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Personification: its functions and boundaries.

While personification is a common literary device and a prominent feature of lyric poetry in particular, the fact remains that the status of personification in the field of tropology has been in one way or another indefinite and volatile, resulting in a wide range of disagreement over its significance. Providing a critical overview of its problems and exploring its nature vis-a-vis some other allied tropes will perhaps save personification from such confusion and lead to a proper understanding of its importance.

One of the prevailing critical attitudes toward personification is indifference. Paul de Man illustrates such indifference in literary criticism with an example drawn from Michael Riffaterre's discussion of Hugo's poem "Ecrit sur la vitre d'une fenetre flamande." According to de Man, Riffaterre, though noticing the dependence of the poem on what he calls personification, only emphasizes the banality of this device and "does not seem to consider it as being in any way remarkable, stylistically or otherwise" (47). Personification for Riffaterre, at least in the poem, is a given rather than a problem and, as such, needs no detailed explanation. Such a reaction indicates that if it is natural to make a distinction between the animate and the inanimate or between the human and the non-human, the violation of such a distinction by language is familiar, far from arousing bafflement. This supposed familiarity is certainly problematic from a deconstructive point of view like de Man's, but at the same time it is not surprising, since it is a fact that personification, among other tropes, tends to be considered conventional. Conventionality or familiarity as a source of indifference has become a basic element in what characterizes personification.

There is an interesting episode in Chaucer's "The Pardoner's Tale" that will also help illustrate what is at issue. Three debauchees, drinking in a tavern, hear a bell clinking to announce that a corpse is being carried to its grave. One of them wants to know who it is, and his servant replies that the man, "an old felawe of youres," was suddenly killed by "a privee theef men clepeth Deeth, / That in this contree al the peple sleeth" (6.672, 675-76). He adds, "He hath a thousand slayn this pestilence" (6.679), thus warning the debauchees that before meeting him "it were necessarie / For to be war of swich an adversarie" (6.681-82). The innkeeper vouches for this, repeating what the servant has said, and then one of the debauchees exclaims,
   Is it swich peril with hym for to meete?
   I shal hym seke by wey and eek by strete,
   I make avow to Goddes digne bones!
   Herkneth, felawes, we thre been al ones;
   Lat ech of us holde up his hand til oother,
   And ech of us bicomen otheres brother,
   And we wol sleen this false traytour Deeth.
   He shal be slayn, he that so manye sleeth,
   By Goddes dignitee, er it be nyght! (6.693-701)

The conversation among the debauchees, the servant, and the innkeeper thus revolves around "Deeth," superficially consistent topically, but its meaning is ironically disrupted. While the servant and the innkeeper begin by allegorically personifying, unwittingly or otherwise, death as a cruel murderer, the three debauchees bring another dimension to this figurative frame as they respond by demanding to fight back against death as if they were on an equal footing with it. It would seem that the debauchees are making the mistake of taking the figurative at face value, thus setting themselves to hunt down the person named "Deeth." Their behavior here not only appears reckless and ridiculous but also partakes of something that ignores or exceeds the allegorical limits of the personification "Deeth."

The direct target of irony in this episode is of course the three debauchees' stupidity and not the personification of death. However, many of us as modern readers would react to the episode in a way that accords with a cliched view of personification such as Riffaterre's in his reading of Hugo's poem, trying to explain the irony in part by saying that those debauchees, taking "Deeth" as a real living person, are too stupid to notice such a popular and commonplace rhetorical device. In other words, while the episode suggests that personification can present a serious challenge to the concept of humanness, there is also something in its irony that anticipates a generalized disregard for personification as a specific trope. In fact this trope, which had wide currency in eighteenth-century poetry in particular, has often been not only passed over as a convention and commonplace but also devalued or discredited in one way or another. (1) Hegel, for example, observes that the presentation of the natural and sensuous by analogy with the spiritual or vice versa "may easily degenerate into preciousness, into far-fetched or playful conceits, if what is absolutely lifeless appears notwithstanding as personified and such spiritual activities are ascribed to it in all seriousness" (1: 405). From this perspective, personification, whenever employed in a full-scale way, would be seen less as a trope than simply as an instance of tropological abuse. The nonsensicality of the debauchees' reaction to "Deeth," then, is not just ironic but might be displaced by the absurdity of personification as such. Even if in this case such absurdity is generically justified in the name of allegory, it cannot be denied that there has been more or less a persistent inclination for critics to see personification as being of little aesthetic or epistemological value, except that its importance has been strongly asserted by de Man and some other post-structuralist critics, especially J. Hillis Miller and Barbara Johnson.

