Cultural Landscape as a Metaphor

  • Olga LavrenovaEmail author
Part of the Numanities - Arts and Humanities in Progress book series (NAHP, volume 8)


This chapter is devoted to analysis of geographical images from the viewpoint of the theory of metaphor. Having defined the landscape as a process and a result of semiosis, we tried to find a place in it to such semiotic concept as a metaphor. Nina Arutyunova supposes that an image, a metaphor and a symbol arise spontaneously in the process of artistic development of the world and that their meaning is not fully formed, as both the metaphor and the symbol are subject to interpretation rather than understanding. In a metaphor the meaning is important; in a symbol the form is important. The cultural landscape is a place for both of them, because in culture genetically related to the landscape actual geographical objects having some visual, quantitative and qualitative characteristics (height of mountains, river length, the breadth of the plains) act as symbols. For example, the Volga River, a symbol of the Russian soul is different from other rivers of the Russian Plain in its length, depth and exceptional width downstream.

The third chapter examines the cognitive theory of metaphor in terms of comprehension of the landscape as a complex concept to which metaphors open up «epistemological access», and vice versa, the landscape—as a concept, organizing a series of abstract frames (Gestalts) in the mentality of culture. In the study of cultural landscape a metaphor is used as a tool for learning, giving birth to new meanings.

The first section is dedicated to matching of the concept of cultural landscape in the proposed definition and to the contemporary theory of metaphor, which lies in the problem field of cognitive science exploring the processes of perception, categorization, classification and understanding of the world, as well as in the scope of cognitive linguistics (George Lakoff, Mark Jonson, Nina Arutyunova, Anatoly Baranov, Yuri Karaulov, Elena Kubryakova, Eric MacCormack, Anatoly Chudinov, Vladimir Porus, Eduard Budaev and others). A metaphor is defined as a manifestation of the analog capabilities of the human mind as a way of categorizing, conceptualization and explanation of the world.

Interrelationship of culture and space is metaphorical in nature. In terms of the semantics of the cultural landscape one of the important theories, elaborated by George Lakoff and Mark Jonson, describes the process of metaphorization as bipolar interaction between the two structures of knowledge—cognitive structure of source and cognitive structure of the target. In the process of metaphorization so called metaphorical projection—partial structuring of goal according to the modeled source is taken place. As a result of the projection an object is conceptually organized in the image of the source. In the case of participation of metaphorical projections in the formation of the cultural landscape, its structure is partly influenced by those images or categories, which play a role of the source. Sometimes it may reverse the direction of metaphor. For example, the metaphor «life—a river» might well be corresponded with the metaphor «water—this is life». Both metaphors mentioned referred to well-defined landscape connotations, which implicitly arise in the minds of the media culture either during the utterance of this metaphor, or when one looks at the landscape from the high bank of a river.

In the second section we consider the orientational and ontological (structural) metaphors, and the landscape—as a source of metaphorical projection, which in the context of the descriptive theory of metaphor (developing cognitive theory of metaphor) is described in the same manner as a metaphorical model (M-model), as a «bunch» of signifying descriptors. An entire field of metaphorical meanings in the culture is constructed according to the image of the landscape and its individual elements. It is justified to see images of a landscape as the meaning of structural metaphors. For example, the scheme of the images used in the metaphor of «journey/path» refers to the landscape component, for it implies the overcoming of obstacles, in the case of the spiritual path—an ascent. Obstacles have connotations of rough terrain, climbing involves a metaphorical transfer of the structure of mountain landscapes. Metaphors of «container» and «visual fields» are also structured by landscape M-model.

Orientational metaphors make seemingly abstract concept spatial as constructed by analogy with the perception of space—on the oppositions «up—down», «inside—outside», «center—periphery», etc. The physical basis of metaphor of «happiness corresponds to the top» may be not only referred the position of a human body, as George Lakoff and Mark Jonson claimed, but to the perception of a man as he has climbed mountains.

The third section investigates the possibility of iconic metaphors (one with shaped brightness) in relation to the interpretation of cultural landscape realities. From this point of view a metaphor, which includes names of the places can be considered. The most striking visual metaphors transfer related place names in the category of iconic signs. For example, a sustainable culture-geographical metaphor «the gold-domed Moscow» creates out of two images a new semantically extended mental construct. The first one is a visual appearance of the city, its architectural feature—an abundance of gold-domed churches. The second one is a latent image of the mythological giant with the golden head, symbolizing the state power. The second metaphor is hidden away under the pressure of the first, but it is impossible to deny its existence.

Spatial metaphors have similar imagery. (For example, the metaphors, structuring the concepts «up—down» and specific landscape connotations entering into the very flesh of the language—«Soar to the clouds», «to be on top of Happiness», «lay low»).

Each concrete landscape appears as a metaphor, depending on the nature and type: a mountain landscape—as a metaphor for the ontological vertical, a flat steppe landscape—as a metaphor for the limitlessness and infinity, a river landscape—as a metaphor for life and ways and so on—all sorts of variations. All these metaphors are iconic, and the brightness of the image, constructed in language, is replaced by visualization of the image, observed or represented as a landscape in this case.

