The Focusing Institute Presents The Gendlin Online Gendlin Online Library Banner

Gendlin, E.T. (1985). Nonlogical moves and nature metaphors. In A-T. Tymieniecka (Ed.), Analecta Husserliana. Vol. XIX. Poetics of the elements in the human condition: the sea, pp. 383-400. Dordrecht: Reidel. From

[Page 383]

Eugene T. Gendlin


Let me take something from the last two speakers: I will soon discuss that seemingly wordless sense of Proust's. From the speaker about shorelines I want to take something he rightly did not say. He did not say that shorelines limit the sea. They do not. It is the sea that defines where the shore begins. I live on a sea. At my window the street ends in the blue infinity. All that water is coming on, and I wonder that it graces to stop, just there. It does not have to stop, you know. Have you seen what happens to houses on the shore when the water reclaims a few feet? The shoreline does not limit the sea. The sea makes the shoreline, by stopping.

Throughout this conference the word "imagination" was used to say what the metaphors of the sea say. But when the word is used to say that, it gains precision from that use. Not every meaning of "imagination" is a little faculty in us, squeezed between sensation and thought, the faculty that supposedly senses and thinks what does not exist. Then the sayings of this conference, however grand, squeeze themselves into that small slot delimited by the realities of sense perception and thought.

Either imagination is only an image-picture of what was first found in reality, or it imagines what is false and made up. But if we look instead at how the word "imagination" works in these papers, if we permit it to mean how it works, then imagination is not assigned a small space apart from the world. Rather the world is made by imagination, by where it stops.

All our things were made by imagination (let the word mean how it works here). Things, familiar products are where imagination stops. In talking of the sea as imagination, the attempt to speak the big creation need not fail, if we let the word "imagination" mean how the word works here, if we let that be imagination, which works here as the word works. In this way our word "imagination" does not define what happens in poetizing. Rather, what happens in poetizing "defines" the word when used that way. For example, consider Beckett's and Conrad's characters as the work of imagination. Contrast the main thrust of the conference papers with those parts where they became conceptual. The fresh impact of the paper was suddenly said to instance some old concepts. The characters of the play were suddenly said to be cases of known psychological categories. That was also the section [Page 384] of the paper where the word "imagination" was an old psychological concept. Instead, let us take the main parts of these papers to "define" imagination.

Beckett's and Conrad's characters are not cases of old kinds (concepts, categories, schemes, distinctions, etc.). I thought Beckett's man funny and odd—the one who talks to himself in the bathroom. But then it hit. I do that too. I am also that whole way he is. Do not subsume us under old categories, as if Beckett had merely found the category—found us formed that way. That man is not a more pathetic example of a known kind. He is his own example, his own first instance of that, of which we are then cases.

To say that, we allow words to mean from how they work. "Imagination" works freshly in that. It made the old as well, but long ago. Here it made something new. But the meaning of "made" is itself made here. Otherwise it will mean made up, which is no better than "found." The old meaning of "found" is what was there before; it is trite. But "made" is false to how we are and always were. Nor is the work of words a mix of found and made, part trite, part false.

Let "found" or "made" mean as they work here as Beckett finds and makes us. Once we are "made" in Beckett's way, we say "oh yes," that always "was," we always "were"" that way. But this "was" is retroactive. Only afterward does that seem to have been there before. Imagination makes and then something "was." How imagination works this way defines this "made," this "found," and "was."

Words bring old uses with them. If they did not, they would not be the words they are. Then they could not do new work either. They work by bringing their old situations into a new situation, thereby changing the whole cluster.

Words work by use, not by preset definitions. Look up the history of any word and you can see it move by working. "Use," by being used that way becomes "usage." But we use a word not only as we used to do in the past, it can newly find a use. New use is made of it. Soon we are used to that, as well. Concepts and distinctions are not the main way language works.

Words move in use. These moves are not governed by existing categories and do not remain within logical implications. Our becoming used to something is not logically consistent with a definition of use. Such nonlogical moves have occurred in the past, but they also occur today. We can see and say and study them. Such moves are not a history which first happens to words so that afterward they can be used. The moves of words occur in use, by use. We could even say that such moves are never in a past, they occur only in ongoing use when words work freshly.

[Page 385]

Words bring their old us-contexts into a new one. In new situations the word's meaning-making is nonlogical, not logically derived from the old. Use, old or new, is not governed by concepts. Words do bring not only their use-contexts, but also concepts (categories, kinds, distinctions, forms, schemes, models, assumptions, etc.). You just saw me struggle with an old concept of imagination. But you also saw words working freshly. Neither old usage nor fresh work is constrained to stay inside conceptual forms. "Imagination" can mean from an old theory, but here it works to speak of fresh saying. But "fresh" means this, not some old concept of creativity. We are letting words mean from their fresh working. That is how words work, but letting them do that in philosophy and criticism is my new way.

