The status of metaphor in (de)constructing historical master-narratives in the novels of Julian Barnes and Graham Swift and Kazuo Ishiguro

Master's Thesis 2007 87 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature




CHAPTER ONE Metaphoricised Historiography

CHAPTER TWO History as Spectacle

CHAPTER THREE History as Performance





The following thesis has been inspired by several problems connected with the modern condition of historicity in the context of post-war British literature. Most distinctly, it shall concern the redefinition of national and cultural values which was enforced by England’s colonial crisis and the growing popularity of liberalism. The drawing of methodological bases from different aspects of deconstructionist theory, culture studies and literary criticism will constitute the major interpretative strategy devised with respect to selected novels of Julian Barnes, Graham Swift and Kazuo Ishiguro. Beyond doubt, the choice of the aforesaid authors is not accidental. Despite the strongly individualised styles of writing as well as preferences of motifs, all three authors share a similar intellectual background. As representatives of the dominating walk of society, except perhaps for slightly unprivileged Ishiguro, they might feel urged to shoulder responsibility for the reformulation of notions such as “Englishness”, aspire to draw up a new cultural map of Europe and, ultimately, question the rationale of history itself.

The thesis shall be divided into three chapters. The first chapter, Metaphoricised Historiography, is an attempt at categorising notions such as identity, history in time and space as well as metaphor. It gives a short outline of the theoretical background and social facets of culture that are related to statements assembled in the thesis. The two following chapters are entitled as History as Spectacle and History as Performance with the intention to compile a systematic description of themes that appear to be especially liable to the inclusion in narratives that have a metaphorical overtone. The former, basically, deals with situations in which protagonists experience some sort of friction occurring between his/her sense of individuality and the pressure of historical events which query whether anything that happens to them can be singular and unprecedented. Such history is a spectacle because it offers a limited handful of scenes, sceneries and archetypical figures with which one may identify; moreover, the spectacle of history is finished and it has low tolerance of even a commentary. Since the character of history is so unappeased there arises the question if metaphors presented in private accounts of the characters are there because they integrate meta- and mini- narratives in master-history or if they can only be used to oppose such integration. The latter proposes another view of the situation. Performance, generally, is an interpretation of a very specific sort. Namely, it takes place when protagonists are conscious of the historic importance of their time and adopt an active attitude towards their role in it. The main obstacle they are supposed to encounter is uncertainty as to the problem if metaphors that they construct are devoid of discoursive implications.

Deconstructionist metaphor as an idea which will organise the thoughts developed in the dissertation will become both a device and an object of analysis. Therefore, it will fall into much varied categories which may require application of further theoretical data. Additionally, in order to synthesise the potential of metaphor to (dis)organise discourses in various historical senses and dimensions, also a kind of metaphorical representation could be used to explicate the mechanism. Since the aim of the thesis is to examine and summarise metaphorical operations of historical narratives, the emphasis will not be laid on typecasting. Rather, it will serve consideration of different aspects of the same idea.

CHAPTER ONE Metaphoricised Historiography


The British novel has undergone many developments since 1945. Especially the time of 1980s is marked by an increasing interest in the historical condition of England. Apart from the break-up of the empire, there were many other factors which motivated this tendency[1]. The country experienced many crises both internally and externally which had a remarkable impact on the erection of ideologies that were supposed to account for the new situation of the Isles. This fact resulted in many changes occurring mainly within a broadly understood social life:

[…]In cultural terms, the years since the Second World War have seen in Britain (…) a prodigious explosion of cultural forms and technologies, which have fundamentally readjusted the relations between art, culture and society. In the age of information and of the society of the spectacle, dispositions of power have fundamentally shifted. (…) capital and labour, has given way too much more shifting and complex forms of competition and affiliation. Of greatly increased importance in this period are the relations and distributions of power between different through often overlapping interest groups cantered on gender, race, sexuality, age and so on. (…) These changes both produce and are expressed in a redefinition of attitudes towards history as such in post-war Britain and the Western world. Over the course of the twentieth century, but with accelerating force in the years since 1945, the assurance of the special relationship between the history of Britain and global history has steadily been eroded.[…][2]

The most important sociological fact of this time to be acknowledged is the shift from global politics to the politics of communities. Britain no longer dictating standards all over the globe must now define standards of its own. The erection of different groups of interests contributed to the accentuation of more immediate categories of social order. Oscillating between history whose value must be reformulated and society which must be recreated within the new formula of history, the English face an endless discussion on the possibilities for a collective identity. Among these problems, generally addressing some sort of declining of traditional power relations, 1980s intensify the problematic nature of finances and its impact on the production of economy-oriented discourses. Bradbury writes about ‘monetarism’ which, as he asserts, became the hallmark of 1980s:

