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Copyright (c) 1989 Georgia Law Review Association
Georgia Law Review

ARTICLE: Metaphor and Paradox

Summer 1989

23 Ga. L. Rev. 1053


Thomas Ross *


We live in a magical world of law where liens float, corporations reside, minds hold meetings, and promises run with the land. The constitutional landscape is dotted with streams, walls, and poisonous trees. And these wonderful things are cradled in the seamless web of law.

This cannot be magic; we know better than that. It is merely metaphor. We all know what we mean when we say "floating lien." It is just a figure of speech. We choose our metaphors. We create for them our chosen meanings. We understand them; we master them.

But this standard sense of our metaphors is too pat, too comfortable. Our metaphors are truly magical in their mystery and power. We do not simply choose them. We do not fully understand how we get meaning from them. We are neither their master nor their servant. Their power is the power to shatter and reconstruct our realities.

The mystery of metaphor begins with its paradoxical nature. A metaphor says two contradictory things at once. When we hear "floating lien," we know that liens do, and do not, float. The literal falseness and the metaphorical sense are at once embodied in the metaphor.

When we examine this perfectly paradoxical artifact of our language, we can better see the paradoxical nature of our legal worlds. Our metaphors at once obscure and express the paradoxical nature of the pieces of law to which they refer. Left unexamined, they nicely obscure the deep contradictions. But when ...
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