Metaphor as a Sign of Genius

From Robert von Hallberg’s Lyric Powers:

Aristotle will tell you that “The apt use of metaphor, being as it is, the swift perception of relations, is the true hall-mark of genius.” That abundance, that readiness of the figure is indeed one of the surest proofs that the mind is upborne upon the emotional surge. By “apt use”, I should say it were well to understand, a swiftness, almost a violence, and certainly a vividness. This does not mean elaboration and complication.


Revisited this old post while searching how often I use the term genius on Time’s Flow Stemmed. Rarely, thankfully, is the answer. My usage of the term in a post about Borges, Nabokov and Sebald is probably hyperbole, brilliant though all three are.

Rereading the paragraph above from von Hallberg’s Lyric Powers lead me back to Poetics for Aristotle’s own (translated) words:

It is a great thing, indeed, to make proper use of the poetical forms, as also of compounds and strange words. But the greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor. It is the one thing that cannot be learnt from others; and it is also a sign of genius, since a good metaphor implies an intuitive perception of the similarity in dissimilars.

So now [I am time-travelling to today’s post, 4 years ahead of this post’s date] I am pondering Roger Scruton’s argument that music’s expressive power can only be described by recourse to metaphor.

Incidentally, while I may agree with Aristotle’s hypothesis that mastery of metaphor is a stamp of genius in a writer, I am not convinced that it cannot be learned. To ‘be metaphorical’ in Aristotle’s formulation is to see resemblance (Paul Ricoeur’s phrasing). Can we not learn to see the similarity of two references?

One thought on “Metaphor as a Sign of Genius

  1. Pingback: Rare Birds | Time's Flow Stemmed

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