[…] Over decades dominant cultural languages had changed radically. The fifties largely read culture with a moral vocabulary, the sixties with a radical sociological one, the seventies with a language of personal consciousness. The eighties spoke with a discourse based on myths of money.[…][3]

There are two consequences ascribable to monetarism. First, it amounts to political hegemony which, having performed a selection between the ‘wealthy’ and the ‘poor’, secures a clear vision of elites authorised to rule the country and constitute its mainstream intellectual potential. Even though hegemony is morally wrong, being socially unjust and oppressive it manages to sustain a sort of paradoxical harmony which is built up on a: “combination of the maintenance of the cultural power of the minority and the active or inactive consent of the powerless majority[4]. As such, cultural hegemony limiting influences of minorities in the society is disguised under the presumably unsolvable imperfection of all democracies. In other words, domination is ascribed to governments representing numerical rather than categorical majority and the political arguments that, allegedly, stand behind all far-fetched enterprises. And second, monetarism reinforces the social struggles between different groups of interests. Frequently, the economic aspect of social life is subjected to bargain when one group tries to oust the other from a position deemed privileged for one reason or another:

[…] Even though liberal democratic systems enjoy high levels of stability and legitimacy, the stuff of politics remains competition over authorative allocation of limited resources. Simply because people agree on how conflicts should be resolved does not mean they have no conflicts. We have already seen that our political views are greatly influenced by our social environment. This suggests that political conflict probably reflects the different types of social and political values generated by different social environments.[…][5]

The struggle between various groups of interests is not destructive to the system, however. It is quite possible to mediate between those interests aiming at achieving a sort of pluralism. In this way, cultural and political hegemonies allow of being questioned and, as a consequence, the frames of social structures cease to hold on tight to what hegemonies offer. With the crisis of nationality ‘imagined communities’[6] emerge as a result of the local stimuli to reunite under informal, personal and often exalted feelings of exclusion from the hegemonic culture. It is so because while society is far from being vanquished, national themes grow less and less detectable.

The problems connected with many variations of identities and myths produced by locality are touched upon in literary works some of which will be analysed in this thesis. Novels that deal with historical discourse have certain distinguishable features. The most convincing term to denote such style of writing is probably ‘historiographic metafiction’. It is used by Hutcheon who states that the autoreflexive character of such novels stems from hidden claims to historical credibility[7]. Consequently, historiographic metafiction aims at being localised in historical discourse maintaining its autonomy as fictitious[8]. Historiography is not only a matter of representation and vocabulary but it is also connected with the organisation of the deeper layers of a text. Diversification of narrative techniques, styles and inspirations based on a reconstruction of previous genres is a trial at establishing a relationship with traditional forms of narrative[9]. The authors whose texts this thesis concerns are characteristic for this very reason.

As for narration, probably the most distinguishable type of it is used by Ishiguro in his novels. His protagonists and, simultaneously, narrators adopt an introspective attitude while relating past events. The psychological profile of Ishiguro’s narrators can be characterised by applying the adage qui s’excuse s’accuse [10]. Both Ono in An Artist of the Floating World and Banks in When We Were Orphans recollect history which is modelled by the revaluation of their own, somehow forgotten, faults. But more importantly such a recollection is concentrated on delegating responsibility for the fate of others to the complex historical mechanisms that are, allegedly, beyond the influence of an individual[11]. The effect observed from the presence of ‘unreliable narrators’ in Ishiguro’s texts, as he himself admits, is intended by the author:

[…]He [Christopher Banks] is perhaps not quite that sort of conventional unreliable narrator in the sense that it's not very clear what's going on out there. It's more an attempt to paint a picture according to what the world would look like according to someone's crazy logic. So a lot of the time the world actually adopts the craziness of his logic. It's not full of people doing surprised double takes when he comes out with certain statements. On the contrary, they go along with it. They all seem to support these weird notions.[…][12]

In When We… the self of the narrator is quasi-objectivised which means that there are no limits to his version of the past. As the reader is introduced to Banks’s world, the interpretative perspective may dramatically change in the course of unfolding the plot. It is his logic which organises the order of the represented reality rather than otherwise. Therefore, the primal assignment for the narrator is to prove that he can never be objective and that his vision of reality, be it even historic(al), will not be reflected in his narrative but created and, perhaps, taken over as well as credited by other people around him.