The current view is that fresh saying and thinking are impossible. Language use is wrongly thought to be governed by conceptual distinctions. Of current authors, Derrida, who best shows the failure of conceptual distinctions, nevertheless sees nothing else operating. So he says that conceptual distinctions do and do not govern the use of words. But "do-and-do-not" is a very poor stand-in for what does happen. Current authors still follow an ancient tradition. Since the mystical experience is not of usual things, it was often called "nothing," "no thing." Since dialectic makes new structures that overthrow old ones, creation was called "negation." Because metaphors create something that exceeds categories, metaphor was called "ambiguous." My term "nonlogical moves" is one of these negatives. In this way the ocean is no-land, metaphoric power is nowhere, in Erehwon, only in imagination, somewhere-and-nowhere. If new working must be said in old concepts, if the creating must be said in old creations, then one can only say that it is-and-is-not these.

Derrida says that every word brings old distinctions which must be denied and also affirmed. Denied, because (as I agree) the words do not obey distinctions. Also affirmed, because for Derrida a word can only mean distinctions. Since anything is thus denied-and-affirmed, Derrida ends in "undecidability," limbo.

Deconstruction finds every text using even its main words in ways that disobey the text's distinctions for those words. Close reading shows that any bit of text was self-contradictory. A text permits many ways of moving on from itself. There is no clean distinction between what it said and what it did not say, between reading, and reading-in, between interpreting and moving on. What is more, the text can be read to have said just that—to have said that it denies its assertions. And this is done not stupidly, not by missing what is intricately said but by pushing to its edges. Conceptual [Page 386] sharpness exists only at some center. Therefore no center, no organization, holds. We are told to remain in limbo. And I agree that limbo is better than a single center, one set of distinctions, one pattern or scheme.

Derrida's work is beautiful in at least in two ways. We must appreciate each of these before it can be criticized. Derrida attends to the words he uses. He often looks back, in the midst of a sentence, at a word he just used, to reject an old concept it brings, and only then does he finish the sentence. It makes for complex sentences. But, as I showed earlier, we must often move past the old concepts a word brings. If "imagination" in this conference is the faculty concept, our further thought-steps will come out of that concept. Even if we want to think freshly, the old concept will prevent next steps that are inconsistent with it. Then what is new and freshly sensed cannot be said and we are stuck.

Therefore, Derrida's attention to each word needs to become universal and should receive appreciation, not ignorant annoyance.

But you will have noticed that when I rejected an old concept of "imagination," I had something else to point to, instead. I called on you to let the word mean as it worked. I said we could let "imagination" mean how Beckett wrote and what his characters do to us. I asked you to let the word "imagination" mean its working in these metaphors with the ocean. Now I ask you to let the word "metaphor" mean as it works to say these spots, in literature, rather than by some old theory of what metaphors are.

A word's new working is at least as much its own meaning, as are its old ones. Derrida argues instead that fresh thinking and saying is impossible. I just affirmed and instanced fresh saying. Let us see why he denies the possibility. He says that in order to examine and deconstruct a concept brought by some word, one must use many other words in an old and unexamined way. If all words were attacked at once, no words could do the attacking. He assumes here that one can only attack old forms by talking about them. I rather let a word work in a new way. But Derrida's point seems to apply to my discussion of what I did. I used "concepts" and "categories" in order to speak against letting old concepts and categories define new working. I speak of how words "work"—why not play? (But these other words were not necessarily used in an old way, just because I did not discuss them.) Derrida says that one must "borrow" the old forms and resources of language for one's attacking, and so one cannot get out of repeating old distinctions:

The movements of deconstruction do not destroy structures from the outside. They are not possible and effective, nor can they take accurate aim, except by inhabiting [Page 387] those structures. Inhabiting them in a certain way, because one always inhabits and all the more when one does not suspect it. Operating necessarily from the inside, borrowing all the strategic and economic resources of subversion from the old structure . . . the enterprise of deconstruction always in a certain way falls prey to its own work. This is what the person who has begun the same work in another area of the same habitation does not fail to point out with zeal. No exercise is more widespread today, and one should be able to formalize its rules. [1]

If you deconstruct "another area of the same habitation" you might attack some schemes Derrida is using here. Then you can deconstruct him, he says. (For example, is the "structure" of language like the structure of a building, a habitation? Is this not the old notion of structure as bones that hold up a "content"? Such an attack would bear out what he says.) Therefore, he insists that nothing can be asserted, no ground can be held. His is a guerrilla warfare. Borrow the enemy's resources, steal the government's weapons, conquer and withdraw immediately. If you hold anything you become like them. No fresh thinking is possible, no line of thought either, only sporadic attacks and instant retractions.

But he gives a second, more deep-going reason: Not only must we use other words. The very word being deconstructed, even after deconstruction, must remain surrendered to the distinctions, according to Derrida. Why? It is because Derrida thinks that word-use is governed only by distinctions (schemes, kinds, logical constructs.) He sees no other way a word can mean or be used.

