Figures of a Changing World offers a dramatic new account of cultural change, an account based on the distinction between two familiar rhetorical figures, metonymy and metaphor. The book treats metonymy as the basic organizing trope of traditional culture and metaphor as the basic organizing trope of modern culture. On the one hand, metonymies present themselves as analogies that articulate or reaffirm preexisting states of affairs. They are guarantors of facticity, a term that can be translated or defined as fact-like-ness. On the other hand, metaphors challenge the similarity they claim to establish, in order to feature departures from preexisting states of affairs.
On the basis of this distinction, the author argues that metaphor and metonymy can be used as instruments both for the large-scale interpretation of tensions in cultural change and for the micro-interpretation of tensions within particular texts. In addressing the functioning of the two terms, the author draws upon and critiques the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, Roman Jakobson, Christian Metz, Paul Ricoeur, Umberto Eco, Edmund Leach, and Paul de Man.
In Figures of a Changing World, Harry Berger, Jr. distills into brief scope a masterful review and critique of a major topic in twentieth century critical theory: the post-Nietszchean theory of tropes. Berger’s work is always welcomed by scholars in his fields (plural), but this little book on a big topic has the potential to be among the most widely read and appreciated of his many volumes because the subject is of interest to so many academic practitioners, because his treatment of it is as trenchant and pointed as it is wide-ranging, and because his style is so appealingly distinctive.