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Denis Donoghue

ISBN 9780674430662

Publication date: 04/22/2014

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Denis Donoghue turns his attention to the practice of metaphor and to its lesser cousins, simile, metonym, and synecdoche. Metaphor (“a carrying or bearing across”) supposes that an ordinary word could have been used in a statement but hasn’t been. Instead, something else, something unexpected, appears. The point of a metaphor is to enrich the reader’s experience by bringing different associations to mind. The force of a good metaphor is to give something a different life, a new life. The essential character of metaphor, Donoghue says, is prophetic. Metaphors intend to change the world by changing our sense of it.

At the center of Donoghue’s study is the idea that metaphor permits the greatest freedom in the use of language because it exempts language from the local duties of reference and denotation. Metaphors conspire with the mind in its enjoyment of freedom. Metaphor celebrates imaginative life par excellence, from Donoghue’s musings on Aquinas’ Latin hymns, interspersed with autobiographical reflection, to his agile and perceptive readings of Wallace Stevens.

When Donoghue surveys the history of metaphor and resistance to it, going back to Aristotle and forward to George Lakoff, he is a sly, cogent, and persuasive companion. He also addresses the question of whether or not metaphors can ever truly die. Reflected on every page of Metaphor are the accumulated wisdom of decades of reading and a sheer love of language and life.


  • For almost half a century Denis Donoghue has written stylish, weighty books, distinguished by the way they interweave an intricate sense of literary pleasure with an interest, no less intricate, in philosophical ideas… Now we have Metaphor, a characteristically intelligent and suggestive account, which reconsiders these grand philosophical tensions on the small stage of a figure of speech… Metaphor becomes an index of spiritual freedom: not a bit of tame likeness-making, like a simile. A metaphor is more like a heroic gesture towards autonomy, a rejection of the world of ‘common usage and the values it enforces.’ Donoghue pursues this theme with all his urbane powers of implication and range, finding in the metaphor a miniaturized instance of the idealist imagination… Donoghue is vivid and clever about a whole range of metaphorical uses in these pages.

    —Seamus Perry, Times Literary Supplement


  • Denis Donoghue has taught English, Irish, and American Literature at University College, Dublin; Cambridge University and King’s College, Cambridge; and New York University.

Book Details

  • 240 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press