Research article
Issue: № 3 (7), 2016


The article is an attempt to consider “ruin” as a postmodern metaphor. It is considered necessary to use the cognitive-discursive approach an object of which is not a single metaphor but a metaphorical model. Key conceptual metaphors and lexemes that represent “ruin” as a target domain are revealed in “Remainder”, the novel of a modern English writer Tom McCarthy. The conclusion is made that “ruin” as a postmodern metaphor serves as a key semantical, ideological and philosophical element of the novel.

“Ruin” is a postmodern metaphor that serves to denote the specific way of understanding the world based on the “denial of its continuity and harmony” [2, p. 498]. Fragmented structure in postmodernism is a key principle of space’s organization both real and fictitious one.

Modern English writer Tom McCarthy touches upon some important aspects of postmodern aesthetics. However, it is the “ruin” metaphor that pierces all the layers of the narration and appears on the ideological and philosophical level. The “ruin” as a metaphor is represented in the novel’s title – “Remainder” that means “fragment”, “detritus”, “ruin”.

Nameless narrator of the novel was subjected to a traumatic injury and underwent a long period of rehabilitation. However, he did not manage to recreate a true picture of his life and his personality. The consciousness of the character reveals samples of the secondary reality: scenes from the movies and fictional events. He undertakes series of reconstructions to capture the moment of authenticity: “I wanted to reconstruct that space and enter it so that I could feel real again” [3, p. 62]. Although he is persecuted by the scenes of catastrophes, by objects that are defragmented: “…fleshy bits of plaster…” [3, p. 3]; “Like a sponge. Flesh. Bits” [3, p. 107], “These ones [escalator’s parts] had been dis-articulated, and were lying messily around a closed-off area of the upper concourse” [3, p. 7].

In order to analyze the metaphor in a more detailed and complex way it is considered necessary to use the cognitive-discursive approach an object of which is not a single metaphor but a metaphorical model i.e. conceptual metaphor.

It is necessary to mention that key points of the study of cognitive metaphor and metaphorical modeling were developed by a number of scholars: G. Lakoff, M. Johnson, M. Minskij, V. Vinogradov, E. Kubryakova, A. Chudinov, A. Baranov, D. Dobrovol'ski, Yu. Karaulov. The anthropological approach to metaphor within cognitive linguistic theory and its terminology is chosen. The aim of the approach is to search for linguistic metaphors in the peculiarities of human consciousness and perception of the world.

It is important to point out that one of the significant notions of cognitive linguistics – frame – was introduced by Minskij and was designated as a “certain data-structure, an image” [1, 1]. Slots or terminal nodes in its turn as Minskij says are “filled with data from a certain practical situation” [1, p. 46].

One of the main objective of the analysis is to reveal “ruin” as a new target domain that is represented by a number of lexemes. Analysis below shows dominant conceptual spheres, metaphorical models and their frame and slot structure. There are four dominant conceptual spheres or megaspheres distinguished by scholars: CIVILIZATION, NATURE, HUMAN BEING, HISTORY. We need HUMAN BEING megashere for our research while other conceptual spheres require a special analysis and are not in the center of this particular one.

Within HUMAN BEING megasphere it seems appropriate to distinguish HUMAN MIND frame which implies HUMAN MEMORY IS A RUIN as a metaphorical model.

The list of this metaphorical model’s slots and their explanations is below.

1. “memory loss” (“I have no memory of it: no imprint, nothing” [3, p. 84]; “no-space of complete oblivion” [3, p. 2].)

2. “lapse of memory” (“…my memory had gone and only slowly returned-in installments…” [3, p. 2]; “…vague memory…” [3, p. 75]; “…my mind’s patterned surfaces…” [3, p. 87], “…your memory was knocked off-kilter by the accident” [3, p. 30]; “…my memories were pigeons and the accident a big noise that had scared them off. They fluttered back eventually-but when they did, their hierarchy had changed, and some that had had crappy places before ended up with better ones” [3, p. 35]).

3. “recollection” (“looking at this crack in the plaster when I had a sudden sense of déjà vu” [3, p. 25]; “…unearthing the same evidence, the same prints, marks and tracings” [3, p. 72]; “Odd things were unearthed, bits of memory that must have been floating around like the fragment of bone inside my knee” [3, p. 87], “…my memories were pigeons and the accident a big noise that had scared them off. They fluttered back eventually-but when they did, their hierarchy had changed, and some that had had crappy places before ended up with better ones” [3, p. 35]).

