Ideology, metaphor and iconographic reference

Bruce Hawkins

This paper examines the interrelationships between the textual phenomenon of iconographic reference, the cognitive resource of metaphor (or metaphorical reasoning), and the socio-cognitive phenomenon of ideology. Two fundamental claims about iconographic reference are elaborated. The first claim is that iconographic texts result from metaphorical reasoning relative to highly valued human experiences, especially those with significant conceptual links to life and death. The second claim is that iconographic texts play a central role in the social and cognitive codification of ideological systems. Elaborating these points leads clearly to the conclusion that iconographic reasoning occupies a pivotal point in the relationship between language and ideology. Iconographic reference is the linguistic resource of central importance in epideictic rhetoric, i.e., the rhetoric of praise and blame. Many of the most notable instances of iconographic reference occur in texts which seem to assign some sort of blame. When Hitler characterized the Jews as "blood poisoning [which] can be removed from our national body," he was making strategic rhetorical use of iconographic reference to associate the Jews with the cause of problems plaguing Germany in the years between the two world wars. When a resident of Union, South Carolina called Susan V. Smith "slime, just slime" after learning that Smith had finally confessed her responsibility for the drowning deaths of her two young sons in late October 1994, she was appealing to iconographic reference to make the point that Smith had violated a sacred trust. When Muhammad Ali repeatedly referred to Joe Frazier as "the ggÅorilla" in the discourse leading up to the now legendary "Thrilla in Manila" in the fall of 1975, he was using iconographic reference to capture the public imagination in such a way that favored Ali and continues to haunt Frazier to this very day. These examples of iconographic reasoning play on such negative emotions as fear, hatred or revulsion. Other instances of iconographic reference, however, play on our loftiest emotions. For example, when Jackie Kennedy cultivated the image of Camelot in association with her husband's Presidency in the early 1960s, she was consciously appealing to an image which had become especially beloved and revered at that moment in history because of a wildly successful Broadway play. It should be clear from these examples that iconographic reference plays a major role in the construction of texts designed to move our emotions.

This paper will dedemonstrate the role of metaphorical reasoning in constructing iconographic texts by examining a number of texts reported by Haig Bosmajian in The Language of Oppression. It will be shown, for example, that Hitler's use of "blood poisoning" derives its oppressive power through a metaphorical association drawn between the Jews in Nazi Germany (target domain) and the threat that blood poisoing poses to the health and ultimately the life of the human body (source domain.) Terms such as "slime" and "gorilla" in the examples mentioned above derive their oppressive power through metaphorical association involving a very different source domain, which Lakoff and Turner (1990) have identified as the Great Chain of Being.

Iconographic textual reference is among the discursive practices through which ideology is imposed on the individual and collective conscience. Through iconographic reference, an individual is defined relative to a particular conventional image from a culturally-based system of images. This system constitutes a cognitive iconography. There is a close relationship between ideology and iconography. Ideology is ubiquitous in our lives, but its common-sensical nature makes it something that we are generally not equipped to articulate effectively. That is, we live by it, but we generally don't think about it and, therefore, few of us have any ability to describe it. However, we do periodically find ourselves engaged in discourse in which our ideology is challenged. This is where the relationship between ideology and iconography becomes apparent. Our ideology enters our conscious awareness most directly in the form of our iconographies; our icons are concrete symbols of our abstract ideological values. Since few of us are equipped linguistically to debate ideologies, we fall back on our icons. In a discursive battle of ideologies, we invoke our icons which stand metonymically for the ideology we embrace and defend. The paper closes with a discussion of the place of ideology in a cognitive grammar. This discussion begins by calling attention to a significant ambiguity in the interpretation of "ideology" in the literature (primarily within the Humanties) on this topic. Mitchell (1986:3-4) discusses this ambiguity in the following terms:

"The orthodox view is that ideology is false consciousness, a system of symbolic representations that reflects an historical situation of domination by a particular class, and which serves to conceal the historical character and class bias of that system under guises of naturalness and universality. The other meaning of "ideology" tends to identify it simply with the structure of the values and interests that informs any representation of reality; this meaning leaves untouched the question of whether the representation is false or oppressive. In this formulation, there would be no such thing as a position outside ideology; even the most "demystifyied" critic of ideology would have to admit that he occupies some position of value and interest, and that socialism (for instance) is as much an ideology as capitalism."

The latter is the sense of "ideology" that has been adopted in the work by Hodge and Kress on language and ideology. In Language as Ideology, which has become a classic text in that subfield, Hodge and Kress (1993:6) define ideology "as a systematic body of ideas, organized from a particular point of view. Ideology is thus a subsuming category which includes sciences and metaphysics, as well as political ideologies of various kinds, without implying anything about their status and reliability as guides to reality." A little later in the book (1993:15), they make essentially the same point more succinctly: "ideology involves a systematically organized presentation of reality."

In this paper, I argue that the two senses are quite easily reconciled. Furthermore, both can be accounted for within a cognitive grammar. The broadest sense is that adopted by Hodge and Kress. From this perspective, ideology is a system of ideas conventionalized by a particular community. This is exactly what is captured in a cognitive grammar - the set of conventionalized ideas which are symbolically linked to phonological/graphological structures of a particular language. From this perspective, all work in cognitive liunguistics provides useful insights on the socio-cognitive phenomenon of ideology. The work on iconographic reference which leads to this paper really pertains to the other sense of "ideology," which really refers to the systems of ideals. To facilitate distinguishing between the two phenomena, I will refer to an integrated system of ideas as an ideology and to a system of ideals as an idealogy. Any idealogy is necessarily a subset of a particular ideology. The present research program leads me to claim that the locus of idealogy in a cognitive grammar is a experientially based system of iconographic frames of reference.