Hans Blumenberg – Prospect for a Theory of Nonconceptuality (1960)

A small essay appended to the longer work Shipwreck with Spectator, trans. Steven Rendall (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1977). He argues that Metaphorology (i.e. the shipwreck, etc.) can be seen as a special case of nonconceptuality. Whereas metaphorics had been seen as the study of discursive phenomena irreducible to literal coordiantes, nonconceptuality emphasizes the opposite: “the connections with the life-world as the constant moving support…of all theory” (81). Metaphors are “fossils that indicate an archaic stratum of theoretical curiosity” (82), but also as (in the moment) ways of repairing disturbances in consciousness and experience. Metaphor acts as a “resistance to harmony” (Husserl) that also reestablishes harmony by incorporating that which exceeds a given paradigm of experience. Thus metpahors are not only read as contributing to concept formation, but as establishing various a-concpetual links to a Husserlian life-worlds.

But metaphors do not come from nowhere: unlike abstraction, they carry the social and cultural weight of their own heritage. Saying the “laughing meadow” disrupts the flow of information, but reestablishes harmony “by assigning the meadow to the inventory of a human life-world in which not only words and signs but also  things themselves have ‘meaning'” (84). Through a series of examples (book of nature, fluxus temporis, “The Devil’s time is short) Blumenberg gives what he calls a “historical phenomenology,” which “[attends] to decayed forms, which appear after speech that is taken literally, as embarrassment in the face of the demands of realism” (93). The point is to disassociate the nonconceptuality from intuitiveness, since the former does not necessarily come temporally prior to something we might call “abstraction.” Rather, there is a sort of uneven development. At times, metaphor can be a late form, not only evading realism’s demands, but establishing its own forms of realism in the form of analogy (95).

Blumenberg finishes by comparing symbol and metaphor. The former is indifferent to the presence of what it represents. Money, for example, represents a value that is not present. Or, take Heidegger’s question about “the meaning of being.” We are meant to already possess the answer to this question–not in conceptual form, but within a primordial structure of consciousness. “here, nonconceptuality consists in our thoroughly learning what kind of thing the understanding of being is not” (99). This implies a strict prohibition of metaphor that is nevertheless violated over and over again–for nothing cn be represented of all mode of behavior are rooted in a care that runs too deep for understanding. A similar prohibition applies to Kantian “Freedom.” Blumenberg argues that this essentially converta all the critiques into “practical” philosophy. Thus nothing is no longer theoretical: everyone is indeed appeased, but nothing is learned” (102). And to believe that this freedom can then be converted into a mode of unrestrained action, is simply to mistake an absolute metaphor for something literal.




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