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Martin Švantner

Charles University Prague, Czechia

Guessing in the dark: A metaphor is not (only) an iconic sign


Within the field of semiotics, there lurk many specters that have departed from its matrix and wander across other domains of the humanities and social sciences. Pale criminals, faded coins, and schemata so schematic that they mostly represent bad habits of thought. The most terrifying diagrammatic monster by far is the hopeless triangle of representation, followed by the curse of social construction and cultural convention. The hellish offspring of these two titans of mediocrity is the stubbornly reiterated claim, purportedly originating from Peirce’s oeuvre, that metaphor is an icon, photography is an index, and the symbol is what we agree upon. Thus, the semiotician resembles a primitive nominalist necromancer whose sole task is to confine the vitality of any complex communication into a pre-prepared, poorly constructed necronomicon/puzzle of sign theory for all cases. In the realm of Middle-Earth, a glimmer of hope came to pass with the arrival of heroic figures: Bilbo Baggins, a Socratic-style sophist, and the rude and nervous wannabe Nietzschean Gollum. They will show us that the cognitive aspect of metaphor lies not in language and the intentions of mortal minds, be they hobbit orcish, dwarven or human. Instead, they shall guide us on a wondrous journey of intricate inferences (there and back), wherein lies the power to safeguard lives from perilous riddles.