However, narration does not exclusively concern historical events but also the consequences it has on culture in how it contributes to the shifting of power relations across social structures and generations. In fact, another novel by Ishiguro reassures the privileged position of the narrative showing how it poses the most perilous challenges to the status quo of an empire. Mainly, in An Artist of the Floating World, the author portrays the cunning functionality of the politics of domination as it was implemented by Americans in post-war Japan. The first foreign occupation in the country’s history led to the hubris of what used to be a specimen of Japanese pride mostly because it brought disgrace to Japanese traditions. Starting with the mockery of the divine mandate of the imperial family, through perishing of religious practices such as Shinto or Buddhism, to the declining of social graces, customs and life-style[13], the old Japan found itself at the brink of its own extinction. This fact is bitterly acknowledged by the younger protagonists who are more liable to develop a sort of criticism for their culture. The experience of humiliation for the older Japanese is in sheer contrast with the enthusiasm of the young. Consequently, the continuation of Japanese traditions is imperilled as, among many other examples, American Westerns oust Bushido culture and human rights, without a moment of hesitation, discredit the achievements of Japanese nationalism. The influence of the Western culture is irresistible not only due to Japan’s military defeat but because of lack of moral arguments on the part of the defeated to resist it.

Similarly, bearing in mind the minor impact of historical changes such as decolonisation on the dominating groups of society, Barnes gives a short shrift to his home culture as early as in his first novel, Metroland. Again, like in Ishiguro, the youth is in charge of the new future of the country. His teenage protagonists, Christopher and Toni, undermine the moral and cultural superiority of Great Britain by means of questioning its smallest particles such as the ritual of community life and Englishness as organising any coherent base for collective identity. Metroland strongly signalises the characters’ divorce from anything popularly connoted with national pride[14]. Phrancophilia, so characteristic for Barnes, serves as an alternative to cherishing domestic values. It is exhibited, quite emphatically, in the criticism of the topography of the suburbs which may be linked to the legacy of the British Empire which assembled considerable cultural and financial wealth during the era of colonisation:

[…] The buildings which offer material reminders of imperial connections, the Bank of England and the royal Exchange symbolising the financial centre of the globe, the reliefs of African heads with elephants on the façade of Liverpool Exchange making the significance of the slave trade to that city’s wealth, the great museums of London, packed with imperial treasures, the Hyderabad Barracks in Colchester, reminding of the links between Britain and India (…) The streets in every town which mark historic battles and moments, from Trafalgar to Mafeking, signalling the ways in which national identity in Britain has been so profoundly shaped by imperial expansion and danger.[…][15]

The reality of 1980s presented in Metroland is a world immersed in the debris of Britain’s colonial ambitions. While the intellectual potential of the country (here metaphorically embodied by the teenagers) is involved in the search for a new Englishness that would have few connections with the disgraced Britishness, the social establishment (a role metaphorically appointed to parents) continues its stagnant existence in the painfully homogeneous suburbia. The competition between generations – each trying to secure their interests and jeopardising the other is, however, a tag-of-war situation. Toni and Christopher are nowhere near to homogenise the society within the insular space alone. Overwhelmed with the so uncharacteristic atmosphere of their homeland and naturally alienated from the new order of the country the protagonists pursue emotional fulfilment in other cultures and with time they develop a sort of self-loathing predilection.

This tendency reappears in other novels authored by Barnes. Even though he does not seem to be interested in political projects, Barnes takes the floor in the discussion on English culture and his standpoint in this respect is largely leftist. His picture of England of 1980s is quite critical and pessimist in the sense that it is designed on the basis of some kind of insight in the moral aspect of being English. Namely, since the inherited British culture had been stolen from colonies then, consequently, the English culture is something yet to be defined[16]. Simultaneously, the overtone carried by Barnesian social and historical analysis is in solidarity with several instances of post-Marxist critical theory. The tenets of historical materialism referred to the problem of labour force and the acquisition of cultural goods in one of Benjamin’s texts say a lot about the disposition of post-colonisers:

[…]According to traditional practice, the spoils are carried along in the procession. They are called cultural treasures, and a historical materialist views them with cautious detachment. For without exception the cultural treasures he surveys have an origin which he cannot contemplate without horror. They owe their existence not only to the efforts of the great minds and talents who have created them, but also to the anonymous toil of their contemporaries. There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism. And just as such a document is not free of barbarism, barbarism taints also the manner in which it was transmitted from one owner to another. A historical materialist therefore dissociates himself from it as far as possible. He regards it as his task to brush history against the grain.[…][17]

Even though Barnes may slightly ridicule political correctness, as many of his contemporaries, he is quite consistent in the feeling of self-loathing not only as an Englishman but also as a person with middle class descent. The ‘cultural cringe’ that the two post-imperial decades produced especially as a result of the uneven clashes between elites standing for both the colonised and the colonising is the reason why some authors, such as Barnes, would develop a sort of autophobia.