A representative example of such devaluation in the British rhetorical tradition is the treatment of personification by Henry Home, Lord Kames in his Elements of Criticism, a standard textbook in rhetoric and criticism in the Enlightenment that preceded a more popular and influential one, Hugh Blair's Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (Paxson 25-26). In the book Kames devotes a separate section to discussing personification but does not put a high value on it, though his list of quotations from Virgil and Shakespeare suggests their frequent or constant use of personification has crucial implications for an understanding of the trope. Kames's discussion here consists of distinguishing between two types of personification, "passionate" and "descriptive." This distinction involves aesthetic value judgments, having more to do with motives for personification than with its intrinsic qualities. "Passionate personification" is a figure that takes place, for example, when a character seeks in nature sympathy with his excessive emotion, and it is "more noble" because it is in many cases "so complete as to afford conviction, momentary indeed, of life and intelligence" (334). "Descriptive personification" is "a common figure in descriptive poetry" (334), often used as a means of expressing abstract or general ideas, and it is "more humble" "because seldom or never is personification in a description carried to conviction" (335). Personification for Kames, in whatever way it is used, is a "bold" figure (331), more or less unsuited for the truth but made effective and acceptable by the power of passion, while he also mentions "the frequent use of descriptive personification" and explains that it is justified by the way the "imagination is so lively and active, that its images are raised with very little effort" (335). Although Kames is particularly critical of descriptive personification, this type of personification, often indistinguishable from, as he acknowledges, "what is merely a figure of speech" (337), must be more interesting than the other from an epistemological point of view, drawing attention to the way personification, even though it is a distortion of reality, can be a poetic necessity and a serious concern for "the language of the writer, and not of the persons he describes" (334). The question in Kames's case, then, is what is obscured by approaching the problem of personification primarily from the point of view of emotion, or, to put it another way, what is suggested by the fact that there are so many examples of personification that have little or nothing to do with emotion.

A similar question may arise when we consider John Ruskin's criticism against the use of personification in poetry. If Kames admitted personification because of its emotional elements, Ruskin rejected it for the same reason. Ruskin's term for what Kames called "passionate personification" is "pathetic fallacy," though this was meant to be a coinage naming an aesthetic defect in poetic description. It is well known that in a chapter of his Modern Painters Ruskin reproved some poets, especially romantic ones, for their tendency to attribute human traits to the inanimate. Such attribution, in Ruskin's view, is a "fallacy" resulting from the excess of emotion, a deviant way of seeing the natural world that, though often producing a seemingly fascinating description, has little cognitive value (5: 201-20). However, if personification partakes of something so fallacious that it can be a serious obstacle to the truth, this does not mean that we can do without it or dismiss it from our language. In fact a total rejection of personification is inconceivable because it is an undeniable fact that, as Miller argues, this trope is as essential to ordinary language as to poetry, not primarily a matter of lyricism but an intrinsic and irreducible part of language ("Catachresis" 402-03). Recognition of this fact seems implicit, as in Kames's criticism of descriptive personification, in Ruskin's use of the term "pathetic fallacy." By using this term Ruskin deliberately suppresses or disguises the fact that he is dealing with personification, but at the same time he also suggests that what is at stake for him is a particular instance of personification and not all of it, which means that personification and the pathetic fallacy overlap but do not tally. Or rather, Ruskin's insistent failure to use the term "personification" may be taken as a terminological sign that his real concern is not personification as such. This is not surprising, given that he seems to accept or overlook personification in cases where it is linguistically unavoidable and emotionally neutral, or, as in the prophetic books of the Old Testament, epistemologically justifiable (Miller, "Catachresis" 401-02, 404-07). The significance of the concept of the pathetic fallacy for the theory of tropes, then, lies not so much in the implication that it is a disguised attack on personification as in the implication that it is so incidental to the question of what constitutes the nature of personification that it cannot be extended to criticism of the trope proper.

