Text as metaphor and story

Vincent Kundukulam

Vincent Kundukulam

The postmodern theorists are highly influenced by Nietzsche’s view of text as a rhetorical play. It means that the text, though it intends to communicate truth, does not convey the reality objectively. The language of the text may seem to be real due to its literal appearance but often it carries only the metaphorical meanings that are intended by a few in particular contexts. Derrida considered the language as metaphor to the extent of holding the view that an objectivist knowledge of the world in untenable. The reality can never be fully mastered by the metaphorical language. Sometimes, the metaphorical language systems may contain even contradictory meanings as it is possible to be interpreted diversely by people in terms of their specific frame of minds. The diversity, when accompanied by sharp different world-views, may account for even contrasting perceptions.

It was to escape the danger of mistaking the text as real that Derrida proposed the way of deconstruction. His primary attention was to discover the hierarchical oppositions that are inherent in the text. Secondly, he tried to undermine the presuppositions behind the text that are infused by those who coined it. But the after effect of applying this methodology is that man denies the possibility of proposing positively any system of thought. The texts supply only relativist principles. The postmodern writers don’t like to make empirical verification of any thesis they affirm. They don’t appeal to any standard of independent judgment. On account of the hostility towards philosophical or political doctrines, it becomes difficult for them to maintain the status quo. Consequently, the postmodernists fall into a sheer skepticism. It has become practically unable for them to make any significant moral or political commitment.

A major effect of the text being as metaphor is that history becomes nothing more than stories. In every history the writer makes use of the paradigm structures that are familiar and convinced to him. Those paradigms are often based on the unrealized myths of the local communities. Though the sources used by the historians may seem to be objective and evidence-based in their eyes, they need not in fact be devoid of the risk of being cooked out of the partial reading of the events happened in their localities because of their social and cultural necessities. The historians don’t naively tell us how things were or how things are because the meanings they produce are socially encoded and politically constructed. The discursive attempts, of any form, close off our direct access to realities. The historians become thus often slaves to the fictional plots of their environments. The objective reconstruction of facts according to the evidences becomes merely a myth. It is in this regard the postmodern thinkers brand history as socially acceptable narratives stories. Those stories which succeed in capturing a better attraction and acceptance survive. What gets through the discussions and debates are legitimized as history and the society appropriates them as true histories.

Another discovery of the postmodern thinkers regarding the text is its repetitive nature. In every narrative, the author borrows consciously or not many views of his predecessors. It leads to repetitions. Any text from philosophy to newspapers involved an obsessional repetition of earlier positions, earlier ideas and earlier conventions. In this regard, the postmodernists would say that the texts that available to us are inter-textual. Literature takes up the issues of philosophy and vice versa. Books began to speak about other books. Similarly story picked up other stories. Rather than informing the reader about a particular reality the postmodern texts ends up by referring to other texts. No text establishes anything real about the world outside itself. That is why Umberto Eco, in his famous novel, The Name of the Rose, has said the following: “books always speak of other books, and every story tells a story that has been already been told.”

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