In the fourth section, space and/or landscape is seen as a semantic challenge, generating new meanings. In a number of philosophical papers there is an abundance of spatial and landscape metaphors, on the one hand, structuring philosophical thought into spatial images (thus geographic space serves as a metaphor—as a category of structuring of thought), on the other hand—a secondary reflection of philosophy of space and cultural landscape is triggered on the basis of the reverse of metaphors. Some of these metaphors are analyzed in the Dmitri Zamyatin’s works, and by his definition, for example, in Michel Foucault’s works geographical space becomes its own metaphor. A metaphor of rhizome is used in humanitarian geography, sociology and philosophy of culture, the notion was introduced by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari; the metaphor of rhizome implies an infinitely branching system having to withstand constant linear and centered structures (both in respect of being and thinking) typical for classic European culture.

As an alternative metaphor, influencing subsequent research in the field of cultural space, the concept of the metametaphor proposed by Konstantin Kedrov is based on the theory of a double inversion of the inner and outer space, used before by Pavel Florensky in his analysis of Dante’s «Divine Comedy». According to Konstantin Kedrov’s theory a hollow, a well, a crack in the mountain, sometimes a wall, a tunnel, i.e. quite recognizable landscape elements are the metaphorical stage of the hypothetical script of approaching black hole, and therefore the attempts to express the categories of physical eternity and infinity can be considered in the real landscape as a metametaphor (spiritual dimensions of eternity and infinity are expressed in the cultural landscape through the symbol, that was discussed in detail in previous chapter).

The fifth section is devoted to generalizations of the problem field of the claimed «cultural landscape as a metaphor». In the cultural landscape as a specific area of culture metaphors are sufficiently used, including: anthropomorphic metaphors (e.g. «Moscow is the heart of Russia») and transfer of value from one geographical location to another (e.g. «Moscow is the Third Rome»), cosmographical metaphors, where not only particular geographical objects are already involved rather than landscape as a whole, like a Space in representations of related culture. Of course, at the level of local landscapes the most common are anthropomorphic metaphors, equating the mountains, lakes, forests to a human body or its elements. For example, George Lakoff and Mark Jonson consider the metaphor «a mountain is a man», which is expressed in such tokens as the «foot of the mountain», «shoulder of the mountain». In their view such metaphors are marginal in culture and language. But in our view it can be said that the metaphor creates specific discourse of travel in the mountains, acts as a «discursive practice» (Anatoly Baranov) for a particular subculture. In mountain climbing and tourist folklore the metaphor «a mountain is a man» becomes a fundamental, structuring thinking and activities of members of this subculture, defining the relationship with the landscape. It is the basis for a kind of neopagan cult—for example, it defines the custom to greet the mountains before climbing and to put a stone in the stone pyramid, reminding obo—a tribute of respect and gratitude for the stages of the path successfully crossed.

The sixth section deals with the most capacious and polysemantic metaphor for contemporary culture—the city and the urban landscape—serving as a metaphor for consciousness, a metaphor of Heavenly city, the metaphor of an integrated society, as a metaphor of infernal (opposite to ideal) space.

Urbanization covers all the spaces, from the geographical to the internal, from real to unreal. The city seems to be a poly scale metaphor of consciousness (Lidia Starodubtseva); it can express the structure of consciousness starting from a single human being to mankind. This metaphor suggests a «double shift» of values between «city» and «consciousness» as both the city and the consciousness are similar structurally and conceptually.

Such metaphors as «city—Heavenly city», «city—infernal space» are connected with a metaphor «city-consciousness», as both concepts rooted in the mind and the soul of man according to centuries-old Christian tradition may be a place for the erection of Heavenly city and the abode for infernal beings and vices.

Along with the fact that the city is the metaphor of consciousness, in every urban culture mythological archetype of the city is realized, having the consciousness, affecting its inhabitants, their activities and way of thinking. Echoes of this metaphor we find in the Vladimir Toporov’s «Petersburg text».

When it comes to a particular town on the map, it is noteworthy that its metaphorical value varies depending on geographic location. The city on a hill, the city near the sea, the city at the crossroads and «the city in general» (typical, faceless city)—are well-established metaphors of culture, applicable to various cities, responding the features embodied in the metaphors.

The seventh section analyzes the poetic metaphors of the cultural landscape of Russia and the global geo-cultural space based on Russian eighteenth—mid-twentieth century poetry.

Poetry reveals opportunities of hermeneutic understanding of the core of the geo-cultural space. Infinite possibilities of interpretation lie here, including the cultural landscape as a phenomenon of culture. Poetic lines unleash a metaphorical sense, which is grown in the thickness of cultural images (Paul Ricœur). Poetry brings into the world of metaphors unexpected innovations (Gaston Bachelard). In our view there is precedence of the poetic image (including a spatial metaphor), which lies in the dependence of the creative consciousness on the nature of unconsciousness, as it expressed in the cultural codes, transforming at the birth of a poetic image.

An analysis of poetic texts revealed the following metaphors of the cultural landscape of Russia and some of its structural elements.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences RASMoscowRussia

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