The self-hating position is taken on also in other spheres encompassing broader dimensions than nationality. In A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters, Barnes gives a searching critique of the idea of civilisation most vividly in the way he treats Judaeo-Christian archetypes and values. The stories included in this book relativise the axiological dimension of biblical teachings. The fact that similar motifs reappear in the novel leads to the formulation of a wealth of narrative techniques so characteristic for experimentalism[18]. The author revises the legitimacy of civilisational superiority of his home country as well as the whole continent. Following the same line, Cross Channel, the last novel by Barnes discussed in this thesis tells stories happening in areas close to French provinces where their pagan climate conduces non-Christian representations of spiritual life. Narrative is no less distinct in Waterland by Swift. The similarity between Cross Channel and Waterland invites comparison mainly on the ground of environmental imageries and the slightly cruel fate haunting people living close to nature. One of the foremost features of the world presented in the novel is the permixion of literary genres used in order to establish a cyclic character of history:

[…]Waterland adopts the narratives of myth, of the bible, of history and literature as a whole, all the while rearticulating these recognizable paradigms through the literary genres of parody, tragedy, romance, satire and rhetoric. One of the themes that Graham Swift, therefore, develops in his all-encompassing novel is that of the nature of history and time as cyclical phenomena which are forever converging and folding back upon themselves. (…) Such notions of time, space, and narrative of course arise straight out of a high modernist lingo that circulated through the fiction written several or more decades before Swift's own novel. Thus we can safely say that in presenting history and narrative as things which are borrowed and retold, Swift does not exclude his own Waterland from this inevitable tradition of storytelling.[…][19]

The imagery of fenlands is erected in gloomy scenarios and soaked through an Anglo-Saxon spirit. The narrative on history is alternated between the complicated, frequently pathological, family relations and the grandeur of historical events. The protagonist suffers from a very personal disillusionment with history which, as he comes to realise, is impossible to be fully defined[20]. The fact that Swift sticks to traditional literary forms only reinforces the assumption of history and narrative as non-linear.


The examination of narrative tools recruited in order to define the histories, properties, and boundaries of cultural territories can be performed for two main reasons. Firstly, it provides an idea of the geography of discourse; more precisely, it accounts for the narrative structures organising ideologies processed with respect to physical spaces. History has the potential to designate borders between territories; nonetheless, stories can metaphoricise and, hence, convert its meaning. Therefore, Barnes, Swift, and Ishiguro write about history which is merely metaphorical. Their stories draw up an architecture of discourse immersed in fantasy and encamped on mythical lands. And secondly, such an analysis allows to explain the fashion in which spatial metaphors emerge and, as a consequence, make a contribution to historical vocabulary that designs, in this case, intracontinental relations. The mechanism thanks to which different aspects of history are chronicled by means of territorial relations is primarily a type of narration. European history shows that narrating territory is prior to mapping. In other words, historical roles are assigned on the basis of discourses narrating territories that have been culturally and geopolitically classified as “other” than the West. Finally, metaphorical modes of narration reflect how European history is written down and recollected by Westerners.

Metaphorical representations of non-Western territories which construct western history both reinforce and are reinforced by scientific knowledge and social research. Narrating territorial relations, though originating in culture, results in geopolitical repressions. Even more, the model of Westernness is also implicated in terminological variations of Europeanness. It is so because the westernised conception of Europe organises the most basic frames of collective identities across western nations. However, as soon as the West is immediately associated with Europe, which carries much stronger territorial connotations, there arises the question of the innermost subdivisions. In order for the West to signify cultural superiority and, consequently, usurp the authority to write down the history of Europe, everything that does not belong to it must be somehow handled. As will be proved, narrating the West to a considerable degree consists in the import of metaphors encompassing non-Western territories of Europe.

It is not a very intricate matter to see in what way metaphorical reading of territories comes to fall into the category of scientific/political founding. Kroutvor sketches the historical structure of Europe as threefold and enumerates Western historicism, Eastern lack of history, and the absurd history of Middle Europe[21]. As a consequence, western historiography would also have to aspire to the ability to explain (or confirm), the absurdity of Central Europeanness. Taking into account the ideological load involved in the production of discourse, a sort of historiosophy would also be called for at this stage. To achieve its goal, western historiography supported by the historiosophical might want to dominate quasi-scientific fields hosting spatial discourses. And one of such fields is definitely geography. The author underlines the imperfections of Central Europe’s landscape as well as rare, if gloomy, seascapes - the whole territory is so uncharacteristic that it only brings to one’s mind mediocrity. Metaphorically, he asserts, it is treated by Westerners as resulting from the lack of substantial national spirits; a sort of weak character and a totally unEuropean quality[22]. The geographical mediocrity affects the intellects of the inhabitants who need either to have their own history explained or claim no history at all. Another contribution to the oppressing discourse is made by historicism itself. The historical condition of post-war Europe, especially, excluded the territory of Middle Europe from its glossary in cultural, political and inevitably even geographical sense[23]. Western Europe does not withstand having any eastern parts drawn up on its map; the West is nothing more and nothing less than the very essence of Europe. Such a situation is simply an everlasting process of discursive violence. The cultural map of Europe is designed in accordance with West-oriented interests.

