Monday, September 19, 2011

Adams, David. Review of Hans Blumenberg, PARADIGMS FOR A METAPHOROLOGY and CARE CROSSES THE RIVER. NDPR (August 2011).

Blumenberg, Hans.  Paradigms for a Metaphorology Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2010;
Blumenberg, Hans.  Care Crosses the River.  Trans. Paul FlemingStanford: Stanford UP, 2010.

The publication in 2010 of two new English translations of books by Hans Blumenberg is cause for celebration. Their nearly simultaneous appearance may be a coincidence -- Paradigms for a Metaphorology was translated by Robert Savage for Cornell and Care Crosses the River was translated by Paul Fleming for Stanford -- but the coincidence could not be more fortunate as the two works complement each other superbly. These relatively brief, stylistically divergent works from opposite ends of Blumenberg's career (1960 and 1986) provide English-language readers with long-overdue access to Blumenberg's reflections on the role of metaphor in philosophical discourse.

Blumenberg is one of Germany's most important postwar philosophers, but his presence in the English language has so far been limited. Born in Lübeck in 1920, his studies were interrupted by the war, during which he was persecuted as a Halbjude ("half Jew") and sheltered by the family of his future wife. Following the war he promptly completed his doctoral and postdoctoral dissertations (1947 and 1950), then taught successively at universities in Hamburg, Giessen, and Bochum, landing finally in Münster from 1970 to 1986. Beginning in 1966 he published a series of weighty volumes, three of which were translated into English by Bob Wallace and published by MIT Press in the 1980s: The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, Work on Myth, and The Genesis of the Copernican Age. Since his death in 1996, a steady stream of posthumous publications has accompanied the intensified interest in his work in Germany; interest from the Anglophone world is increasing as well, evidenced in part by these two new translations.

Independently of the linguistic turn in France, Blumenberg began highlighting the role of metaphor in philosophical discourse in the 1950s. More than a decade before the appearance of Jacques Derrida's "La mythologie blanche", for example, Blumenberg published "Light as a Metaphor for Truth" (1957), which includes his earliest reference to nonconceptuality (Unbegrifflichkeit), his paradoxical concept for perceptions and experiences that do not lend themselves to representation in precise, univocal concepts and thus invite expression in metaphor, myth, and symbol. Paradigms for a Metaphorology, coming three years later, argues for a broadening of the field of Begriffsgeschichte (the history of concepts) to include the history of metaphors. Metaphors are not merely ornamentation, Blumenberg argues, but are
foundational elements [Grundbestände] of philosophical language, 'translations' that resist being converted back into authenticity and logicality. If it could be shown that such translations, which would have to be called 'absolute metaphors', exist, then one of the essential tasks of conceptual history (in the thus expanded sense) would be to ascertain and analyze their conceptually irredeemable expressive function. (Paradigms, 3)
The first half of Paradigms for a Metaphorology demonstrates this expressive function in several metaphors, such as the powerful truth, the naked truth, terra incognita, the incomplete universe, and the book of nature. The second half begins to demarcate the realm of metaphor with paradigms for a "typology of metaphor histories." The paradigms focus on "transitional phenomena" that illustrate the historical transformations between, and distinct functions of, absolute metaphor, myth, symbol, and concept. This tentative typology involves the discussion of additional metaphors that would become the focus of later, longer works by Blumenberg, including Plato's allegory of the cave and Copernicus's cosmology. . . .

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