Derrida attacks binary distinctions, the sort the Structuralists featured:

The dual opposition (remedy/poison, good/evil, intelligible/sensible, high/low, mind/matter, life/death, inside/outside, speech/writing) organizes a conflictual, hierarchically structured field which can be neither reduced to unity, nor derived from a primary simplicity, nor dialectically sublated or internalized into a third term. [2]

Derrida shows the failure of these clean splits in many texts. Yes, the way words are used puts clean distinctions to shame. Derrida shows how the split opposites fail in actual word-use, but he also says that word-use is "organized" by such opposing pairs and nothing else. His only way of saying how words work is that they are always both within and not within the distinctions. But in use the words do not work as failed distinctions. A failure is not a working. They work another way. We can let words mean how they work. But is not my word "work" caught here? No, it does not mean the distinction between work and play, work and rest, work and fail. (Derrida always choses only one binary distinction to attack.) A word's [Page 388] working is not the failure of a distinction. "Work" here means how words work, how the word "work" itself works when it says how words work.

So you see, all the words can mean as they work, not only the one word being talked about. Letting a word mean as it works can retrieve it from its old concepts. The word need not remain surrendered to the old distinctions, so that we can only end in limbo, using-and-denying the old distinction. I call this way "self-instancing." Philosophers have long known that there cannot be self-instancing truth in the sense in which that term used to be understood: the saying always instances more and differently, it is never just an instance of what is said definably in clean concepts. But "self-instancing" works here in the opposite order: What is said can instance the saying, the move, not the definable concept. Then words mean—their saying. Derrida misses or refuses this way. Instead, he remains in the old tradition for which concepts are the only order. He rightly denies that events (including linguistic ones) instance the concepts, but he says this denial leaves only disorder, decentering, limbo. So after all, the concepts are the only order.

But we can move on from this seeming stoppage. Word-use has an order of its own, different in "kind" from conceptual kinds, categories, constructs and distinctions. Derrida's own beautiful fresh moves bear me out. This is the second aspect of beauty in his work which I promised to mention. His words often make new sense and exceed conceptual forms. But he makes his moves say concepts which deny that the moves do what they do. His wild metaphorical moves create new notions which say that new notions are impossible. He makes his moves say that there cannot be moves like themselves.

Let us examine a passage which incurs both of my objections: Here Derrida uses a word in a new way, instancing what I said about word-use. But the notion he makes denies the way word-use works (and how it works in his move). Derrida begins a discussion of usage by throwing the word "usage" away. (Thus his move is not constrained by the usage which makes "usage" the word for usage.) He "substitutes" the word "usure," which has two meanings in French: (1) "wearing out through long use," and (2) "usury." Note how his "usure" works to let the words "interest" and "exchange" work freshly too, although he does not discuss them. He writes: "for usage we will substitute—subtitle—usure. And first we will be interested in a certain usure of metaphorical force in philosophical exchange" (M, 209). [3] Derrida says a little more here, which we will examine shortly. Then he introduces Anatole France's Garden of Epicurus, which, he says, will be "an example . . . of this metaphor of the usure (or metaphor). . . ." (M, 210).

Now he cites the text. Anatole France's character Polyphilos is speaking:

[Page 389]

It was just a reverie. I was thinking how the Metaphysicians . . . are like . . . knife-grinders, who instead of knives and scissors, should put medals and coins to the grindstone to efface the exergue, the value and the head. When they have worked away till nothing is visible on their crown-pieces, neither King Edward, the Emperor William, nor the Republic, they say: "These pieces have nothing either English, German or French about them; we have freed them from all limits of time and space; they are not worth five shillings anymore; they are of inestimable value, and their exchange value is extended indefinitely." . . . Words are changed from a physical to a metaphysical acceptation. It is obvious that they lose in the process; what they gain by it is not so immediately apparent. (M, 210)

Derrida comments:

Polyphilos seems anxious to save the integrity of capital, or rather, before the accumulation of capital, to save the natural wealth and original virtue of the sensory image, which is deflowered and deteriorated by the history of the concept. Thereby he supposes... a purity of sensory language. . . .

The rest of the dialogue confirms this: it examines . . . the possibility of restoring . . . beneath the metaphor which simultaneously hides and is hidden, the "original figure" of the coin which has been worn away (use) in the circulation of the philosophical concept. (M, 210-11)

Derrida's main preoccupation, always, is to reject the assumption that there is some given, some nature, some original to-be-signified, assumed before and without signifiers. It is true that experience, observation, and living are always already significant, always signifier-and-signified. There are no mere givens and no pure reports. Let us reject the assumption that there is somewhere, underneath or behind, a given to which signs "approximate" or which they merely "represent." Language and thought carry forward what they signify, they can never be merely about. For humans, language is always implicit in any experience, before we speak in it. When we speak we make further ("made" is made further, here). We also say "find" further (and find more of how "find" can work).