Ironically, the historical significance so much cherished and appreciated by Western culture, in the course of its own expansion, grows instable mostly because it is highly counterproductive. It is easy to find examples of Westerners in search of those missing parts of Europe. The totalising effects of historical discourse may arouse contempt among those who do not fit, or even more surprisingly, do not wish to fit its order. Rebellion against the dominant discourse coming out from the very centre of it is hardly controllable:

[…] Toni far outclassed me in rootlessness. His parents were Polish Jews and, though we didn’t actually know it for certain, we were practically sure that they had escaped from the Warsaw ghetto at the very last minute. This gave Toni the flash foreign name of Barbarowski, two languages, three cultures, and a sense (he assured me) of atavistic wrench: in short, real class. He looked an exile, too: swarthy, bulbous-nosed, thick-lipped, disarmingly short, energetic and hairy; he even had to shave every day. […][24]

The craving for being individual and different enhances the youngsters to act against their domestic culture. Paradoxically, the dominating historical discourse, having created a highly unified narration stages competition with all it strives to repress, and what is more it must compete with all it denies there exists. The protagonist of Metroland realises that his social status is largely ascribed to the place he occupies on the cultural map of England. Chris disparages his origins when he repeats time and again during exams: “J’habite Metroland. (…) It sounded better than Eastwick, stranger than Middlesex; more like a concept in the mind (…)”[25] Barnes pictures agitating such a dissention as the mission of the young generation whom he burdens with the responsibility to terminate the hegemonic practices of their home-culture. This task is in the hands of the younger generation who have not yet been desensitised by the alleged greatness of British imperial history. Accordingly, Toni and Christopher believe that it is their duty to comply with the ideals of their times. Their actions are usually connected with disobedience toward parental education – which they interpret as promoted by certain fixed social conventions. The two protagonists will concentrate on language and the manner in which it may symbolise the weight of the discord incorporated in its use. This is not only a theoretical design aiming at heterogenising a theory of society but, first and foremost, a sociological fact: ” The emergence of such (youth) groups has signalled in a spectacular fashion the breakdown of consensus in the post-war period”[26] . The ambition of such group is to use a symbolic language – an alternative to what is proposed by older generations:

[…] Adults were boring, with their rationality, their deference, their refusal to punish you as severely as you knew you ought to be punished. Adults were useful because they were boring: they were raw material; they were predictable in their responses. They might be wet and kindly, or sour and vicious; but they were always predictable. […][27]

Hebdige describes this struggle in terms of competing discourses in which the subcultural steals from the cultural and secretly endows the cultural products with new meaning[28]. In this sense subcultures are heterogeneous because they both respect individuality and tend toward inclusiveness. In Metroland the path to cultural and linguistic independence leads through constant deconditioning:

[…] And as for ourselves, the victims, the mal-aimes, we realised that independent existence could only be achieved by strict deconditioning. (…) Deconning, as we called it, savouring the pun, was the duty of every self-respecting adolescent. […][29]

The aspiration to rootlessness is stirred by the historical self-consciousness. The responsibility of the Anger Generation must be shouldered and result in the emergence of a kind of linguistic subculture. First, the Scorched Earth is an attitude of an entire anarchy and consciousness of the would-be historical importance of the underground. The second one, Reconstruction, is specifically linguistic: it attempts to exchange the static literalness for the energy of metaphor.

Western culture, apparently, takes it for granted that it is itself instituted by unnumbered and unidentifiable stories. Barnes continues the subject in many of his novels; for instance in Cross Channel he translates British imperial history through the myths that are cultivated in the cosy atmosphere of French hamlets. Swift, writing down a history of childhood fenlands and Ishiguro recollecting history of his country throughout a kind of introspection both justify the rationale of narrating history on the basis of places and spaces. The sameness of national histories is questioned by Western authors because there is no reason why a westerner should not have a story to tell.

Western historicism is challenged by the products of its own repression. Similarly to the diversified cultural centres in Middle Europe which because of ghettoisation are capable of producing their own grotesque and melancholic readings of master-discourse:

[…]Central European history could be a good reason for crying; at best, for telling an anecdote. (…) History billows through Middle Europe, but average inhabitants (…) remain oblivious to it. They stay at home absorbed in their own thoughts. (…) In Central Europe there is no such thing as historical continuity as history is disintegrated; no epoch or individual have enough time to gain maturity. […][30]

Here, reality is instantaneous rather than historical. It is a model of history which is not very likely to clash in any way against empirical reality. This type of narration is a response to the violence exerted by historiography.

