Aren’t metaphors merely a colorful way of saying something literal, that is otherwise, a non-boring way of saying something boring? Merely the rhetorician’s weapon that subjects his/her audience into compliance? The dictionary of literary terms denote the metaphor as a figure of speech where something is described in the terms of another, or attribute something with a quality that is associated with something else. For instance, Walt Whitman’s metaphor for grass is “the beautiful uncut hair of graves.” The relation between the two terms in a metaphor is implicit, unlike a simile, where it is explicit.
Not only is metaphor the basic linguistic unit of poetry, often found in romantic and modernist poetry, it is also a pervasive presence in all forms of language. Generally, the metaphor is a catch-all category for all figures of speech. Yet, as long we remain within the conception of metaphor as an embellishment of speech, we only deceive ourselves – for it is actually the original impulse of language, where its primal level is poetry. The concepts we now determine as literal used to be metaphorical, and we have long forgotten their origins.
However, metaphor in philosophy should not be mistaken as a merely aesthetic phenomenon found in poetic language, for even metaphors contain an explanatory principle.
If language is actually based on rhetoric, as opposed to logic – the presumption of the philosophers before Nietzsche – then signs representing ideas do have spatiotemporal qualities, a history, thereby making Platonism impossible, and the boundary between sense and reference is erased….
Hardcore empiricists like Thomas Hobbes condemned metaphor as an “abuse of language,” largely because of its capacity of obfuscation and corruption. He couldn’t get beyond the narrow conception of metaphor as an “ornament” of language, which insists that rational language is free from such contaminants, and well-equipped with the reliability of literal meaning in natural language.
For Nietzsche, metaphor is the ultimate key to language, religion, concepts, perception, for it is the very symbol of interpretation, the foundation of meaning and truth themselves. Nietzsche agreed with Hobbes that metaphor distorts, but departed from the Leviathan in the insistence that truth can be apprehended by metaphorical thought. The very privileging of metaphor promises a philosophy that elude the neatness of conceptual language. In The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche condemns conceptual language for it contains little more than “dead metaphors,” totally inappropriate for the expression of the truth of the world. We are but representations of the essence of reality, mere appearances of the “indescribable-in-itself.” Once we forget that our concepts come from metaphorical origins, then the belief that concepts represent reality sinks in and entrenches our minds.
Concepts themselves, say, the concept of a book, have been abstracted three levels away from the original sense data, sensation. First, the sensory stimuli is transformed into an “image” by the complex physiological processes of the brain, a representation of perception, a coherent symbol of significance. Then this “image” is ostensibly given a sound, a word, a generalization, making language the second level of abstraction. Lastly, within consciousness the word-sound becomes the concept. In other words, there is no direct conception that ideally correspond to reality, or at least the first level of sensation, for the initial sense data is metamorphed three times in order to arrive at a concept, which is merely a “figurative metaphor.”
For instance, “cause” and “effect” are conventional fictions that designate and communicate, but not explain, given that there is no ‘causal connection’ in the in-itself. If we are the inventors of causes, then our thoughts are essentially mythopoetical – where the grammatical subjects of language is converted into the substance of the world. Once we realize that we always transform our experiences with metaphors, not duplicate or reproduce them with concepts, and that metaphors themselves become concepts, and build vast edifices and systems, then our conceptual thought is necessarily “anthropomorphic through and through, and contains not a single point that is true-in-itself, objective, universal, apart from man.” (On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense, I) We are the architects of our prisons, and cannot go outside the bars of reason.
Once metaphor is realized as the master key of meaning: then epistemology is little more than a set of aesthetic preferences. Metaphysical knowledge is the most useless of all knowledge, although post metaphysical thought is possible, as long interpretation consists of concepts derived from active metaphors.
Therefore, there is no metaphysics or epistemology or even an axiology in the philosophy of Nietzsche. In essence, the style of Nietzsche demonstrates that all his linguistic artifacts are metaphors themselves. Sarah Kofman did a huge favor for the future of Nietzsche scholarship by publishing a book called Nietzsche and Metaphor, in which she pointed out Nietzsche’s aim: the deconstruction of all metaphysical oppositions where the indefinite metaphorical play of style places his texts beyond metaphysics.