Derrida is right to deny that there could have existed a sensory language whose words merely named independent therenesses without metaphor. Therefore, he says that this "usury" and "wearing out" is not something avoidable that happens to an otherwise pure language. Here is the introductory part, more fully:

for usage we will substitute—subtitle—usure. And first we will be interested in a certain usure of metaphorical force in philosophical exchange. Usure does not overtake a tropic energy otherwise destined to remain in tact; on the contrary, it constitutes the very history and structure of the philosophical metaphor.

[Page 390]

How can we make this sensible except by metaphor? which is here the word usure. In effect there is no access to the usure of a linguistic phenomenon without giving it some figurative representation. What could be the properly named usure of a word, a statement, a meaning, a text? (M, 209)

Derrida attacks the assumption that aside from metaphor there could also be just a given, alone, which could then be "properly" named. One cannot avoid metaphor, as if to speak directly with the right name for the right thing. For example, one cannot look behind "usure," his own metaphor here, for an original usure that would exist separately and have its own proper name, rather than the metaphorical word "usure." But in the course of these right sayings he also denies what my self-instancing words do. He flatly denies that saying has access to itself: "there is no access to the usure of a linguisitic phenomenon without giving it some figurative representation" (M, 209).

The old theory of metaphor assumed an original. Therefore, the theory said that a metaphor is unusual, it speaks of a thing by representing it as something else instead of as itself. It "borrows" the representation of something else to picture the thing. The metaphor of "usure," for example, really speaks of language but represents it as interest from a money loan. But "language" is not original either, it is a metaphor from tongue. Derrida says that metaphor is not an odd case, rather all saying is metaphor. Derrida denies an original before metaphor. Any thing is only in the metaphorizing. So he ought to say that metaphor is its own access to itself. Instead, he still also retains the old concept that metaphor "represents" a thing as something else.

Derrida knows that the thing is made in the metaphor, but he does not see that a metaphor says what it makes. (It makes this tongue in the metaphor "language," and this usury, here.) But this is difficult to see, because superficially the old story seems true: what is newly made seems represented as something else.

But once the concept of representation is thrown out, there no longer seems to be a doubling of everything. There is nothing apart from its metaphor, so that its own metaphor could misrepresent it. But we can at least understand how Derrida gets the contradiction he wants. He retains the old notion that the word properly belongs to its old thing (and before that to its previous old thing). Then the new working of the word makes the new thing by saying something "else."

Derrida denies-and-still-retains the old concept of metaphor, now contradicting itself. Language substitutes something else for originals, but originals [Page 391] are impossible. But we already see the way past this stuck place. The metaphorical word (any word) means from how it works. It is used in what seems to be another context, but its "proper" object is the one it makes in this context, here. Its working is not a misrepresenting. Language does not represent: what it does is not therefore misrepresentation.

Derrida generates his contradictions by still also keeping any concept he rejects. Polyphilos might think that sensory originals could be spoken of directly. (And this hope is vain. Metaphor is inherent in language and observation.) Polyphilos might say that abstract concepts are usury (illegitimate gain) due to effacing sensory figures. But Derrida should not be saying that, since he denies sensory originals. Derrida removes that which was said to be misrepresented by metaphor, yet he keeps the notion that metaphors misrepresent,

Usury and using up apply only to the old theory of metaphor, the concept of proper and improper representation. But Derrida thinks everything must remain surrendered to that old theory even after it is deconstructed.

Polyphilos is attacking Hegel. Hegel had said something very like this, but with the opposite conclusion. For Hegel it is precisely the sensory that makes metaphor improper, inauthentic (uneigentlich). Hegel had said that the spirit realizes itself in abstract concepts. In Hegel's view it was very good that the sensory metaphors get used up, so that abstract concepts develop. Derrida quotes Hegel:

But gradually the metaphorical element in the use of such a word disappears . . . the word changes from a metaphorical (uneigentliche, non propre) to a literal expression (eigentlichen Ausdruck, expression propre), . . . the image directly affords only the abstract meaning itself, instead of a concrete picture. For example, . . . begreifen . . . it does not occur to us at all to think of a perceptible grasping by the hand. In living languages the difference between actual metaphors (wirklicher Metaphern) and words already reduced by usage (durch die Abnutzung) . . . is easily established, whereas in dead languages this is difficult . . . a word which looks entirely pictorial (may have) lost its first sensuous meaning. . . . (Aesthetics, 404-5, M, 225)

It is Hegel's word Abnutzung which Derrida turns into usure. Now at last we see how Derrida comes into his metaphor of usure. It is the French word for a using that uses up (wears something out.) But unlike German, in French the same word also means usury. Derrida's move is to let the word work also in this second sense. How does it work?