It is now clear that personification is controversial mainly because of its paradoxical character: while it may seem untrue and unnecessary, some of it is an indispensable element in the use of language. To illustrate this, let us take a look at a short quotation from Dickens's Great Expectations. Pip, the hero and narrator of the novel, says, thinking back to a childhood scene in which he was hiding under the table fearing punishment, "I clutched the leg of the table again immediately, and pressed it to my bosom as if it had been the companion of my youth and friend of my soul" (60). It is easy to notice two separate examples of personification in this sentence. One is of course the personification of a part of the table as "the companion of my youth and friend of my soul," which may be taken as an example of passionate personification or the pathetic fallacy because the clause in which it appears is an addition made not so much to describe what Pip pressed to his bosom as to express how he was feeling then. It may therefore be said that personification is used here to add a dramatic effect to the scene, which means that it would be easily possible to depersonalize what Pip says here and change it into an objective report by removing the "as if clause from the sentence and making it simply "I clutched the leg of the table again immediately, and pressed it to my bosom." This shortened version no longer seems to include any emotionally motivated expression, nor could it be reduced or changed any more: it conveys the bare minimum of information about what happened. Yet such simplification does not mean that there is nothing figurative about the resultant sentence. Personification is still there in the form of an apparently natural and unrhetorical combination of words, "leg of the table," which, needless to say, is the proper term for what is personified in the original sentence as Pip's old and close friend.

The personification "leg of a table" is of course not Pip's invention but a familiar phrase drawn from everyday language, in which there are also a certain number of similar examples such as "arm of a chair," "eye of a storm," "mouth of a bottle," "face of a cliff," "foot of a mountain," and so on. These are called in rhetorical terminology catachreses, figures that pass as literal words or have no literal equivalents, though they tend to be examined in the context of the problems of metaphor rather than personification. (2) "Leg of a table" is one of the most commonly cited examples of catachresis. "When we say 'feuille de papier' or 'pied de table,'" observes Gerard Genette in referring to Pierre Fontanier's conflict with Cesar Dumarsais over catachresis, "we are using an obligatory metaphor, because the proper word does not exist, or no longer exists, or does not yet exist" (51). "The catachresis 'pied de table' is certainly a trope," Genette goes on,

because for a table it uses a word originally reserved for the human body, and diverts this word from its initial signification; and as such it is of interest to the (diachronic) history of the language. But it is not a figure-trope, since I can offer no translation of the word "pied" (foot), because no other word exists: it is of no interest therefore to the (synchronic) code of rhetoric. (51-52)

Like catachresis in general, "leg of a table" is structured like a metaphor but does not seem compatible with the idea of substitution that is fundamental to the theory of metaphor. As the juxtaposition of the two examples of personification in the sentence from Great Expectations has neatly indicated, the problematic nature of catachresis, as opposed to a form of verbal substitution, lies in the way it is not a figure superimposed on the literal but an integral part of, and hence a possible conceptual model for, the literal.

The issue is further complicated by the fact that some catachreses are also cited as examples of so-called dead metaphors in such a way that the focus may shift toward the problem of the temporal and historical process that underlies the fact that in our language there are a lot of apparently literal words that were initially figurative. Such a shift of focus, for instance, is implied when Hegel says,

In the first place, every language already contains a mass of metaphors. They arise from the fact that a word which originally signifies only something sensuous is carried over into the spiritual sphere.... But gradually the metaphorical element in the use of such a word disappears and by custom the word changes from a metaphorical to a literal expression, because, owing to readiness to grasp in the image only the meaning, image and meaning are no longer distinguished and the image directly affords only the abstract meaning itself instead of a concrete picture. (1: 404)

The process described here helps to account for the fact that many catachreses have lost much of their figurativeness, but it would be problematic to say that they are used as literal words because of their forgotten figurativeness. The similarity to dead metaphors does not mean that catachresis too is a historical product or phenomenon, something that has its origins in metaphor. At stake, rather, is "the fact that a word which originally signifies only something sensuous is carried over into the spiritual sphere," which is an example of the abuse of language that underlies the problem of catachresis. In other words, even if it is irrelevant to the synchronic code of rhetoric, catachresis is basically a synchronic problem, "the bringing in," as Miller puts it, "of a term from another realm to cover or clothe a gap in language" (Topographies 189). It is therefore characterized primarily by the need to transcend or extend the existing cognitive boundaries of language.

