Metaphorizing Dialogue to Enact a Flow Culture


Anthony Judge | Laetus in Praesens – TRANSCEND Media Service

Transcending Divisiveness by Systematic Embodiment of Metaphor in Discourse


6 May 2019 – There is no difficulty in recognizing the extent to which discourse has become problematic, whether in national assemblies, parliaments, or the media (social media or otherwise). The current scene has been described as poisonously divisive. Each faction is adamant that the facts and principles it presents are beyond question. Each is necessarily right, with any in disagreement being by definition wrong. Discourse between nations, between religions, between political parties, and between disciplines currently offers little hope for a more fruitful modality.

Curiously efforts towards transcending this situation — if they are more than tokenistic — seem to be readily entrapped by the same dynamic. Each is necessarily right or better, with others essentially misguided, misinformed or behind the times.

The following is an exploration of a distinctive mode which does not rely on facts and truth as commonly understood, or on the deprecation of fake news and pretence. The focus is not on being right or wrong or the attribution of blame. The question is whether discourse could shift from dispute with regard to facts and principles to a process in which their definitive and determinative nature is continually reframed through metaphor.

This is clearly in distinctive contrast to a range of assumptions regarding the rationality of discourse and its desirability, or the capacity to ensure it in practice. Essentially the transition is in favour of the primacy of aesthetics and shifting patterns of articulation — lending themselves to appreciation in such terms. Rationality could indeed be one such, momentarily and for some. The presumed solidity of facts is for example challenged by reference to the half-life of knowledge (Samuel Arbesman, The Half-life of Facts: why everything we know has an expiration date, 2012).

The current condition is is increasingly consistent with the surreal experience of the times (Surreal nature of current global governance as experienced, 2016). As argued in the journal Foreign Affairs:

From a strategic leadership standpoint, today’s world can often be characterized as volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (aka, VUCA)…. Leadership in the 21st century will greatly benefit from drawing upon our growing understanding of attachment theory, considering it is humans with emotions that are our greatest organizational asset. (Jonathan Silk and Evelyn Booth Relation-Based Leadership for the 21st Century, 15 April 2019)

Traces of the possibility of metaphorizing systematically can be variously recognized. A case for such a modality was made in anticipation of the problems of discourse at the Parliament of the World’s Religions (Guidelines towards Dialogue through Metaphor, 1993). This noted the importance attached in religions to the use of parable, if not to insightful spiritual tales with a twist, as with the famed set of koans known in English as The Gateless Gate, Some such recognition is evident with respect to diplomatic rhetoric, as in the compilation of Victor S. M. de Guinzbourg (Wit and Wisdom of the United Nations, 1961).

The emphasis here however is not on the use of a single metaphor to reframe a context, rather it is on the process of continual shifting between metaphors to engage otherwise with any framing — effectively “dancing” with the assertions of any seemingly contrary perspective. Dispute, with its potentially violent consequences, is then understood as transformed into a form of poetic or metaphorical jousting of which traces are evident in musical duels. Rather than being identified with a particular position or perspective, the shift implies the ability to move — a switch from the static to the dynamic. In this modality, metaphorizing is also used to reframe both the nature of discourse and the identity of the discussant. As teasingly expressed by As teasingly expressed by the eminent economist Kenneth Boulding:

Our consciousness of the unity of self in the middle of a vast complexity of images or material structures is at least a suitable metaphor for the unity of group, organization, department, discipline or science. If personification is a metaphor, let us not despise metaphors — we might be one ourselves (Image: knowledge in life and society, 1956)

Curiously the world is currently challenged in this respect by the leader of the world’s primary superpower — now recognized to be constantly shifting his ground and thereby placing others at a disadvantage in their efforts to maintain the predictable positions of the past (New World Order of Walk-away Wheeling and Dealing, 2018). A fruitfully appropriate response may well be to explore that dynamic to a much higher degree. Rather than seeking desperately and vainly for certainty and predictability, this implies the possibility of a new dynamic in a post-truth era — one in which any sense of truth lies to a far greater degree in appreciation of the “moves” of the other and the possibility of “dancing” with them, possibly inspired by the martial arts..

The argument could be seen as consistent with the age-old quest for a philosophical language, however this is appreciated or derided Umberto Eco (The Search for the Perfect Language in the European Culture, 1995; Serendipities: Language and Lunacy, 1998). However, in contrast to the many efforts to elaborate such a philosophical language in terms of its specific elements, alphabet, and grammatical structure, the approach here is focused on the the cultivation of integrity through the imaginatively artful use of metaphor — potentially to be recognized in aesthetic terms.

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