It is common today to say: "Any two things have something in common." This is said in a spirit of carelessness. it is assumed that a metaphor only points out something that was already common to two things. One also [Page 392] misses the fact that a metaphor happens only in so far as a word works in that slot, only if it makes sense. (And that changes the slot as the word works.) For example, here Derrida's "usury" works to help France's point against Hegel (abstract concepts make illegitimate profits). It does not work to help Hegel's point. (If one were to insist that "usury" should help Hegel, the word must be allowed to do more work. Perhaps with Hegel it is "usury" if the sensory is wiped out rather than "saved" in concepts, as Hegel wants. I say this to show that there is work involved, when a word moves into a new slot.) For Hegel the "proper" is "saved" (aufgehoben) in concepts when metaphors wear out. Derrida denies this "saving." The "usury" meaning of the French word for "wearing out" works for him against Hegel's concept.

How did "usure" come to have these two diverse uses? Derrida says it is "by chance" (M, 210). He says, "the two histories of the meaning of the word remain indistinguishable" (M, 210). But "by chance" again evades the way words move in use. Nor are there two histories, but rather the vastly various uses of "use" (and misuse, abuse, disabuse, usurp). Words moved into new uses by working freshly, just as they do today, for example, in Derrida's move right here.

Derrida uses usure (in the place of "usage") to say that all saying is wearing out and also usury. Let me examine his move in my way: let usure say how it works here. What does it say, if we allow it to mean as it works here? If the work means as usure is its working, here, usure is how words make more meaning than there was before, "unaccountable" in terms of the preexisting units. This usury does not explain new work within its old concept (too much back for a loan) nor with the old concept plus its denial. It makes new sense. Language is this usury of making sense beyond accounting in existing categories. "Usury" works that way itself, and can instance and say this working. In this saying the earlier meaning is already effaced. Of course the usury of making new sense is also an effacing of the old sense. It does not require some number of repetitions. Self-instancing does not instance old explanatory concepts, neither the word's own old ones, nor France's nor Hegel's, nor Derrida's concept-plus-contradiction.

What is self-instancingly said can not be rendered in old terms, but why continue assuming that it must be so rendered (and can not)? Rendering in clean conceptual constructs that make logical steps is not word-use. Logic is a special case, another power whose functions need to be examined and limited in relation to self-instancing. [4] That concepts do-and-do-not govern word-use is false. Rather, they do not govern word-use. They are themselves changed in word-use.

[Page 393]

A word brings old concepts. When the word works newly, it is not stripped of these. Rather, its concepts are changed insofar as any of them implicitly participate in its new working. That change cannot be rendered in these concepts. Derrida denies this change which is said in the working word itself, and replaces it with the old concept coupled to its opposite. He does not go on from his own words' new working. In his discussion he does not think from how words move and from usure's own move. Instead, he interprets the move as the old concept with its opposite pasted onto it. That brings the self-contradiction which Derrida always wants. He interprets his usure to have said: a new use gains illegitimately more meaning than the original loan, and also, there was no original loan. The metaphor's "original" becomes worn out; also, there never was an original.

If there are no originals, then "worn out" contradicts itself. Derrida wants to keep the old concept of "worn out" and add the contradiction: a word's original is (and always was) worn out because there never were originals at all. He also wants to keep the old concept of usury (too much repaid compared to the original capital) and only add its contradiction (too much repaid but never any original capital). This self-contradictory concept denies the move that makes it. "Usury" does work in the slot of Hegel's "using-up." But this working is not a self-contradictory concept of a required-nonexistent original. This actually used "usury" "uses up" and changes its old meaning when it says how it works. It becomes ironic and does not require that its earlier meaning should explain the gain in terms of the countable fixed units that were there before.

Derrida would like to be accused of doing "usury" and "using up" himself, here in the sense of an improper relation to a nonexistent original. Such an accusation would bear him out. He says that no one could be doing anything else. On the contrary, his own moves with usure do not work by how he interprets usury and using-up. Where the word usure works, its old senses makes new sense. This new sense neither is nor is made by Derrida's self-contradicting concept, the required-nonexistent original. But he interprets his move with the unchanged but contradicted old concept of metaphor, rather than the metaphor of usure. I do not accuse him as he wishes to be accused. Rather, I commend him for having "used" "usury" both times in a fresh way, but that is not usure in the sense in which he interprets his word.

Derrida asserts that the old theory must continue in the word "metaphor" and in all words. He says that deconstruction only makes the self-contradiction visible (which arises if proper representation is denied). He criticizes the old theory of metaphor—but not far enough!

