Book Review: Metaphorical Imagination

Analytical Epistemology suffers from an innate inability to comprehend human and social processes that need to rationalize emotions, feelings, states of mind and the like. From about the eighteenth century, Europe has been groping for tools which could assist in the understanding of the world around it. India and China are shrouded in a mystique, a tool that came to modern Europe in the baggage of the Middle Ages. Since mystery as a concept was well known to the Greeks and the land beyond the Indus was not known to Herodotus, therefore, ‘holistic’ epistemology was permitted to become a European romance.

9781443899857The Muslim Middle East was another matter as was the pre-Muslim Egypt and Iran. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Europe tried to develop analytical tools and introduced many amendments in logical-positivism for understanding, interpreting and rationalizing the socio-cultural and personal ‘idiosyncrasies’ of the Orient. Occasional help from ontology [as the closest social and religious relative of oriental culture known to the Europeans] and great reliance on hermeneutics [the only tool of qualitative research that existed even after Comte] helped European scholarship. Even so, superficial and partial understanding of the East proved to be the Occidental intellectual limit. By the middle of the twentieth century, however, it had started to dawn on Foucault and Derrida among others that even in Europe and America disciplines of social sciences and humanities needed other tools for qualitative studies. So far, by and large, Western tools have been constructed by European minds which have been sensitized by oriental thought. It goes against the grain of the West as a cultural entity to acknowledge that it has been made aware of any truth by other cultures. However, the colonial era led to many studies of the orient. Their negative outfall for the Orientals was Orientalism [for which word has no spell check] and for the Occidentals it was a unnamed and unidentified sensitization to the oriental outlook which is naturally deconstructed and metaphorical.

Dr. Abdullah is a unique individual in that he is involved in a de-colonization of epistemology while living in England. As an oriental individual he seems to have ‘indigenized’ the thread of scholarship which was available to him during his studies in England. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to suggest that he has ‘orientalized’ them in his concept of ‘Metaphorical Imagination’. The fanciful imagination and the futuristic speculation that the Europe and American literature thrive on are not the oriental routes to an artistic expression. However, the metaphor is a standard tool or stock in trade of the oriental mind.

To my mind, it seems that Dr. Abdullah is trying to establish a conduit or portal for transiting from Western thought into the Eastern Ethos that he took with him to England three decades ago. A preliminary statement of the premise behind Dr. Abdullah’s work is missing, perhaps because he has addressed only the English speaking public of the west. The entire structure rests on the cognition that knowledge, understanding, and perception can be generated with the help of non-analytical tools and in a non-logical rational construct. However, his discourse follows the shores of analytical ‘epistemology’ and ‘ontology’ of evidence. It is not clear to me if this is a deliberate tool for Metaphorical Imagination or a limitation of the conceptual construct that Dr. Abdullah is presenting at this point. The human ‘body and soul’ are capable of cognition, intuition and several forms of ‘implicit’ ‘intellectual’ activity which are not ‘the same for the whole of mankind’, either in time or space [even for the same person through a lifetime]. Dr. Abdullah has accurately assessed the existence of parallel understanding.

I would suggest that this is possible as ‘several parallel understandings which may appear paradoxical to the occidental mind but within which the oriental mind is perfectly at ease. This is the domain where the metaphoric and proverbial are in their element. The range of implications available in such a formulation is ideal for a single stem of multiple roots and branches form of understanding; which is necessary for all ‘multiple solutions for a single problem’ and ‘single solution for multiple problems’.

Perhaps Dr. Abdullah has been made unnecessarily conscious of the methodological straight jacket as it exists in the formal education and research system of England. Within the ‘logical’ realm, many avant-garde attempts to break away from methodological constraints have gradually been incorporated into the discipline specific precincts of methodology. In fact even the emergence of some modern disciplines like comparative politics came from an attempt to break methodological shackles. Perhaps more to the point is the linguistic limitations imposed by the language and era in which metaphors are constructed. I wonder if Dr. Abdullah has taken the care to compare the translations of Aristotle and Plato in different languages at different times. The translations, literal and idiomatic are likely to represent some kind of an informal deconstruction or hermeneutic interpretation of the texts in the past.

To my mind, deconstruction has emerged as a free-verse form of hermeneutics, neither of which proved satisfactory as interpretative tools. It will be interesting to apply Dr. Abdullah’s interpretative methods for conversion of qualitative analytical data with the use of Metaphorical Imagination in a Third World country like Pakistan where an average researcher is not quite as serious about methodological protocol nor about empiricism and data; where intuitive deduction often overrules mathematical exactitude. From the great pro-science/anti-religion intellectual campaign of Europe during the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment emerged the dominance of the physical over the metaphysical and of the body over the soul. Dr. Abdullah is quick to latch on to the incapacities arising from this line of thought. Naturally he is more aware of the incapacities of Anglo-Saxon techniques, more specifically of British limitations than of American ones. But the dead-end and U-turn are common to all analytical epistemologies. As they start from one stem and keep excluding all ‘other branches’ from it except the one chosen by the researcher from deductive and theoretical postulations, when the study arrives, as it must, at a dead end, being unable to jump to the adjacent branch to explore its possibilities, the researcher must make a U-turn to arrive at a preceding fork in the stem to take a new path. Dr. Abdullah has chosen to bridge this gap through the several issues of ‘implicit context’ which form his second chapter. This is probably due to the fourth ‘incapacity’ identified by him; the incapacity to conclude. Again the need for definitive conclusions is an analytical-logical-empirical fixation which the oriental mind can do without.