Beside the continental issue, territorial narratives are equally entangled in struggles with the dominant ideologies of nation-states. Discourse fails to accomplish the mechanism ‘melting-pot’ assimilation. In Western Europe one-nation dominance prevails especially in terms of social life and political ambitions of a given state. But apart from the political intricacies also spheres such as class, gender and religion often ignite dissention. Deconstruction of master-narratives from within motivates narrations drawn from folklore and also, quite often, leads to the invention of new realities that have not yet been obstructed by any ideology. Just like the ‘non-existent’ Central Europe, the fantastic worlds have no geography and only that sort of history which is stage-managed individually. The production of metaphorical territories, unmapped and narrated by metaphorical languages (idiolects) is crucial since the category of space can only be determined through translation of terminology applied to temporality[31]. Consequently, protagonists seek territories outside the West-oriented nomenclature and implement metaphors in order to administer a history of those territories. This subject will be developed in the forthcoming chapters.


According to the premises of deconstructionist theory metaphor holds specific properties thanks to which it assumes a prominent role in analysing the historical. The primal notion is that of usure which accounts for the way in which histories of abstract concepts are represented on both linguistic and visual levels. Derrida describes it in the following way:

[…] one may decipher the double import of usure: erasure by rubbing, exhaustion, crumbling away, certainly; but also supplementary product of the capital, the exchange which far from losing the original investment would fructify its initial wealth, would increase its return in the form of revenue, additional interest, linguistic surplus value, the two histories of the meaning of the word remaining indistinguishable. […][32]

Usure is an inseparable component of metaphysics in the sense that, through their persistent reapplication in locally produced discourses, various philosophical systems tend to obscure the ‘original’ meanings of abstract concepts. Every single reappearance of an idea or imagery deprives it of its primordial quality. But, despite the loss, large amounts of both literal and figurative senses are collected along the procedure. Dispossessed of its metaphysically ‘original’ meaning on the one hand and semantically encouraged by forthcoming contexts on the other, a specimen under usury develops its own history. In selected works of Barnes especially but also to a considerable degree in Swift and Ishiguro, the usure of metaphysical concepts is crucial for several reasons. Mainly, because the distant histories of social, religious, political and cultural discourses provide metaphorical material for creating more remote stories. Since each discourse lays down usure as its principle, it is transported into other narrative practices signalising private efforts to reconstruct the past such as story-telling and remembering to name just a few.

As a consequence of the aforesaid, usure/usury[33] of concepts inevitably leads to metaphorisation of discourse as such. Since, the process starts with usure and continues acting within the framework of usury, metaphorical representation is never completed. Metaphorical discourse is the only discourse in which philosophical thought can be expressed and from which it is derived. As Derrida asserts, metaphorical discourse has serious effects on the history of philosophy:

[…] It is a kind of transparent figure, equivalent to a literal meaning (sense propre). It becomes a metaphor when philosophical discourse puts it into circulation. Simultaneously, the first meaning and the first displacement are then forgotten. The metaphor is no longer noticed, and it is taken for the proper meaning. A double effacement. Philosophy would be this process of metaphorisation which gets carried away in and of itself. Constitutionally, philosophical culture will always have been an obliterating one. […][34]

This ‘double effacement’ is the core of discursive operations. The two following chapters constitute a trial at establishing a systematic analysis of metaphorical discourse in several literary texts written in roughly the same period of time and authored by fairly comparable British authors. Their literary motifs are borrowed from other texts (including culture-as-text), and, simultaneously, invented anew. All the imageries assembled in texts of respective authors can be either perceived as metaphorical, or they can be understood and explained by means of generating a metaphorical delineation. By the same token, metaphor can be present on absolutely every level of discourse: linguistic, scientific, analytical, geopolitical and so on and so forth. Even though the metaphorical overtone of any discourse may not always appear to be of utmost importance, the poststructuralist philosophy underlines the paradoxical situation of metaphor. While ontology strives to discard metaphor as merely stylistic, it cannot dismiss the fact that metaphor is what initiates every discourse since it allows a physical experience to be translated into an abstract concept[35].