Derrida rightly attacks the comfortable assumption that a metaphor is [Page 394] based on a similarity to an original. According to that old theory, the similarity always was a property of that thing—though the property might not have a name. The old theory misses the creative, making and finding power of language. Derrida cites Aristotle's example:

to cast forth seed-corn is called "sowing"; but to cast forth its flame, as is said of the sun, has no special name. . . . This nameless act, however, stands in just the same relation to its object, sunlight, as sowing to the seed-corn. (Poetics, 1457b25;M, 242-43)

Derrida rightly asks: "Where has it ever been seen that there is the same relation between the sun and its rays as between sowing and seeds?" (M, 243). He rightly questions if the sun always had this property, this "same relation." He also recognizes that to be a metaphor, it must work. In the following, note Derrida's "If." Here is the full passage:

Where has it ever been seen that there is the same relation between the sun and its rays as between sowing and seeds? If this analogy imposes itself—and it does—then it is, that within language the analogy itself is due to a long and hardly visible chain whose first link is quite difficult to exhibit, and not only for Aristotle. (M, 243)

He assumes that if a metaphor works, it must be because it is part of a prior "philosopheme" or cluster of concepts!

Derrida is unwilling to credit the metaphor to the words' own working. If the analogy imposes itself, he thinks it must be due to past events. But is not each metaphor itself the event? To be sure the metaphor is older than Aristotle who cites it. But Derrida thinks that when this metaphor was first said, it could work only because of a "philosopheme," a cluster of concepts.

Derrida does not let this metaphor be the working of these words. Nor does he allow metaphor generally to be the work of the words (including his own.) Instead, their work is rendered as an old theoretical concept and its self-contradiction:

The sun does not just provide an example. . . . The very oppositions of appearing and disappearing, the entire lexicon of the phainesthai, of aletheia, of day and night, of the visible and the invisible, of the present and the absent. . . . the sun represents what is natural in philosophical language (M, 251).

It is not the sun which does that, for there is no sun itself. The sun can only be the one already metaphorized in the past. It seems that metaphors can never be new, and there is only one:

If the sun is metaphorical always, already, it is no longer completely natural. It is always, already a luster, a chandellier, one might say an artificial construction, if one could still give credance to this signification when nature has disappeared. (M, 251)

[Page 395]

Having rejected the metaphysical "proper," he nevertheless takes all metaphor as being "artificial" so that the philosophical concept of nature continues but contradicts itself:

metaphor comes back to physis, to its truth and its presence. There, nature always refinds its own, proper analogy, its own resemblance to itself (M, 244).

He says this not only of Aristotle, but throughout. The traditional theory of metaphor is well analyzed here, and well attacked, but then—retained as being metaphor! For Derrida metaphor goes right on being immitation (mimesis) implying and requiring the impossible original.

Now if metaphor (or mimesis in general) aims at an effect of cognition, it cannot be treated without being placed in relation to a knowledge that bears on definitions; on what the thing of which one speaks is, properly, essentially or accidentally. (M, 247)

the entire teleology of meaning, which constructs the philosophical concept of metaphor coordinates metaphor with the manifestation of truth, with the production of truth as presence without veil, with the reappropriation of a full language without syntax, with the vocation of a pure nomination. . . . (M, 270)

Derrida rightly deconstructs the philosophical concept of metaphor. He rejects the metaphysical attempt to destroy metaphor by means of the proper originals. But he retains that concept of metaphor with its self-contradiction. He proposes a

self-destruction of metaphor [which] disrupts the opposition of the semantic and the syntactic, especially the philosophical hierarchy that submits the latter to the former. This self-destruction still has the form of a generalization, but this time it is no longer a question of extending and confirming a philosopheme, but rather of unfolding it without limit. . . .

Metaphor, then, always carries its death within itself. And this death, surely, is also the death of philosophy. (M, 270)

It is well to destroy this old concept of metaphor! But for Derrida words are governed only by concepts, distinctions. So he rejects and retains the distinctions. When Derrida rejects a conceptual distinction, he misses the texture of life and usage which the rejection opens. Instead, he says nothing opens; the rejected distinction still governs, although in broken form. Rather than an opening for countless more and differing distinctions, he sees only the old distinction destroying itself with its opposite. And this can be maintained of these concepts. Once we reject the representational assumption in these concepts, they contradict themselves. But words work otherwise than by concepts. Words work as metaphors work, and not as the theory of metaphor denies itself.

[Page 396]

Poetry would not be poetic, if what worked there were in accord with the philosophical concept of metaphor. Only already existing similarities would be pointed out. Nothing would be created. But neither would poetry be poetic if nothing worked there but this concept plus its self-contradiction.

For Derrida metaphor remains the "philosophical concept" of an (impossible) original. It seems to him that if metaphor is other than the concept, it must be metaphor itself, i.e., after all again a nonmetaphorical original. The very word seems to say itself only as something else (phore means carrying, presumably in space, and meta means beyond). But "metaphor" does say itself, if words mean as they work in a move. "Metaphor" instances its move, not just because it is a metaphor, but in carrying the "phore" and the "meta" beyond the old into this new use where they mean as they work, as words properly mean in use.