The problem of supplementing the lexicon of a language by means of word abuse dates at least as far back as Aristotle, who mentions in his Poetics that metaphor can be used to refer to what has no proper word of its own. Clearly, metaphor of this order corresponds to what we call catachresis. For Aristotle, catachresis is a variation on a basic pattern of metaphor making, but it is not in essence distinct from metaphor because it entails no substantial relaxation of the strictness of an underlying principle. Metaphor in general, as Aristotle explains, presupposes "an eye for resemblances" (87), and some of it results from making an analogy between two sets of things. That is, when A is to B what C is to D, we can get metaphor by interchanging A and C or B and D. From this it follows that if part of what constitutes an analogy is missing, this missing part can be metaphorically termed by the name of its counterpart, and this sort of word transfer as opposed to substitution is catachresis (77, 79). "For instance," says Aristotle, "to scatter seed is called sowing: but the action of the sun in scattering his rays is nameless. Still this process bears to the sun the same relation as sowing to the seed. Hence the expression of the poet 'sowing the god-created light'" (79). Thus catachresis for Aristotle, like a certain type of metaphor, is based on analogy: it is not the replacement of a given word by a figurative one but constitutes a method of coinage whereby something nameless is given a figure as its original name. This theory would give a plausible explanation of the way a catachresis is built into literal language without ceasing to be a figure and obscures, rather than draws attention to, the fact that it is a figure. Dealing with the problem of catachresis in this way, Aristotle suggests that tropology is a system of verbal transference that can also serve as a device for naming things in general, or as a generalized type of nomenclature.

At the same time, however, it should also be noted that catachresis as Aristotle describes it is not entirely governed by the concept of metaphor proper. This looseness lies in the fact that his example of catachresis quoted above, as is often the case with catachresis in general, is also an instance of personification, illustrating the use or abuse of a word by transfer from the human to ill a verbal gap in the realm of the inanimate. While this fact seems to mean that for Aristotle personification too is a special case of metaphor and a subspecies of this main generic category, it also suggests that such a taxonomic hierarchy can be reversed, since the implication in Aristotle's example of catachresis is that it is possible to draw an analogy between the scattering of seed and the scattering of the sun's rays because the sun is personified already, treated, in advance of the analogy in question, like a person engaged in an act of scattering (Nishimura 905-06). This implication points to the possibility that when catachresis, as it often does, takes the form of giving partial humanness to an inanimate object, it is at least in some cases a fragment of the full-scale personification of that object. Given that the ancient Greeks, as Nietzsche indicates, saw natural objects and phenomena less as such than as human forms and acts as if in a dream (255), it would be reasonable to suppose that Aristotle took personification for granted and tacitly posited it as an underlying base for metaphorical analogy. Yet this would not be surprising because it appears that personification, for us too, has a similar function as an implicit master trope insofar as it is something conventional and familiar.

To note that metaphor can be an effect of personification or based on this trope is crucial especially for an understanding of the rhetorical structure of lyric poetry. Take, for example, Keats's "To Autumn," the poem famous for its elaborate personification of the season. In the first stanza of the poem, autumn is personified as "Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; / Conspiring with him" to ripen crops (2-3). In the second stanza, it takes a more tangible human form, transformed into a woman getting the harvest in:
   Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
   Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
   Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
   Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
   Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
   Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
   Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
   And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
   Steady thy laden head across a brook;
   Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
   Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours. (12-22)

Yet it would be misleading to say that "To Autumn" is a good example of personification just because the season is presented there as the sun's friend and conspirator, a female harvester, and, in the final stanza, a singer whose "music" is different from "the songs of Spring" (24, 23). For one thing, these images themselves may be categorized less as personifications than as metaphors insofar as each of them is an obvious analogy for the season. For another, however, they are not primarily such metaphors as happen in the form of personifications due to an analogy between the inanimate and the human, but rather part of an underlying process of personification at work in the poem. This process, the beginning of which is exactly simultaneous with that of the poem itself, is set in motion when the poet addresses autumn as "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, / Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun" (1-2), which is followed by the use of the second-person pronoun "thou" to call it. All this is an apostrophe, meaning that the poet not merely presents autumn as a person but also forms an addresser-addressee relationship with it, in which the season for him exists not as an "it" or as a "she" but as a "you," as if it were a person within earshot. The images of autumn in the poem that are personifications as well as metaphors are therefore ones attributed to the season not as something purely inanimate but as something given a certain humanness already, each suggesting that the comparison of the season to the human is in the nature of a comparison of one person to another.