Furthermore, metaphor as produced by the usure of the sign creates symbols which are more identifiable than their semiotic counterparts:

[…]”What is this if not a collection of little symbols, much worn and defaced, I admit, symbols which have lost their original brilliance, and picturesqueness, but which still, by the nature of things, remain symbols? The image is reduced to the schema, but the schema is still the image. And I have been able, without sacrificing fidelity, to substitute one for the other. […][36]

Apparently, the symbolic is a fairly ordered entity. The use of symbols may be sort of mechanical and intentionalised but it reinforces the representation. Derrida adds that metaphoricising symbols leads to ‘perpetual allegories’[37]. One story is told in order to evoke another. In this sense metaphor amounts to the mechanism of any rhetoric. Having generated an analogy it establishes a novel connection between the immediate subject of its analysis and a symbology borrowed from earlier texts[38]. It is especially visible in Barnes’s A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters where biblical stories are written in new contexts and each context hosts a different story. By means of metaphorical representation, Barnes builds up a web of reappearing connotations. The author puts forth his private viewpoint on history using symbols transmitted from discourses and creates one of his own. All the more since repetition of a symbol in an allegory facilitates personal judgement[39]. Ishiguro and Swift differ from Barnes in this respect. Their focus is not so much on symbols but, more frequently; their texts involve a specific perception of space. As a consequence, the presence of deconstructionist metaphor is not very obvious in their writings. A certain fashion of sensitivity plays crucial role here and organises their leading imageries:

[…] [But] is not the word “metaphor” itself a metaphor, the metaphor of a displacement and therefore of transfer in a kind of space? What is at stake is precisely the necessity of these spatial metaphors about metaphor included in our talk about “figures” of speech.

Such being the problem, in what direction are we to look for a correct assessment of the semantic role of imagination and eventually of feeling? It seems that it is in the work of resemblance that a pictorial or iconic moment is implied […][40]

The metaphors developed in space, to a paradox, are most vividly described by Ricoeur even though he draws from classical philosophy, structuralism and Russian formalism rather than deconstruction. ‘The work of resemblance’, he mentions, seems to be a sort of an icon of sense visible in space. Such a representation is produced within the borders of one’s imagination and enhanced by unknown amount of collective memory. It is impossible to discriminate between them. Likewise, the operations of metaphors constructed around resemblance are less likely to be detected:

[…] our theory of imagination has brought us to the borderline between pure semantics and psychology or, more precisely, to the borderline between a semantics of productive imagination and a psychology of reproductive imagination. But the metaphorical meaning which denies the well-established distinction between sense and representation, to evoke once more Frege’s opposition between Sinn and Vorstellung. By blurring the distinction, the metaphorical meaning compels us to explore the borderline between the verbal and the non-verbal. […][41]

Metaphoricalness is not so much a stylistic technique as it is a feature allowing sense and representation to be in solidarity with individual imagination. It justifies the elaborate composition of the imaginary fenlands in Swift’s Waterland. The narrator puts forth his scientific authority as he teaches his last lesson of history. However, this time Crick transfers the focal point of historical attention to the vivid reconstruction of childhood times. The need to tell a personal story not breaking ranks with historiography brings about the erection of a metaphorical narration. By contrast, Barnes’s metaphors are in perpetual competition with conflicting symbols.

Beside far-fetched historical imageries, it is also important to pay attention to metaphorical instances on a smaller level; it would require a sort of metaphorical ‘close reading’. As will be seen also in this case metaphorical operations correspond to actions taken with respect to more complex textual realities. Max Black, whom Ricoeur often quotes, enumerates several views of metaphors - one of them is connected with comparison: “If a writer holds that a metaphor consists in the presentation of the underlying analogy or similarity(…)[42] Since metaphor serves as a presentation of allegorical images it has an instructive value but, as Black stresses it, it does not hold any scientific authority: “metaphorical statement is not a substitute for a formal comparison or any other kind of literal statement[43]. Metaphors developed in sentences are much more decorative than didactic. Similarly to what has already been stated earlier on, the pragmatic quality of a metaphor on a sentence-level is equally productive to its discursive dimension:


[1] Starting with the literary output of the so-called Anger Generation in early 1950s, the English novel signified a rebellion against traditional values and literary forms. The most popular character here is a strongly critical representative of the youth. Characters created by Murdoch, Golding and Lessing among others participate in something that signalises a break with conventions. But as soon as in 1960s the neorealist technique seemed to be exhausted especially in the light of the novelties and achievement of American writers of the time. Between 1960s and 1970s, however, the influence of experimentalism, the notion of ‘fabulation’ and French literary theory gained recognition among British authors. Writers like Spark, Fowles, Carter or Farrel managed to popularise this kind of narrative. Soon British novel stood up to accusations of anti-intellectualism and the out-dated narrative with omniscient narrator and a moral as a conclusion. See: Bronisława Bałutowa, Powieść angielska XX wieku, PWN, (Warszawa: 1983).

[2] Steven Connor, The English Novel in History 1950-1995, Routledge, (London – NY: 1996), pp. 2-3.

[3] Malcom Bradbury, The Modern British Novel, Penguin Book, (London: 2001), p. 442.

[4] Graeme Turner, British Cultural Studies. An Introduction, Routledge, (NY: London: 1992), p. 208.

[5] Tony Spybey, Britain in Europe. An Introduction to Sociology, Routledge, (London- NY: 1997), p. 303.

