Annamaria Contini

Between Word and Image: Proust’s Theory of Cognitive Metaphor

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Anticipating today’s theses that see metaphor as a tool of thought as well as of language, Proust does not consider metaphor as a mere substitute for a literal term, as a stylistic artifice designed to embellish discourse, but assigns it a cognitive function. For Proust, metaphor allows us to discern new relationships between things, to make not only two terms but also two conceptual realms interact. Moreover, by making us know one thing through another, metaphor implies a new vision capable of grasping the continuous transformations of the sensible world. It is precisely the theme of vision that is at the centre of the famous description of an imaginary painting, Elstir’s Le Port de Carquethuit, in In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower. In this contribution, we will see the complex tension between word and image that runs through this description, during which Proust enunciates his own conception of metaphor as a metamorphosis of the things represented. By using the rhetoric of ekphrasis in an original way, Proust does not merely translate a pictorial work of art into literary terms, but establishes a recursiveness between the verbal and the visual, between the metaphor of painting and the painting of metaphor, from which emerges the open-ended and always-in-progress character of metaphorical truth, as a truth inseparable from otherness, contradiction and hybridity between heterogeneous elements. In this way, Proust also anticipates the important reflection conducted today on both visual metaphors and the icastic character of verbal metaphors themselves.


  • Marcel Proust
  • Metaphor
  • Vision
  • Painting
  • Language
  • Knowledge


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