Words properly mean how they work, if we let "properly" mean how the word works here, instancing how words work in use. Metaphors are proper. But when I say "this" and "here," am I pointing as if to a given thing, the supposed "original" of metaphor? Will I be accused of assuming a separated "signified," a metaphor-in-itself, which I have the priviledge to see quite neutrally before me, without metaphor? No, the world is not given in neatly cut units that need "only" pointing. I may seem to point to "how words work." But pointing is a signifying too, and its object is also made as is any object. Is not Derrida right, then, when he denies any "access to linguistic phenomena," except as metaphor? In my phrase "words work," that word is metaphorical, is it not? Of course "words work" is a metaphor. But metaphor does not work as Derrida says. When my word "work" works here, it neither represents (figurates) nor gives a conceptual story, nor does it point as if to an original existence of "how words work." The word makes and says its move and its working.

The seemingly wordless "sense" of which (and from which) Proust writes is not at all preverbal. All of language is implicit in it, and the situations, living arrangements, the political and historical world in which language is used. That is why his words can come from it. But that is not easy. When we live and say more than is usually lived and said, we may find no ready words. The language to say is even then implicit, although it has never existed before. One may fail to find ways to move the words in that not yet existing way in which their moves are "implicit." Very demandingly turned words can be implicit—words that have never worked that way before. The word "implicit" means as it works here, which has not been further said, here. But that is not a meaning without words, it is said by the word "implicit."

[Page 397]

When I say that a word now means that, as it works here, does the word point at something preverbal? If the word's old meaning were its only "proper" one, then its new metaphorical meaning would be a meaning without words. But the new meaning is not without a word. The newly working word makes and says that meaning. So do the surrounding words, which also change.

Derrida assumes that metaphor can only say something else, never itself, there being no things in themselves. He retains the need for fixed things-in-themselves, so that their denial makes self-contradictory concepts. But a metaphor says itself! Where has it ever been seen that there is the same relation between the sun and its rays as between sowing and seeds? Here it is seen, here in this metaphor, and due to it. But is not "seen" again a metaphor? Of course, the word "seen" means as it works here. But that seeing is open for more than the conceptual system that assumes pregiven visual objects. And "casts forth" means as it works here, that casting forth. It is true that we may move from any that into fixed things; we may keep constructs fixed. From sowing and seedcorn we can conceptually fix the sun's action as one thing and its rays another thing. We could also make other conceptual constructs from here. Fixed concepts have their uses. I do not denigrate them at all. But why turn conceptually fixated things into a self-denied metaphysics of original things? Further working is not constrained within conceptual constructs. Let it be that sowing, the sun's. From that sowing it also works to say, for example, that the sun is the sowing. Many further sayings can work from how that "sowing" works and means, here. My words ("work" and "mean") mean how they work here!

If we let words mean as they work, the sun's metaphorical being is open for vastly more metaphors than that set to which Derrida would confine it. The metaphorical nature of nature is always open, and "open" means as it works here. The word "open" moves not arbitrarily, but into the openness of further work.

Words cannot be identified with just some of their many fixated concepts, nor with one set of metaphors or old uses either. Insofar as some of these participate, they also change. Words mean as they work in moves.

Derrida moves well, but let us carry his moves forward (and not his concepts which deny his moves). To reject the traditional concept of metaphor as preexisting similarity, let us not stop with that same cluster of concepts in self-contradiction. To stop there still assumes that the old concepts are the only possible order. Rather, these concepts do not govern how words work. Let words mean how they work! Let how they work also say how words [Page 398] work and mean. Let "meaning" mean how that word moves here, not as a fixed, preexisting package separate from the word. Why stop with the self-contradicting old notion that a word's meaning must-and-cannot be separate? Let "meaning" mean what the word does. So, for example, "does" means here what "does" does. That very metaphor does this doing.

When I use further words to say how a word just worked, is it elusive that the further words again mean from how they work? When one word's new work is said in other words, the others also work newly. If the other words work to say what the first word does, they work freshly in the slot it made. If they come into that slot, they work from that slot, and if they work, they work the slot further. That is the way words in use move and work! This is how use usually makes usage. Usage is ever new. Even in seemingly repetitious use, the word brings its usual contexts into a present situation—it is always a new working when we know what the word means here. And "know" means that knowing, here, not fixed concepts. Nor is "new" just made up. Freshly working words are "new" in the way the word "new" works newly, here.

How does "here" work here? Does it mean a spot in Newton's or Einstein's space? "Here" (and "situation," "context") means "what words work in." That place of words is not in conceptually defined space. More than one theory of space is implicit in "in." But the working of "in" is not confined within any of them. There are many workings of "in." The "in" of "implicit in" works differently, than it does when we say that words work here, or "in situations." Neither of them is a concept of space.

Derrida is not wrong in examining one cluster of implicit concepts. He is wrong in thinking there is only one such cluster which can examine or deconstruct itself. The great variety of concepts is implicit, and there is endless controversy just which are the right concepts to bring these out, or to make them deconstruct themselves. But the various conceptual stories, though implicit, do not govern the working of words. The usual new working of words is not due only to their history, to some mysterious first event in the past; they work now, and not least in Derrida's own moves.