Dr. Abdullah’s discourse on the arbitrary variable and the absence of generic classification has naturally led him to the issue of intellectual survival which can easily be compromised at the sacred alter of methodology. Unfortunately he is still pre-occupied with the European/British traditions of ontology and hermeneutics; epistemology and ethics. Dr. Abdullah has banded these issues differently but perhaps an oriental rendering will see epistemology and ethics as one intertwined thread which should be used to integrate ontology and hermeneutics. The occidental mind is an overarching canopy within which the concepts of Metaphorical Imagination are operative. It is for this reason perhaps that time and space as embodiment of cognition and Gadamer’s flickering provide Dr. Abdullah sanctuary for his thought. Embodiment and embodied cognition have led Dr. Abdullah to a set of assumptions. Here he has all the Western tools [definitions and assumptions] at his disposal to reach the furthest shores of ‘open-ended’ thought which may be managed in the continent of an ‘analytical’ construct. On the way are the deepest parts of the continental shelf of those forms of subjectivity which may be rationalized. Personally, it has been an enlightening foray but I am not sure if I am sufficiently conversant with the jargon/metaphor or idiom of current British/Anglo-Saxon/Western methodologies to comment. In fact I can be certain that I must be arrogant enough to assume a robust intuition to claim that I can follow the rudiments, since I have not followed the work of the recent scholarship which Dr. Abdullah has cited. The only reason I can hope to be on the right track is because my own cogitation on thought construction while I was limited to and committed to analytical methods had taken me to many of the milestones that seem to belong to the trail which is being blazed by Dr. Abdullah and his cohort. To mention only one that comes to the fore in chapter three is the idea of a ‘social science art form’. The artistry of a purely empirical study is the outcome of the artistic use of data that cannot be emulated, even though it can be duplicated by a computer or a research assistant schooled by the master after the formulation.

It is not clear to me whether in promoting the cause of ethics in knowledge Dr. Abdullah will provide a new and relatively uncluttered arena/battleground to partisans of the ‘scientific’ and the ‘normative’ for a renewed struggle away from the debris of dead concepts and broken research tools. Perhaps he will provide some of the ‘dead’ a reincarnation and the broken a revival. It has taken the West three or four centuries to decimate the ‘ethical’ from knowledge so as to continue mass producing in industry and to declare nuclear energy green; to kill by drone the ‘dehumanized’ wedding party of Afghans as collateral damage. I do not think that that is a likely success feature of this schema if it is to be sold in Europe and America. However, if the ethical decoy is meant to provide cover to the Hegelian synthesis between the scientific and normative horns of the search for truth within an analytical-empirical-logical frame, there seem to be greater chances of success; perhaps this inadvertent secret passage is what will take root.

Similarly, the concept of Embodied Cognition seems to have great potential as a conduit to reach holistic shores of thought that could not be chartered by analysis so far. The ‘inter-subjectivity’ could lead to a ‘pre-deconstructed’ statement, which I believe to be a miracle if achieved in the English language. Personally, I find it difficult to apply the techniques and model the ‘model’ for MI which has been put forward by Dr. Abdullah. I believe that this is because, being an oriental man myself, I naturally tend to transit from analytical epistemological tools, comprehensions and cognitive/thought structures without needing the aid of the tools framed by Dr. Abdullah. Although I am also in search of a portal or mode of conversion from oriental to occidental thought, I doubt that MI can help me to go from holism to some form of logic and analysis. Though I have not yet reached a definitive view on that. Given this line of reasoning, I seriously doubt the utility of MI for the common oriental mind like mine. I do, however, wonder if it may be of use to a community among our ‘formal’, ‘educated’, mainstream, intellectuals of the English speaking academia. These ‘third world’ logical, analytical minds have either lost their innate oriental sensitivities or lost touch with them in their intellectual existence which is in fact disembodied from their social self or is embodied in a select social self that is only at home in the cohort of their own kind. The lack of ability to access or switch to oriental thought and concept modes is a failure to reconnect with the ‘local’ and ‘vernacular’ ethos that they were born to. Perhaps MI will be able to give them a tool to work with which can make their work relevant to the common oriental. On the other side is a word of caution, these people do not take kindly to preaching from a fellow oriental no matter how Occidentalized; Edward Saeed was an exception to the rule. Also, these people are the ‘lost boys’ of analytical logic who have become calcified at different times of the evolution of Western thought to which the work of Dr. Abdullah belongs. Many of them may find it impossible to move on from hermeneutics or grounded theory, some will be stuck with Foucault and Derrida like me.

Be that as it may, the book is exciting and bold in its attempt to bridge a gap. Only time will tell if it takes root; if so, where and in how altered a form. I wish Dr. Abdullah all the luck he can get, he will need it.

Dr Khurram Qadir

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