Berger quote: The Issue of Language Again

“If the first metaphor was animal, it was because the essential relation between man and animal was metaphoric” (Berger 7). I found this quote to be interesting because it seems to be an underlying problem of almost all the more persuasive essays or stories we have read. Emerson first hinted that our language is based in the natural world, comprised of earthly symbol and thus our culture is an earthly culture only people have turned their eye away from it, and have forgotten it. However, the issue of relativity or relate-ability becomes compromised. Writers want to distinguish what is animal and man only through language based on what was symbolically an animal.

So, here again we see another advent of language and its affront or dislocation to the natural world. Berger, while claiming the origin of language derives from the emotional necessity to emote, he also concedes that the desire for origin whether it be symbolic or biotic, is an endless and inexhaustible quest that seems to only be able define what comes after, an exceptional observation and also a difficult concession if he believes what he thinks the origin of language is. His assumption is practical and approachable, but inevitably, it is and always will be half full of doubt. Also, with language culture follows, which is consummately symbolic. I’m not sure whether Berger considers that animals also display culture. Culture is not something unique to humans. Anthropologists have studied and demonstrated that lions, chimpanzees other primates among the wild and domestic have displayed their own forms of what can be considered culture.

However, our culture is differentiated by animal culture in the existence of symbol, which Berger declares is irreducible from language. But, if human language is comprised of animalistic metaphor, how do we then define what Garrard describes as the “insuperable line” or use it in a practical manner? If animalism is inextricably linked to our cognition, our way of thinking, can there really be a legitimate way of expressing our differing qualities between man and animal? For example, Garrard states, “the skeptical attack on sentimental views of animals risks making it impossible to describe animal behavior at all. The problem therefore is to distinguish between kinds of anthropomorphism, which is often a very practical matter” (Garrard 138). He then goes on to quote Berger, referencing the duality of animal observing human. Through Berger, this idea of distinguishing anthropomorphism easily becomes very difficult, after all isn’t our syntax comprised of animal metaphor. Hasn’t everything said been based on the metaphor of animal?


Berger, John. About Looking. InternationalCH./Art: Why Look at Animals? p. 3-28. Pub. Vintage Sept 1991

Garrard, Greg. Ecocriticism. New York: Routledge, 2004.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by rebsheppard on November 17, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    I think the question you posited at the end of your post of whether or not “everything said [has] been based on the metaphor of the animal” is provocative (in a good way), and effectively ties into Berger’s analysis of the link between human language and anthropomorphism/animal behavior. I would answer that not everything said has been based on the elusive “metaphor of animal.” For example, humans have had to create words to describe emotions/sensations that are unique to humankind, like self-awareness. With that said, I favor Rousseau’s assertion that “emotions were the first motives which induced man to speak,” and that the metaphors of human speech are not all related to animals in some way.

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