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Trope

TROPE.

The trope concept, which is used increasingly in the social sciences to conceptualize the dynamics of definitions (and redefinitions) of social situations involved in communicative interaction, is derived from the Greek tropos (a turning), tropë (a turn), or trepein (to turn). It has long been used as a technical term in rhetoric to designate the use of a word or expression in a different sense than that which properly belongs to it in order to give liveliness, emphasis, perspective, coloration, or some other quality to an idea. The figures of speech (metaphor, metonym, synecdoche, and irony) are the four main categories of tropes, although tropes have been multitudinously identified in treatises on rhetoric.

The Tropes in Classical Rhetoric

At issue here is the very human tendency when thinking about some difficult, banal, or obscure subject to think about something else that can enliven, offer perspective on, or cast light on the subject. Although a tropologist is anyone interested in the role figures of speech play in discourse, in the social sciences tropology is an interest in how such figurative expression can be used persuasively to affect the understanding of social situations and consequently effect social interaction. A basic question is what role figures of speech play in the figuring out and playing out of human life in society as, mainly, a playing out of categories of social belonging and social differentiation. As can be seen in the Greek root of the word, the use of tropes, these turnings of thought, raises the question of mutability in society and its susceptibility to persuasion and change of direction. Contemporary tropologists are particularly interested in the plotting of this dynamic.

The trope concept, and the rhetorical disciplines in general, have long been opposed by the exponents of clearly reasoned argument and of explicit syllogistic logic whose truth can be ascertained. These exponents dislike the volatility and obscurity that figures of speech bring into any argument. They have misgivings about the enthymemic qualitythat is, the truncated syllogisms of rhetorical argumentcaused by the use of the tropes. These objections were first raised by Plato (c. 428348 or 347 b.c.e.) in various dialogues with the Sophists, the professional rhetoricians of his time. Socrates (c. 470399 b.c.e.) questioned the Sophists' practice of the arts of persuasion, in which belief and opinion were manipulated but what he considered true knowledge, obtained through the dialectic, was neglected. Nevertheless, Aristotle (384322 b.c.e.), in both the Poetics and the Rhetoric, considers rhetoric the counterpart of logic and an offshoot of the dialectic, although he focuses on metaphor and not on the overarching concept of the trope as a whole. He holds rhetoric to be worthy of attention and study, particularly in the education of the young. Indeed, in the classical world, training in the rhetorical arts of speaking, persuading, and debating was the hallmark of elite education. This is seen both in Marcus Tullius Cicero (10643 b.c.e.; De Oratore ) and in the massive rhetorical treatise (essentially a schoolbook) De Institutione Oratoria or On the Education of the Orator, by Marcus Fabius Quintilian (c. 35c. 100 c.e.). By "the orator," Quintilian meant scions of the patrician classes destined by birth to become persuasive in public affairs and naturally endowed to give shape and order to society. Important sections of this massive work are devoted to the various tropes and to the associated figures of speech that lie at the heart of rhetorical power and persuasion.

The idea of the trope and of studying the trope as affective and effective in public argumentthat is, the idea of a science of tropologywas both appreciated and disliked by the ancients. The negative view of employing tropes in argument, which is that they confuse more than they enlighten, continues into the early modern period and is found in René Descartes (15961650), Thomas Hobbes (15881679), and John Locke (16321704), and can still be found in the present. Whereas the Cartesian, Hobbesian, and Lockian views first articulate early modern misgivings about the obfuscating role of the tropes and figures of speech in reasoned argument, other early moderns, such as Giambattista Vico (16681744) in the New Science (1725), argued that it was the tropes that enabled human understanding, or at least the escape from misunderstanding. Vico argued that a poetic logic existed in the creation and conduct of human life as it has evolved through the stages of civilization, and that studying the use and effect of the various tropes in discourse was central to understanding that logic and that evolution.

Vico devised an etymological method for discovering the tropes that were the source of our understanding of the world and of ourselves and whose evolutionary dynamic accounted for the cycle of civilization. His method is similar to the "genealogical method" developed by Friedrich Nietzsche (18441900) in The Genealogy of Morals (1897), through which he sought to discover the metaphors that lie behind the mummified concepts that we take as objective and direct representations of the world. For Nietzsche, all conceptualizing is willfully metaphoric, and it would follow that tropology is the only method through which to understand the springs of our thinking and its dynamic of power in human relations over time. His stark observations on the metaphoric basis of any supposedly secure metaphysical belief have become classics:

What then is truth? A movable host of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished, and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical, and binding. (1979, p. 23)

The Tropes in Contemporary Thought

Nietzsche's tropological approach to human understanding is echoed in subsequent thought, and especially in such postmodern thinkers as Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault and in postmodern deconstructionism. This late-twentieth-century work is co-occurrent with the revival of interest in Vico and his tropology in the 1960s and 1970s. The tropological theories of the historian Hayden White are notable here. White echoes Nietzsche's assertion in The Use and Abuse of History (1957) that historical writing is not a window enabling us to directly perceive historical reality but rather a perspectival screen always obstructing our view of the past in its particular way, according to the persona and preferences of the historian. In Metahistory (1973), White examines the great historians of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Edward Gibbon (17371794), Alexis de Tocqueville (18051859), Thomas Babington Macaulay (18001859), Jules Michelet (17981874), Jacob Burckhardt (18181897), and Leopold von Ranke (17951886), showing how each had a particularly powerful poetic grasp of the part of the past that interested him and how this grasp was a function of the particular poetic tropes that he found evocative and helpful in organizing his thoughts. These tropological screens, or "governing metaphors," of historical writing acted in the particular historian to more or less self-consciously include or eliminate data from consideration. Historical understanding is thus anchored in the constraints exercised by the tropes the historian chooses.