1. The main character’s mind is metaphorically compared to a “crater”, a “gap”: “Who’s to say my traumatized mind didn’t just make them [memories] up[…]and stick them there to plug the gap-the crater-that the accident had blown” [3, p. 2], “We’d both slipped into a place of total blackness, silence, nothing, without memory and without anticipation” [3, p. 76].

2. The character’s memory is torn to fragments and is represented by a series of black and white spots: “in my mind, in darkness” [3, p. 26], “I don’t even remember the event. It’s a blank: a white slate, a black hole” [3, p. 2].

3. The narrator’s consciousness is clouded and disorientated and his memory consists of vague images and half-impressions. His life after traumatic events wanders around memory compartments: “I let my mind flow over it, floating above it-sinking into it too, being absorbed by it as though by a worn, patterned sponge” [3, p. 27].

Besides HUMAN MIND frame it seems appropriate to denote PERSONALITY frame and a metaphorical model PERSONALITY IS A RUIN. In view of the special existential issues that are affected in the novel it is necessary to distinguish “identity crisis” as a central slot. The narrator has a feeling of unreality and unlikeliness of his existence which is represented by a number of binary oppositions:

1) authentic – inauthentic (“I’d always been inauthentic” [3, p. 9])

2) natural – artificial (“He’s natural when he does things [an actor in a film]. Not artificial, like me” [3, p. 9])

3) genuine, original – fake, made-up (“After a while I started thinking that these people, finally, were genuine. That they weren’t interlopers” [3, p. 22])

4) perfect – imperfect (“Even my fantasies were plastic, imperfect, unreal” [3, p. 10])

5) flaccid, malleable – plastic (“Not artificial, like me. He’s flaccid. I’m plastic” [3, p. 9])

6) lifelike – theatrical

7) real-unreal

It seems important to give a more detailed explanation of some binary oppositions:

2-3) The narrator does not fit with reality and perceives himself as a hero of an artificial one: “I’d still be thinking: Here I am, walking down the street, smoking a cigarette, like someone in a film” [3, p. 9]. The interpenetration of art and life is one of the key features of postmodern aesthetics. The artificial reality invades real life and is considered paramount. That is why the actions and feelings of a movie’s hero are considered more genuine: “how perfect De Niro was. Every move he made, each gesture was perfect, seamless[…]he seemed to execute the action perfectly, to live it, to merge with it until he was it and it was him and there was nothing in between” [3, p. 8].

4-5) These examples reflect the transposition of some inanimate objects' characteristics into a person. It is a widely used technique of the postmodern discourse that is reflected in the HUMAN-ARTIFACT model: “Two levitated too[…]took off like a helicopter[…]He hovered for a while in the air and then crumpled back into the ground” [3, p. 114].

In its turn one of the central metaphorical models in the novel is WORDS ARE ANIMATE OBJECTS model as “world as chaos” theory is represented in the text and is expressed by the concept of undecidability: “this word planted itself in me and grew. Settlement. It wormed its way into my coma» [3, 2]. Both animal and plant metaphors can be seen in the example above.

6) This opposition reflects the famous mythologeme of the theatricality of the modern social, cultural and spiritual life. The narrator makes the substitution of such notions as “theatrical” and “natural”. The world seems exaggeratedly unnatural and is marked by carnival and fair gloss: “The belts were like magicians’ fingers shuffling cards” [3, p. 38], “Then the way he’d have seen his own face reflected fish-eye in the visors of his killers, like a funfair’s hall of mirrors” [3, p. 84]; “their gestures all exaggerated, camp[…]Theatrical, made up, the lot of them” [3, p. 21]; “her face was kind of mask-like-like those theatre masks they had in ancient times” [3, p. 85].

It can be concluded that the narrator is a victim of the modern civilizational hyperreality. The destructive component of his consciousness is symptomatic in view of a given vector of postmodern culture considering the world as a disorganized and decentered space.

The cognitive-discursive analysis of the text has shown that a number of key conceptual metaphors within HUMAN BEING megasphere with the “ruin” as a target domain is represented in T. McCarthy’s novel “Remainder”. Some adjacent metaphorical models were also revealed as they are closely connected with the main point of the study. It can be concluded that this metaphor is one of the factors that forms the ideological and semantic core of the novel “Remainder”.


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