Metaphor and Transformation

There are no proper words, neither are there metaphors…. There are only inexact words to designate something exactly.  – Deleuze-Parnet, Dialogues, 3

When a word assumes a different meaning, or even enters into a different syntax, we can be sure that it has crossed another flux or that it has been introduced to a different regime of signs…It is never a matter of metaphor; there are no metaphors only combinations. – Deleuze-Parnet, Dialogues, 117

That’s what she said.  A classic joke.  A well-worn cog in my humor-generating machine.  As a student of metaphor, however, I also find particular intellectual delight in using this phrase, replete as it is with metaphorical transformation.  If, as Lakoff and Johnson claim, metaphor is “understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another,”[1] then certainly That’s what she said (TWSS) counts as a metaphor.  It’s classic re-contextualization.  (On one level, fresh metaphor can be analyzed as a re-contextualization…or as model-generation, or a naming-event, a conceptual blending, an exploitation of polysemy, an ad hoc categorization, etc.).  In fact, TWSS can be analyzed using any of the traditional models for metaphor:  substitution, comparison, or interaction.  The entire history of metaphor studies[2] might be marshaled into the service of analyzing the manifold uses of this single, delightful phrase.

However, in the interests of keeping things fresh, I’ve recently immersed myself in Brian Massumi’s A user’s guide to capitalism and schizophrenia: deviations from Deleuze and Guatarri (1992).  Massumi aptly handles many of Deleuze and Guattari’s difficult concepts, offering everyday examples and tactics for appropriating their work.  That’s what she said.  Enter Deleuze.

What place might “metaphor” retain in a Deleuzian world—a strange world of becoming, multiplicities, and events?  If we stop thinking in terms of “identities” and their “fixed properties,” there’s no “A” to be compared to “B”; to have its “properties” “mapped onto” “B”; or, afterward, to give rise to a “third thing”, such as a “blended-space.”[3]  No, to think the world in terms of becoming-events (after the likes of the Stoics, Leibniz, Spinoza, Whitehead, Deleuze, and Latour)[4] means thinking in a new kind of thought-grammar.  For example, Deleuze reduces the indicative mood (as well as the descriptions, identities and “science” it bolsters) to the imperative–the mot d’ordre, the slogan-command.[5]  We’re always doing things with words—in fact, that’s all we ever do.  And it’s the doing that counts.

What I get from Deleuze (and Massumi) is a new kind of analysis of the same events—in this case, the playful utterance, That’s what she said.  Each time it is uttered, TWSS is, in its context, an event.  It’s universe-creation.  A topic quasi-shift.  A quasi-dimensional shift of the plane of consistency.  A political move.  A regime-change.  An appropriation.  Typically, the only prerequisite for a TWSS joke is that the original phrase might also be uttered in a very different, usually sexual, context.   Often, a sexual context is quite far from the original utterer’s mind.    But the original speaker’s phrase itself, as uttered, is capable of being captured, appropriated, or taken up by another kind of flow or discourse.  TWSS, uttered, playfully reminds.  Deterritorialized here and reterritorialized there.  An intriguing form of indirect discourse.

In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze’s word for “inexact words to designate something exactly” is anexactitude.[6]  As Nietzsche observed in “On Truth and Lying in an Extramoral Sense,” “no leaf is ever wholly equal to another.”  Thus, every speech-act can be seen as a kind of metaphorizing (or anexactitude), insofar as every act of speaking is always a kind of “naming the nameless.”[7]  I like Deleuze’s anexactitude as a philosophical articulation of William James’ cash value—an event-sensitive, non-truth-centered, pragmatic analysis of language-use.  Anexactitude—when judged by “truth”-standards, we’re always “lying” (over-stating, under-stating, omitting, embellishing, highlighting, hiding, deceiving, persuading,etc.)—so let’s just call a spade a spade:  we’re ordering with our words.  Anexactitude also undergirds (perhaps otherwise enigmatic) statements Deleuze & Guattari make, such as:  “There is no ‘like’ here.  We are not saying ‘like an electron,’ ‘like an interaction,’ etc.  The plane of consistency is the abolition of all metaphor.”[8]

That’s what she said.  Where does the evening go after this joke?  The utterance of TWSS aims at being anexact (on one level of analysis) precisely because it goes for an effect—a laugh.  On another level, it demonstrates that the TWSS utterer has a “sexual context” algorithm running in his head (pardon the brain is computer metaphor).  Problematically for most classic metaphorical analyses (minus, perhaps, Turner-Fauconnier’s), the utterance of TWSS “creates properties” in the original phrase that were not there to begin with.  In Deleuzian analysis, an even more radical transformation is taking place:  the utterance of TWSS is a political event, an incorporeal transformation, an appropriation.  Events, not identities.  Pragmatics, not properties.  That’s what she saidExactly.


[1] Lakoff-Johnson, Metaphors We Live By (1980), 3.

[2] For the history of metaphor studies, I take as a scaffolding Ricoeur’s seminal The Rule of Metaphor (1978) along with Fludernik, Freeman, & Freeman’s “Metaphor and Beyond: An Introduction” (1999) (from Lakoff-Johnson to Turner-Fauconnier)— supplemented by Dedre Gentner (and Douglas Hofstader), Slingerland, Kleinman and Kleinman, Ted Cohen, Steven Pinker (critique of Lakoff-Johnson), Deleuze (widely), and Nietzsche (widely, but specifically “On Truth and Lying in an Extramoral Sense“).

[3] Maria Margaroni and Effie Yiannopoulou tie Deleuze’s resistance to metaphor to (1) his “rejection of the representational image of thought“; and thus (2) his “explicitly pragmatic conception of thought and language as a means of intervention in, rather than representation of, the world.”  (cf. mots d’ordre); as well as (3) his “long-standing interest in the mobility of philosophical concepts“.  (Metaphoricity and the Politics of Mobility, New York: 2006, 28ff.)  It might be noted that Deleuze’s denouncement of metaphor hinges, in part, on the assumption that metaphor is “figurative” (as opposed to literal), an assumption that much of (cognitive linguistics-inspired) modern metaphor-theory eschews (cf. Fludernik, et al, above).  Still, Deleuze’s renunciation of both literal and metaphorical speech points the way to a more radical pragmatics.

[4] cf. Steven Shaviro, “Deleuze’s Encounter With Whitehead

[5]Deleuze-Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, “Postulates of Linguistics,”p.75-76.

[6] “…anexactitude is in no way an approximation; on the contrary, it is the precise movement of that which is underway.” (Deleuze-Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 20)

[7] This analysis of “naming the nameless” is an expansion of Aristotle’s comment in Rhetoric 1405a:  “Further, in using metaphors to give names to nameless things, we must draw them not from remote but from kindred and similar things, so that the kinship is clearly perceived as soon as the words are said.”  See also the sexy blond, lesbian, Marxist, renowned cellist in Lakoff-Johnson (1980), 163.

[8] Deleuze-Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p.69.


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