White's work was accompanied in the seventies and eighties by tropological approaches to both anthropology and cognitive linguistics. Beginning in the collection The Social Use of Metaphor (1977) edited by David Sapir and Christopher Crocker, anthropologists gradually worked toward analyzing the role of the various tropes as they played off or interacted with each other in social life and culture. This interactive tropology, the authors in this collection argued, was useful in developing a more sensitive anthropological ethnographythat is, the study of the dynamics of "communicative interaction" in society and culture. Cognitive linguists, working over a twenty-year period that began in 1980, developed a linguistic theory of the logic behind the figuration of human understanding as anchored in bodily experience and projected out on the world. This is a theory sharply contesting the objectivist and rationalist paradigms in philosophy and in its way an actualization in cognitivist terms of Vico's efforts to identify the poetic logic of life in civilization. Cognitivists pay particular attention to the effect this logic has on the categorization processes in cognition, an emphasis that is congenial to anthropologists interested in the social categorization processes in culture and social relations.

The trope concept is an integral part of an enduring debate about the role of the figurative both in human communication and in bringing about social and cultural change. Cultures may vary in their stability over time, but all cultures are dynamic to one degree or another and can be persuaded to change the structure of their social relationships and turn in a new direction. The degree to which the tropesthemselves micro-turnings of thoughtare influential in these macro-level social turnings has been a central question of tropology.

See also Iconography ; Ideas, History of ; Postmodernism ; Rhetoric .

bibliography

PRIMARY SOURCES

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. A Genealogy of Morals. Translated by William A. Haussmann. New York: Macmillan, 1897.

. Philosophy and Truth: Selections from Nietzsche's Notebooks of the Early 1870's. Translated by Daniel Breazeale. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities, 1979.

. The Use and Abuse of History. Translated by Adrian Collins. New York: Liberal Arts, 1957.

Quintilian, Marcus Fabius. Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory; or, Education of an Orator. 12 vols. Translated by John Selby Watson. London: H. G. Bohn. 1856.

Vico, Giambattista. The New Science of Giambattista Vico. 1744. Translated by Thomas Bergin and Max Fisch. Reprint, Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1948.

SECONDARY SOURCES

Fernandez, James W., ed. Beyond Metaphor: The Theory of Tropes in Anthropology. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1991.

Fernandez, James W. Persuasions and Performances: The Play of Tropes in Culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.

Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

. Philosophy in the Flesh. The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought. New York: Basic, 1999.

Lakoff, George. Women, Fires, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal About the Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Sapir David, and Christopher Crocker, eds. The Social Use of Metaphor: Essays on the Anthropology of Rhetoric. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1977.

White, Hayden V. "The Burden of History." In his Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978.

. Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973.

James W. Fernandez

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TROPE

TROPE, also turn of phrase. In RHETORIC, both an expression that deviates from the natural and literal through a change in meaning, often with a pleasing effect, and the device or technique that makes such a change possible. For the Roman rhetorician Quintilian, tropes were metaphors and metonyms, etc., and figures (figurae) were such forms of discourse as rhetorical questions, digression, repetition, antithesis, and periphrasis (also referred to as schemes). He noted that the two kinds of usage were often confused (a state of affairs that has continued to the present day). In the 18c, the term became associated with over-ornate style and fell into disrepute when a plainer style came to be preferred. As a result, what were once known as tropes and figures are now generally called figures of speech or, more broadly still, rhetorical devices. See FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE, FIGURE OF SPEECH.

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trope

trope.
1. Interpolations in plainsong words, resulting either in mus. melisma on one note or a fragment of new melody. Practice flourished from 9th to 15th cent., was abused, and finally banned by Tridentine reform. Survived only as the sequence (trope set to final melisma of Alleluia).

2. Term used by Hauer to describe 44 pairs of unordered hexachords which are basis of his version of 12-note technique.

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trope

trope (rhet.) use of a word or phrase in a sense not proper to it, figure of speech XVI; (liturg.) phrase introduced into the text for musical embellishment XIX. — L. tropus figure of speech — Gr. trópos turn, rel. to trépein vb. turn.
So troper book of tropes. OE. tropere — medL. troperium, var. of tropārium.

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trope

tropeaslope, cope, dope, elope, grope, hope, interlope, lope, mope, nope, ope, pope, rope, scope, slope, soap, taupe, tope, trope •myope • telescope • periscope •stereoscope • bioscope • stroboscope •kaleidoscope • CinemaScope •gyroscope • microscope • horoscope •stethoscope • antelope • envelope •zoetrope • skipping-rope • tightrope •towrope • heliotrope • lycanthrope •philanthrope • thaumatrope •misanthrope •isotope, radioisotope

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