Like the relation between personification and metaphor, the relation between personification and apostrophe, another familiar poetic device, is worth considering. Leaving aside its oldest sense, apostrophe is usually described as an address to the dead or the inanimate, and it can be taken as a kind of personification insofar as it is a transfer of such language as seems suitable for people to the inanimate. As Blair puts it, in his Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, after discussing personification, "Apostrophe is a Figure so much of the same kind, that it will not require many words." "It is," he goes on,

an address to a real person; but one who is either absent or dead, as if he were present, and listening to us. It is so much allied to an address to inanimate objects personified, that both these Figures are sometimes called Apostrophes. However, the proper Apostrophe is in boldness one degree lower than the address to personified objects.... (180)

The point is that there are two kinds of apostrophe, one of which, an address to the inanimate, is the bolder version of "the proper Apostrophe," an address to a dead or absent person. It is obvious from this parallelism that the bolder type of apostrophe is not merely "an address to inanimate objects personified," but also one that is characterized by the attribution of qualities demanded of an addressee, especially life and presence, to the inanimate. What is at stake here is more clearly stated in Kames's brief discussion of apostrophe that follows the section on personification, where he observes that these two tropes cannot be dissociated from each other in two ways: for one thing, they are "derived from the same principle" (343), and for another, they tend to concur because "things inanimate, to qualify them for listening to a passionate expostulation, are not only personified, but also conceived to be present" (344). This comparison draws attention not only to the close relationship between personification and apostrophe but also to the difference between them, which Kames also clarifies by mentioning that if personification is the ascription of "a momentary sensibility" to what is insensible, apostrophe is the ascription of "a momentary presence" to "a sensible being who is absent" (343). In other words, apostrophe, often accompanying personification, has the effect of not just making an inanimate object human but rather making an inanimate object present as a humanlike being.

Kames's discussion of apostrophe, except for his underestimation of its significance as well as his belief that passion is its source and power, seems more or less compatible with a modern tropological theory. As Jonathan Culler argues, apostrophe is not merely a poetic convention or a formal or emotional address to what can never really be responsive, but a poetic demand and event whereby an inanimate object becomes an addressee, even if the aliveness or humanness of the object is explicitly denied (135-54). In other words, even though apostrophe seems inherent in passionate personification or the pathetic fallacy insofar as these consist in seeking an emotional link with the inanimate, the problem at issue is primarily a linguistic one. Apostrophe, emotional or otherwise, is not a hollow or innocuous utterance but rather a speech act, a verbal force that thrusts the inanimate into human relationships, and as such it should be distinguishable from the use of personification simply to describe the inanimate. This distinction corresponds to the distinction between the constative and the performative in speech act theory. The question of the relation between personification and apostrophe can therefore be regarded as a version of the question of the relation between the two functions of language.

As Jacques Derrida contends in his "Declarations of Independence," what is problematic about the operational relation between the constative and the performative lies in its undecidability. A declaration of independence is a speech act that is performed in the name of the people of an independent nation, while such people come into being as a result of the act of declaration, not existing prior to it. This means that a performative act cannot succeed without recourse to a constative statement whose truth depends on the very success of that prior act. (3) Something similar may be noticed in the workings of apostrophe as it relates to personification. Consider Shelley's apostrophic poem, "Ode to the West Wind." Here is the opening part of the poem:
   O Wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
   Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
   Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

   Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
   Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
   Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

   The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,
   Each like a corpse within its grave, until
   Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

   Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and ill
   (Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
   With living hues and odours plain and hill:

   Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
   Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh, hear! (1-14)

The opening address, "O Wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being," introduces the wind into the poem by making it a being that can be given a face and addressed, with its name "West Wind" changing from a common to a proper name. Besides existing as an addressee and hearer for the poet here and throughout the poem, the wind is also characterized through tropological substitution and evocation as a powerful protagonist in the poetic world, "Destroyer and preserver," while other natural objects and phenomena linked with the wind are correspondingly given some humanness. The address not only takes place at the beginning of the poem but also gives rise to such a series of personifications, thus forming the basis for the poem as a whole. At the same time, as long as the address figures as a constitutive part of the poem and a pivotal event that occurs within it, the question arises what motivated it in the first place. A clue to this question is provided later in the poem when the poet, saying that in his boyhood "to outstrip thy skiey speed / Scarce seemed a vision" (50-51), indicates that he has always been put in rivalry with the wind. Now he feels estranged from his old antagonist, and the poem reveals itself as an attempt to overcome the estrangement by confronting the antagonist once again. This long-standing rivalry means that the wind exists like a person not just in the poem but rather in the life of the poet of which the poem is a part. From this perspective, it is the case that the poet can begin the poem by addressing the wind because for him it is already a humanlike being with a face and the proper name "West Wind" when he addresses it. To put it another way, the apostrophe in the poem is justified by the way the humanness of what is apostrophized is posited as a given. It is therefore an exemplar of what Blair refers to as "an address to inanimate objects personified," while this does not mean the primacy of personification over apostrophe because it is still possible to argue that the poem begins with an address to the wind personified through a previous address to it. The poem thus illustrates the problematic relationship between personification and apostrophe, suggesting that if an address to an inanimate object makes the object an addressee and thereby opens the door to personification, it is also an act of fulfillment because it presupposes that the object is already personified as a potential addressee.

Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind" is not a special case, but what is implied by many of the poems that are characterized by the personification of the inanimate is that such personification, in one way or another based on apostrophe and animated by it, is in fact the personification of personification because apostrophe is not simply an address to an inanimate object but also a response to the personification of it. From this implication it follows that personification and apostrophe are inseparably dependent on each other, not two separate tropes but rather two aspects of a master trope, the one called personification in a broader and more comprehensive sense of the term. Personification in this sense, which is of a performative as well as constative nature, blurs or exceeds the distinction between speaking to and speaking about an inanimate object like a person, thus embodying the conflation of figuration by cognition and figuration by sheer force of language.

On the basis of this double nature of personification we can not only make a more rigid functional distinction between this trope and metaphor but also get a new perspective on catachresis, disagreeing in part with Aristotle and some other philosophers or rhetoricians who have no hesitation in seeing it as a version of metaphor. While Aristotle is right insofar as he identifies catachresis as an act of naming the nameless, the problem is that he equates it with metaphor by ascribing it to analogy. Although such equation seems legitimate enough, it proves less irrefutable when we relate catachresis to personification. What tends to be overlooked or left unsaid when the question of catachresis is addressed is the fact that personification and catachresis, though not identical at all, are inextricably intertwined, as in the examples cited earlier. As those examples have suggested, there are quite a few figures in our language that are simultaneously personifications and catachreses. This concurrence or affinity is not a pure accident but suggests, as in the case of Aristotle's example of catachresis, that personification can be more fundamental to catachresis than analogy. It would therefore be possible to explain that some catachresis is without a proper word because it belongs to the order of personification rather than metaphor, with its cause or genesis lying not primarily in an analogy but in a performative act. What is at issue, in other words, is the implication that speaking about something can involve not only a constative comparison of it to something else but also a performatively established human relationship with it, thus often accompanied by terms or expressions that confer some human traits on it, regardless of whether or not it has proper words for itself or for its parts, or whatever the proper words. This implication would constitute a qualification to be added to Aristotle's conception of catachresis and provide a base for pushing the boundaries of the problem of this trope, bringing into question the way it has been stereotyped. In any case, to say that catachresis is the use of a metaphor in the absence of a proper word is no longer enough, since its relation to personification as distinct from metaphor should also be taken into account. If metaphor can occur in the form of catachresis due to incomplete analogy, personification can establish itself as catachresis by exercising its originating power as a speech act. Catachresis, then, is not always such a rational cognitive trope as fits Aristotle's theory of metaphor, but it can be a manifestation of disruption in linguistic cognition to the extent that some of it may be taken as a performative effect, a product of the functioning of personification as a master trope.


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Nishimura, Satoshi. "Thomas Hardy and the Language of the Inanimate." Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 43.4 (Autumn 2003): 897-912. Print.

Paxson, James J. The Poetics of Personification. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994. Print.

Ruskin, John. Works. Library Edition. Ed. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn. 39 vols. London: George Allen, 1903-12. Print.

Shelley, Percy Bysshe. Poetical Works. Ed. Thomas Hutchinson. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1970. Print.

(1) For a historical survey of theories of personification, see James J. Paxson's The Poetics of Personification 8-34.

(2) For a detailed discussion of the problematic of catachresis as opposed to metaphor, see Patricia Parker's "Metaphor and Catachresis" (The Ends of Rhetoric: History, Theory, Practice. Ed. John Bender and David E. Wellbery. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1990. 60-73).

(3) See also Jonathan Culler's Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997) 100, and J. Hillis Miller's "History, Narrative and Responsibility: Speech Acts in Henry James's 'The Aspern Papers'" (Textual Practice 9.2 [1995]: 243-67) 247-48.
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Author:Nishimura, Satoshi
Publication:Papers on Language & Literature
Article Type:Critical essay
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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