounts viewed metaphor as being non-literal or an example of figurative language. In particular, the Gricean account viewed metaphor as deliberately ‘flouting’ the maxim of quality (or truthfulness) on a literal level. Grice, in particular, suggests that we should endeavour to look at literalness as a norm, and only if a literal interpretation becomes impossible do we reject that and move to a figurative interpretation. Thus, proposing that we have an innate mental process in which we analyse a phrase to test its ‘literalness’. Once we mentally establish that we cannot devise a ‘literal’ interpretation, we abandon this and then turn to seek out a ‘figurative’ interpretation and search for implicatures within the phrase. However, the Gricean account provides a problematic explanation for how a metaphor operates, as Billy Clark support within his chapter on ‘Figurative Language: Metaphor’. (Clark, 2013) For example, Grice makes it unclear as to why non-literal language should exist. As Clark exemplifies, “If a speaker intended to communicate that someone is not a fine friend, why not simply be literal so that the hearer can access the intended meaning directly? (Clark, 2013: 255) Additionally, Grice makes it unclear as to why we use implicature in speech and literature: again, why use implicature when we can simply be literal? How do we understand and arrive at the implicature in the first place?             In opposition to Traditional and Gricean accounts, Relevance Theory does not assume that literalness is a norm in communication, and aims to explain loose use, hyperbole and metaphor using the same principles. Adrian Pilkington presents the term of loose-use particularly well, initially stating that: “Metaphorical use is seen in relation to a literalness-looseness continuum. Looseness is defined in terms of formal and logical resemblances between the propositional form of an utterance and the propositional form of the thought of the speaker.” (Pilkington, 1991: 55) In particular, that “Metaphorical use of language is similar to use talk: the propositional form of the utterance resembles rather than reproduces the propositional form of the speaker’s thought.” (Pilkington, 1991: 55) Pilkington then goes on to ask us to consider the utterance: “Sally is a block of ice.” (Pilkington, 1991: 55) Gricean accounts would initially observe that this flouts the maxim of quality on a literal level. This maxim would then be used as a basis in the inferential process in order to uncover the intended meaning. However, in terms of loose talk, Relevance Theory does not need or require a rule or a principle to operate on an initial literal interpretation. Instead, the propositional form of the utterance would be viewed as the propositional form of the speaker’s thought. In this situation, the interpretation merely requires bringing together encyclopaedic entries of ‘Sally’ and ‘block of ice’ to create a range of contextual implications most of which will be rejected as being too weak an implicature. As Sperber and Wilson state, metaphor “requires no special interpretative abilities or procedures: it is a natural outcome of some very general abilities and procedures used in verbal communication.” (Sperber and Wilson, 1986: 237)When considering metaphors, Pilkington states that “Poetic metaphors are defined as those that typically achieve their relevance through the accessing of a very wide range of weak implicatures.” (Pilkington, 1991: 55) So, the larger the range and the weaker the implicatures the more poetic the metaphor is. This places more responsibility upon the hearer, or reader, as they have to access, process and attempt to understand the various implicatures. Pilkington later expresses that there can be an indefinite number of implicatures and there is no possible cut-off point that “allows us to say that so many implicatures are communicated and no more.” (Pilkington, 1991: 56) But, it’s these factors that allow us to explain why one person’s interpretation is different from another’s and how there can be numerous interpretations of a particular implicature. Additionally, it is worth mentioning that Relevance Theory also introduces ad hoc concepts, a device which Traditional and Gricean accounts lack. An ad hoc concept is constructed in the interpretive process for a particular utterance. Whilst an ad hoc concept is a part of the explicature, the Relevance Theory account claims that creative metaphors communicate a wide array of indeterminate weak implicatures, which is most apparent in creative, rich literary metaphors which hold a wide range of weak implicatures. An author may not care which implicatures you derive, just as long as the reader has derived some. Analysis:U.A Fanthorpe’s ‘Casehistory: Alison (head injury)’ is a dramatic monologue from the perspective of a brain-damaged girl (Alison) who is looking at an old photograph of herself prior to her accident and reflects upon her past self, who is now a stranger as she takes into account her current position. Throughout the monologue, Alison refers to herself in the third person as she no longer identifies or recognises herself as this past person. She now identifies herself as a hospital case, that there is no real person behind her casefile title anymore, thus it is only fitting that the title of this monologue is ‘Casehistory: Alison (head injury)’. Fanthorpe uses a selection of metaphors within her poem, of which I will consider how Grice would have understood