Metaphor and Psychoanalysis: Introduction

by Burton Melnick

December 1, 2001


The sequence of an introduction and nine papers that follows constitutes an "e-book": Metaphor and Psychoanalysis. These papers develop the implications for psychoanalysis of the new conception of metaphor being developed in cognitive linguistics. The editor of the collection is Burton A. Melnick, of the International School, Geneva, with co-editing from Norman N. Holland, one of the editors of PsyArt.


    The theory of conceptual metaphor, which holds that much—or perhaps most—human thinking is essentially metaphorical in nature, has been one of the most influential intellectual developments of the last quarter century. Although the theory originated in cognitive linguistics, it has far-reaching implications for all the human sciences, including psychoanalysis. Like psychoanalysis, the theory of conceptual metaphor focuses on the nature of mental processes (in particular of unconscious mental processes) as they are revealed in language and other symbolic activities. Like psychoanalysis, furthermore, the theory lays great stress on how those mental processes are rooted in bodily experience. Since, moreover, the theory has a great deal to say about all manifestations of language, it is likely to shed significant light both on the nature of the psychoanalytic dialogue and on the nature of psychoanalytic theory itself. It may even be, as Modell's essay in this collection implies, that the theory of conceptual metaphor has a privileged role to play in connecting neuroscience to psychoanalysis.

    Psychoanalysts, to be sure, have long been aware of the metaphorical nature of much that they deal with and much that they do. They are, however, only beginning to become aware of the radically new way of envisaging metaphor propounded by the theory of conceptual metaphor. For their part, cognitive scientists and cognitive linguists have as yet shown very little awareness of what psychoanalysis can contribute to their work. The present collection is intended for all those interested in either field, but its publication is partly motivated by the hope of encouraging greater curiosity about each other's discipline among psychoanalysts and cognitive scientists both. It contains a wide sampling of the articles published in English on psychoanalysis and conceptual metaphor, and also the translation of a chapter of the first of two books on the subject by Marco Casonato (Metafore, Rome, La Nuova Italia Scientifica, 1994, and Immaginazione e metafora, Rome and Bari, Laterza, 2003 ). Appended to this introduction is a brief list of further writing on the subject, most of it by authors who are already represented here. It includes one essay which is available elsewhere in PSYART, and three essays—Borbely (1998), Holland (1999), and Melnick (1997)—which we would have liked to reproduce in this collection. Unfortunately, the commercial requirements of the journal in which these three articles originally appeared have made it impossible to republish them in PSYART

    The collection is divided into four sections. First comes a general introduction to the theory of conceptual metaphor, taken from Lakoff's essay on conceptual metaphor and dream analysis. The second section consists of three essays, Casonato's, Rosenbaum & Garfield's, and Kovecses’, that concentrate on some of the broader applications of the theory to psychoanalysis. Section III contains two contributions—Lakoff's essay on dream analysis, and Holland's "note" to that essay—which propose revisions, based on the theory of conceptual metaphor, to specific aspects of psychoanalytic theory. The collection's final section consists of three essays, Carveth's, Modell's, and Campbell & Enckell’s, which share a particularly evident grounding in clinical experience (though this is not to say that these three articles make no claims about theory or that all of the other essays are divorced from clinical experience).

    These last three articles, as it happens, provide a particularly clear instance of how the theory of conceptual metaphor can help to extend psychoanalytic understanding. Although they are on different topics and were written, apparently, in ignorance of one another, all of them lay great stress on the tendency among analytic patients (and probably among human beings in general) to confuse metaphoric resemblance and literal identity. That same tendency is stressed, furthermore, in the essay by Borbely, listed below, which we were not able to publish. (Borbely, who wrote his article before the appearance of Campbell & Enckell’s, appears to have had no knowledge of the articles by Carveth and Modell.) Though each of the three authors uses his own terminology—Carveth speaks of "literalization" and "dead" metaphors, Borbely of "analogical repetition," Modell of "foreclosed" and Campbell & Enckell of "concretised" metaphors—all of them emphasize the same phenomenon. That phenomenon is a familiar one, to be sure, especially in schizophrenia. Nevertheless, relatively little attention has hitherto been paid to it. As these four essays demonstrate, the theory of conceptual metaphor both fosters greater awareness of the phenomenon and provides a new conceptualization (or contextualization) of it, thus creating the possibility of deeper, more acute understanding. One small example, tangentially related to forthcoming work of my own, has to do with the insightful but somewhat idiosyncratic psychoanalytic thinker Ignacio Matte Blanco. Since "literalization" in fact makes up a large part of the "Principle of Symmetry" that is central to Matte Blanco's thinking, conceptual metaphor theory should be able to make Matte Blanco's work more directly available to the mainstream of psychoanalysis

    More generally and more importantly, bringing the theory of conceptual metaphor into psychoanalysis—and bringing psychoanalytic knowledge to bear in theorizing conceptual metaphor—promises to afford a broader and more unified understanding of unconscious mental processes than has hitherto been thought possible. The consequences might be no less significant for clinical practice than for psychoanalytic theory.

Additional Writing on Conceptual Metaphor and Psychoanalysis

Borbely, A. F. (1998). A psychoanalytic concept of metaphor. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis: 79, 923-936.

Holland, N. N. (1999). Cognitive linguistics. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis: 80, 357-363.

Melnick, B. A. (1997). Metaphor and the theory of libidinal development. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis: 78, 997-1016.

Melnick, B. A. (2000). Cold hard world\warm soft mommy: The unconscious logic of metaphor. The Annual of Psychoanalysis, 28, 225-244. Also (1999). Cold hard world\warm soft mommy: Gender and metaphors of hardness, softness, coldness, and warmth. PSYART, 3. Available:<>.

Modell, A. H. (2000). The transformation of experience. The Annual of Psychoanalysis, 28: 137-149.

To cite this article, use this bibliographical entry: Burton Melnick "Metaphor and Psychoanalysis: Introduction". PSYART: A Hyperlink Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts. Available July 19, 2024 [or whatever date you accessed the article].
Received: December 1, 2001, Published: December 1, 2001. Copyright © 2001 Burton Melnick