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MACHINE DREAMS

Alexei Taylor, Author

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Metonymy


The use of metonymy as a literary device implies the substitution of one term, idea, or object, with another. Typically the two are expected to be closely associated with each other, in order for the substitution to actually retain its meaning, while offering an audience (or the reader, depending on what genre of literature/ medium of communication is involved here) a different way of examining the former idea.
Admittedly, the writer/playwright’s purpose for using metonymy in his work isn’t always this. Choosing ‘...all hands on desk…’ as against ‘…everyone, please, help…’ would not really alter an audience/reader’s perspective of the idea of assistance, for instance, and even to a lesser degree the imaginary literary work. But Jonathan Crary’s assertion that from the “…nineteenth century, the relationship between the eye and the optical apparatus…”(Crary 129) became essentially metonymic, isn’t so trivial an example. Crary, borrows from Karl Marx in expressing the idea that rather than being delineated to the status of mere tools, the stereoscopes, kaleidoscopes, dioramas of the nineteenth century were essentially parallels of the human eye. What the one lacked, as a result of structural differences and design, the other complemented, the composite mechanism functioning in order to improve, alter, and/or play upon the observer’s perception of vision. For Crary, the eye and the apparatus had become one machine.
This metonymic relationship between eye and apparatus could be a metonymy for the metonymic relationship between man and machine. Compare Marx’s example (Crary 131) of a factory worker, as merely a tool of the factory, no less exchangeable than the actual machines or implements in use in said factory, to that of the eye and the optical apparatus. So if there could be a metonymy within a metonymy, there could therefore be an infinite order of metonymies? Within another infinite order of metonymies as well?
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