it’s implicatures and in terms of Relevance Theory. One of the first metaphors that appear in the poem is on line three: “A bright girl she was.” Gricean accounts would attempt to understand the literalness of this utterance and then abandon this, as it is impossible for humans to literally enact the metaphor. Whereas, in terms of Relevance Theory the reader would attempt to create an ad hoc concept, pulling from their individual encyclopaedic information. At a base level, Gricean accounts would ask us to consider that the girl was ‘bright’ as in literally being illuminated, shining, glistening, etc. Whereas, Relevance theory asks us to consider and produce ad hoc concepts. These may be: ‘Bright’ as in attentive. Possible connotations may be perceptive, careful, alert, etc.’Bright’ as in apt or quick to learn. Possible connotations may be: clever, crafty, keen, knowing, savvy, sharp, etc.Or ‘bright’ as in encouraging or favourable. Possible connotations may be advantageous, golden, fortunate, promising, etc.In the poem’s context, any of these concepts would have been suitable. No matter which concept you choose to place into the poem, the melancholy tone still remains and the juxtaposition between who Alison once was and now is even heightened. She used to be all of these concepts. She used to be careful, she used to be clever, and she used to be promising. This is, again, heightened even more as this utterance is repeated in the last line of the poem. This heightens the melancholy tone of the poem as it produces added emphasis through the use of anastrophe. By repeating this utterance, Fanthorpe highlights the girl Alison once was, who is now a husk of her former self. The line undertakes a mournful tone, as Alison mourns the ‘bright girl’.Similarly, metaphor is heavily used in the fourth stanza:(10) “Hardly. Her face, broken By nothing sharper than smiles, holds in its smiles What have I forgotten.” (AQA, 2010: 20)Starting with the first metaphor on line ten, “Her face, broken”, Gricean accounts (again) would ask us to consider the utterance at a literal level, and then abandon it as it is impossible for a face to be broken nor is it supposed to be in such a literal way. So, at a base level, the Gricean account asks us to consider that the girl’s face is literally ‘broken’, as in literally being destroyed, damaged or shattered. Again, Relevance Theory accounts ask us to consider possible ad hoc concepts within this utterance, where the reader pulls from their own encyclopaedic information. These may be:’Broken’ as in confused. Possible connotations may be detached, disjointed, irrational, incoherent, etc.’Broken’ as in disabled. Possible connotations may be defective, deformed, impaired, lame, etc.Or ‘Broken’ as in disappointed. Possible connotations may be disillusioned, debunked, brought down to Earth, etc. If these concepts were to stand alone and not be incorporated into the poem’s context, these concepts would have all been suitable. However, when we attempt to incorporate these concepts into the context of the poem, that Alison’s face is broken by a smile, we see that these concepts do not quite work. When considering the entire utterance, “Her face, broken/ By nothing sharper than smiles…”, we have to consider the concept that Alison’s face is broken by a smile and the effect that it produces. Considering the second metaphor in this stanza, “… sharper than smiles”, the Gricean accounts ask us to consider the utterance at a literal level, and then abandon it as it is impossible for a smile to be sharp. It is clear from the beginning that this is an example of figurative language. At a base level, we attempt to consider that someone’s face is literally broken by something sharper than a smile, which is an impossible notion. So, we turn again to Relevance Theory which asks us to consider possible ad hoc concepts within this utterance. These may be: ‘Sharp’ as in knifelike or cutting. Possible connotations may be pointed, razor-sharp, sharpened, etc.’Sharp’ as in bitter. Possible connotations may be acidic, caustic, harsh, etc.Or ‘Sharp’ as in skilled. Possible connotations may be able, adept, polished, etc.The reader may be quite confused by the notion of a face being broken by a smile, this may be because the act of smiling is normally a friendly, pleasant act. The reader then needs to consider this from the narrator’s point of view. However, in the poem’s context, these concepts may be thought to be suitable. As Alison was once a dancer, her smile would be one of her tools while performing. It would have to be polished and be a readily sharpened tool to have in her repertoire. Additionally, for Alison to see that she was once happy and smiled joyously may be a concept that she finds difficult to swallow, and she fixates upon the way in which her smile once broke across her face, unlike what it does now. This again re-enforces the melancholy tone that runs throughout the poem. In particular, the repetition of smiling within this stanza may indicate that Alison cannot smile anymore and that the trauma that she experienced caused a physical disfigurement. Thus, explaining the way she fixates upon her previous self as she identifies another juxtaposition between who she was and who she is now.ConclusionIn conclusion, I believe that I can attest to the fact that Relevance Theory is successful in uncovering and enlightening hidden nuances hidden within metaphors, thus adding additional emotion to the piece.