4.0928 Last Responses on Lakoff (2/114)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Wed, 23 Jan 91 17:28:48 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0928. Wednesday, 23 Jan 1991.

(1) Date: Tue, 22 Jan 91 17:27 PST (54 lines)
Subject: Re: 4.0920 Responses: On War and Rhetoric

(2) Date: Wed, 23 Jan 91 10:24 EDT (60 lines)
From: John Lavagnino <LAV@brandeis.bitnet>
Subject: George Lakoff on metaphor and war

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Tue, 22 Jan 91 17:27 PST
Subject: Re: 4.0920 Responses: On War and Rhetoric

Well, you have spotted the contempt for I called puerility. I did not
trouble to engage the "Issues" involved for the simple reason that
Lakoff's essay was adddressed, in my opinion to the innocent and
ignorant. I should think that after one has troubled oneself to read
enough by the age of 30 to qualif for a higher degree, that one doesnt
use most of the terms that Lakoff "analyzes" in wht I called a piece of
work that should have been directed towards freshman. What the
observations that asked me what I meant tell me is that most of the
scholars seem to think that the news they read in the papers and
"watch" on tv is very useful or informative. I dont bother to argue
with journalists in the media, because they are dealing with instant
superficialities. And if you are going to think that educated people
actually are influenced by the rhetroic of politicians, then they
havent learned the uses of propaganda or the means of hearing rhetoric
as rhetoric. I prefer the color of sportwriters when I wish to be
entertained. Any other color is just that. One doesnt have to analyze
lightweight obvious stuff that is not addressed to reflection. Lakoff
was instructing freshman and by that term I include all undergraduates
in the USA. Start with skepticism and such hectoring in the form of
"cognitive Linguisitic" analysis looks like fluff to me. Ponderous,
pedantic, portentous. I have not seen Kuwait "raped." Not even heard
the term. But, then as a practicing poet I know those metaphors are
absurd. The level of Lakoff's discourse was to my mind simply
superficial, poisoned by his lifetime of immersion in the media,
perhaps. Now that he has discovered analysis, he seems to think he has
found truth. Had he had the least inkling of the scale of armaments
amassed by Iraq, the sums paid for, the proven or suspected barbarities
of Baa'thists from Day One, etc etc, he wouldnt have attacked the
subject as a study in propaganda. He made his first mistake starting
with that, instead of remembering what Iraq did from the start. Doesnt
he recall the photos of the dozens of prominent citizens hanging for a
week or so in downtown Baghdad, all Jews, killed because they were Jews,
heirs to a group native to Baghdad for well nigh 2500 years? To argue
with Lakoff is like playing tennis with a duffer: it makes for a boring
game. Sorry. Perhaps it wasnt contempt I felt but simply an irritated
condescension. None are so blind as those who will not see, after all.
The naivete of American professors, those who for instance, failed to
see what happened when the sailors revolted in Petrograd soon after
the Revolution, and were savagely put down, is really inexcusable.
Dzherzinsky, Felix, a Pole, is the father of darkness, and he invented the
concentration camp, probably because he recalled the American Civil War
camps...By 19 20-21, say, all hopes for radical cures was lost in the
West. Let us stop talking nonsense and rational discourse with critics
who write their colleagues pieces that are fit for undergraduates.
Sorry, but that is my sentiment. Irked, I was, and am. Let us proceed
to be grownups and accept our grim situation in the coming decade, if is
is to come at all. Why ask if my name is a woman's? Jascha was never
a woman's name. It seems to have belonged in our century mostly to
first-rate musicians. I did not become such, it seems. Kessler.

(2) --------------------------------------------------------------64----
Date: Wed, 23 Jan 91 10:24 EDT
From: John Lavagnino <LAV@brandeis.bitnet>
Subject: George Lakoff on metaphor and war

I don't know how many of the people who object to George Lakoff's
article, and its discussion on Humanist, have actually read it. But the
article itself is written in a way that certainly can cause justifiable
irritation in all who disagree with its position on the war; or even in
people like me who don't like the war but also don't like bad arguments
against it.

Its title is ``Metaphor and War: The Metaphor System Used to Justify War
in the Gulf.'' But this really describes only the first half of the
article. This part analyzes what Iraq's opponents say in describing the
conflict, and doesn't need to make much reference to what the actual
state of affairs is in Iraq and Kuwait. It's not a new claim that the
United States and its allies have given reasons for their position that
are contradictory, but it strikes me as valuable to have this analyzed
in detail.

But the second part is not about metaphor; it's not a linguistic
analysis at all. What it says is: ``The first part showed how the
justifications for war are internally contradictory, and arguably based
on certain traditional lines of thought rather than on our actual
situation. But now I'm going to tell you what the true state of affairs
in Iraq and Kuwait is.'' Linguistics can tell us something about the
statements of political leaders as published in the newspapers; but not
about the actual reality of the situation. Yet the article says nothing
to establish this new claim to special knowledge or insight into world
politics and economics.

This is an article that, in its initial, linguistic part, acts as if
it's by an objective scientist, and works hard to establish that
authority; but then it turns into an editorial (or ``leading article,''
if you prefer), which is a piece of writing intended to persuade,
usually studded with facts to serve that persuasive intent, but not
normally presented as an unquestionably objective account. Newspapers
set them off from the rest of their contents for that reason. But this
article moves from linguistics to politics without a break, and
consequently seems to claim the same scientific authority in speaking of
politics as it does in speaking of linguistics. The article's message
to people who disagree comes down to this: ``You're wrong about the Gulf
crisis, because I'm a linguist and therefore I know what's really going
on there.'' Is it any wonder that those who disagree respond with
irritation or dismissal? There's no reason for them to accept this as a
complete statement of the facts; and there's justifiable irritation at
the apparent claim of scientific authority for them.

Let me point out a problem in the text of this article that may be
related to this issue: early on it tells us itself that it's divided
into two parts, and there is a ``Part 1'' heading; but there is no
``Part 2'' heading in the copy I got from the Brown listserver. My
guess is that it should go before the ``Is Saddam Irrational?'' section.
I don't know what the name of Part 2 should be, but it might have helped
to signal a change in the direction of the article, from analysis of
metaphor to claims about what the true situation is.

John Lavagnino
Department of English and American Literature, Brandeis University