Let me return to our conference. The sea made a successful theme, because of the metaphors which it is its nature to invite (that sense of "nature" and "invite"). The sea is the source of so much in literature ("source" in that sense). Between papers we discussed what it is about the sea, which does that. It was decided that future conferences should have that kind of theme. But what is that kind, that class? Fire might make a good second [Page 399] Conference of that kind. It was suggested that the kind might be called "The Elements." They are each that kind of source of literary metaphors. But I argued that, rather than defining that class, the word "elements" must take its meaning from how the sea works here. That would be lost in an old concept of "elements." We do not mean to turn the sea into hydrogen and oxygen, nor into just water as a member of "the elements" along with fire, air and earth. Nor do we mean "elements" as a name for the weather. Or, if we had said "source" or "nature," again the words mean from how each works in its way to say that. Nature is not the concept of a fixed original essence. Nor is it one cluster of old metaphors, either. Nature has this nature that makes metaphors possible. Nature is not a category—it "redefines" each category one attempts to put on it, and it redefines "redefines" in a way that is not conceptually defined. But that can be said in words which say that way.

We must let that "define" the word, if "the elements" is to name a series of topics that will work as the sea worked here. In that use my word "that" does not point as with a finger to a preset thing. Like the Proustian sense, that is not before words. It is surrounded by the words that lead to it, and it has its own implicit, newly working words. That is also how we know when such a sense is wrongly said, for example if that sense of the sea is said as water, fire, earth and air—fixed kinds of atomic constituents cannot say this. How do we know they do not say that? What knowing is that? The Proustian sense knows the language (the human body knows the language) and so it can reject wrong words even when none work. We could leave a blank, a slot, and the surrounding words-and-situations would let the blank say that. The sea is metaphorical because the sea is. . . .

Any word that works will use and change its old meanings to further make that sense, and means how it works. The sea is cosmic (the word now means that), the sea makes a big sense come (that kind of "making come"); the sea opens the closed common forms, it overawes triviality, it is the unformed as vastly more than the formed; the sea is nature.

Once you have used many words, any one of them works in the slot after the others. Now I can say "unformed" and here it brings the working of the others too. Here these words (especially "unformed") mean not their category-definition (affirmed or denied), but their new working here. The unformed here has more order, but that order, a different kind of order than fixed kinds.

Let us not say that there is no nature, just because nature is not a fixed category system. Let us not leave nature and words still surrendered to old [Page 400] categories after we reject these. Rather, nature is that way, it is such that metaphors are possible, obviously, since metaphors are possible.

University of Chicago


[1] J. Derrida, Of Grammatology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974), p. 24.

[2] J. Derrida, Dissemination (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), pp. 24-25; my italics.

[3] Jacques Derrida, "White Mythology: Metaphor in the Text of Philosophy," in Margins of Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982); hereafter cited in the text as M.

[4] E. T. Gendlin, Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning (New York: Free Press, 1970). See also "Experiential Phenomenology," in Phenomenology and the Social Sciences, ed. M. Natanson (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973); "Befindlichkeit: Heidegger and the Philosophy of Psychology," Review of Existential Psychology and Psychiatry 16, nos. 1-3 (1978-79); "Two Phenomenologists Do Not Disagree," in Phenomenology, Dialogues and Bridges, ed. Bruzina and Wilshire (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1982); "Dwelling," Proceedings of the Heidegger Conference, University of New Hampshire, 1983.

Note to Readers:
  • How Do I Refer To This Document? An example reference is at the top of this page. Please include the Internet address in the reference, even if you cite the document in a printed article, so that others can find the Gendlin Online Library.
  • Can I Link Directly To This Document? Yes. We encourage you to link directly to it from your own online documents. We have built "hooks" into this web page to make it very easy to connect to individual pages and headings in the text. For examples, see: How to Link to The Gendlin Online Library.
  • Biographic Note: Eugene T. Gendlin is a seminal American philosopher and psychologist. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago and taught there from 1963 to 1995. His philosophical work is concerned especially with the relationship between logic and implicit intricacy. Philosophy books include Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning, Language Beyond Post-Modernism: Saying and Thinking in Gendlin's Philosophy edited by David Michael Levin, (fourteen commentaries and Gendlin’s replies), and A Process Model. There is a world wide network of applications and practices ( stemming from this philosophy. Gendlin has been honored three times by the American Psychological Association for his development of Experiential Psychotherapy. He was a founder and editor for many years of the Association’s Clinical Division Journal, Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice. His book Focusing has sold over half a million copies and has appeared in seventeen languages. His psychology-related books are Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams and Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy.
  • If you see any faults in this document please send us an email.
  • Add a comment to the Gendlin Online Blog for this article.
  • See the reference for this document in the Gendlin primary bibliography.
  • More on Philosophy of the Implicit from the Focusing Institute website.
Document #2134 version 071003 build 071008