Previous posts have focused on Fracture and Reduction in Object-Oriented Photography, Metaphor is the focus here. While the concept of Fracture drew upon various philosophical standpoints such as Heidegger, Ortega y Gasset and Harman, for example, Reduction was explained from a more practice-based standpoint. Metaphor too has its roots in philosophy and so this post will return to an academic/practical assessment.
I decided to start with looking at the derivation and meaning of meta-phor – meta meaning between and phero meaning to carry. Thus, the combination leads to our understanding today of using one object or idea as a means of conveying something that might be similar in another or perhaps as Graham Harman suggests below provides a more startling or unusual comparison.
Harman, in Object-Oriented Ontology – A New Theory of Everything (2018), refers to having spent eighteen years trying to understand Ortega’s essay (Ortega y Gasset 1975) on metaphor having been convinced that it harboured a paradox and ultimately a secret, if only he knew what it was. Harman’s persistence led to metaphor ultimately being a cornerstone of his form of Speculative Realism – Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO). Harman refers to a quotation from the essay that suggests and explains how Ortega’s concept of ‘I-ness’ can access the inwardness of objects through art:
“Now then, imagine the importance of a language or system of expressive signs whose function was not to tell us about things but to present them to us in the act of executing themselves. Art is just such a language: this is what art does. The esthetic object is inwardness as such – it is each thing as ‘I’.
This is very important, and I would argue provides hope for me in delivering my research aims and objectives, as this quotation potentially opens up a world where there may be a means to access and reveal the noumena through aesthetics. However, my euphoria is short-lived in the sense that Ortega qualifies his statement above as follows:
“Notice I am not saying that a work of art reveals the secret of life and being to us; what I do say is that a work of art affords the peculiar pleasure we call esthetic by making it seem that the inwardness of things, their executant reality, is opened to us.”
Ortega sees metaphor and aesthetics as the process by which the ‘inwardness of things’ can be accessed. Harman explains the importance of this as follows:
“. . . metaphor satisfies us precisely because in it we find a coincidence between two things that is more profound and decisive than any mere resemblance.” (Harman 2018 p73).
Harman goes on to explain that metaphors must be chosen carefully and when successful the components used in the metaphor create a new combined object or entity in our minds. He also refers to Ortega’s understanding that metaphor appeals to something more than a resemblance between the real qualities of the objects. Indeed, that the metaphor needs to be striking and one that the reader or viewer can visualise in aesthetic terms and experience as a new object, such as the example used by Ortega of the cypress trees and flames.
Ortega, in his discourse about metaphor, returns Kant’s noumena to philosophical consciousness and demonstrates that there is a positive way of accessing it. Ortega acknowledges that for metaphor to work in this way the objects of the analogy must result in the fusion of two diverse entities into a resultant third object. He speaks in terms of the images of things – how they are perceived from outside (the sensual object in Harman’s OOO terms) and the executant inner reality of the object. (the real object in Harman’s OOO terms).
I have really enjoyed re-reading Harman’s Object-Oriented Ontology (2018) and I am heartened that a year on from starting my PhD I am able to follow and understand much more about his philosophy and that to which he refers.
While I have used metaphor in my photography for a number of years on Skye, my work has not necessarily been informed by the thinking of Ortega, or indeed Harman in terms of their specific approach and understanding of metaphor. As I look forward to Year 2, I feel able to delve more deeply into the philosophy that might inform my practice and the strategies that provide the potential to access the reality of being. At this stage, I am hopeful that what I set out to achieve in my research aims and objectives will be achieved through Object-Oriented Photography.
Harman, G. (2018). Object-Oriented Ontology – A New Theory of Everything. Milton Keynes, Pelican Books.
Ortega y Gasset, J. (1975). Phenomenology and Art. Toronto, George J McLeod Limited
Ryan, R., Price, A B J (2021). Object Oriented Photography – a Speculative Essay on the Photography of Essence.
Ryan, R. J. (2019). Intuition, Expertise and Judgement in the Assessment of Photographic Images. School of Business and the School of Art. Cheltenham, University of Gloucestershire. PhD: 492.