[6] Krzysztof Knauer, „Introduction: Culture and Nationality”, in: Britishness and Cultural Studies, K. Knauer & S. Murray (eds.), Wydawnictwo Śląsk, (Katowice: 2000), p. 21.

[7] Linda Hutcheon, „Historiograficzna metapowieść: parodia i intertekstualność historii”, in: Postmodernizm. Antologia przekładów, R. Nycz (ed.), Baran i Suszyński, (Kraków: 1996), p. 379.

[8] Ibidem.

[9] Janina Abramowska, „Gatunek i temat”, in: Genologia dzisiaj, W. Bolecki (ed.), BL, (Łódź: 1997), p. 63.

[10] Krystyna Stamirowska, „Kazuo Ishiguro”, in: Współczesna powieść brytyjska, K. Stamirowska (ed.), Universitas, (Kraków: 1997), p. 243.

[11] Ibidem.

[12] Linda Richards, „An Interwiew with Kazuo Ishiguro”, in: January Magazine. [http://januarymagazine.com/profiles/ishiguro.html]

[13] Wikipedia, “Shinto”, 20 May 2007, [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinto].

[14] Katarzyna Szczepanik, “Julian Barnes”, in: Współczesna powieść…, op. cit., p. 138.

[15] Catherine Hall, „British Cultural Identities and the Legacy of the Empire”, in : British Cultural Studies: Geography, Nationality, and Identity, D. Morley & K. Robins (eds.), Oxford UP, (Oxford: 2001), pp. 27-28.

[16] Krishan Kumar, „’Englishness’ and English National Identity”, in: British Cultural …, op. cit., pp. 42-43.

[17] Walter Benjamin, On the Concept of History. [http://www.leedstrinity.ac.uk/depart/media/staff/ls/WBenjamin/CONCEPT2.html]

[18] K. Szczepanik, „Julian Barnes”, op. cit., pp. 121-122.

[19] Sarah Eron, Once Upon a Time: Retelling Time, Space, and Story in Graham Swift's Waterland, Brown University, 2004. [http://www.usp.nus.edu.sg/post/uk/gswift/wl/eron26.html].

[20] Bożena Kucała, „Graham Swift”, in: Współczesna powieść …, op. cit., p. 228.

[21] Josef Kroutvor, „Europa Środkowa: anegdota i historia”, in: Hrabal, Kundera, Havel… Antologia czeskiego eseju, J. Baluch (ed.), Universitas, (Kraków: 2001), p. 253.

[22] Ibid., p. 226.

[23] Ibid., p. 229.

[24] Julian Barnes, Metroland, Picador, (London: 1990), p. 32.

[25] Ibid., p. 33.

[26] Dick Hebdige, “From Culture to Hegemony”, in: The Cultural Studies Reader, S. During (ed.), Routledge, (London- NY: 1993), pp. 366-367.

[27] J. Barnes , Metroland, op. cit, p. 66.

[28] D. Hebdige, “From Culture…”, op. cit., p. 367.

[29] J. Barnes, Metroland, p. 41.

[30] J. Kroutvor, „Europa Środkowa…”, op. cit, p. 241.

[31] Janusz Sławiński, Próby teoretycznoliterackie, Universitas, (Kraków: 2000), p. 196.

[32] Jacques Derrida, “White Mythology: Metaphor in the Text of Philosophy”, in: Margins of Philosophy, Chicago UP, (Chicago: 1982), p. 210.

[33] Note: The translator makes it clear that the word “usure” is derived directly from French. Derrida implies here the double meaning of the word: the acquisition of interest and the exploitation through usage. See: Ibidem.

[34] Ibid., p. 211.

[35] Maria Gołębiewska, Między wątpieniem a pewnością. O związkach języka i racjonalności w filozofii poststrukturalizmu, Universitas, (Kraków: 2003), p. 236.

[36] J. Derrida, “White…”, op. cit., p. 211.

[37] Ibid., p. 213.

[38] Chaim Perelman, Imperium retoryki, PWN, (Warszawa: 2002), p. 132.

[39] Ibid., pp. 138-139.

[40] Paul Ricoeur, „The Metaphorical Process as Cognition, Imagination, and Feeling”, in: Philosophical Perspectives on Metaphor, M. Johnson (ed.), Minnesota UP, (Minneapolis: 1981), p. 230.

[41] Ibid., pp. 237-238.

[42] Max Black, “Metaphor”, in: Philosophical …, op. cit., p. 71.

[43] Ibid., p. 72.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
883 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
University of Silesia
Julian Barnes Graham Swift Kazuo Ishiguro




Title: The status of metaphor in (de)constructing historical master-narratives in the novels of Julian Barnes and Graham Swift and Kazuo Ishiguro