I have been thinking about metaphor as a way of organizing historical periods and understanding the distribution of power, wealth, and identity. Feudalism and Modernism to me might be characterized, then, by metaphor, specifically metonymy.
The following relationships then are important to these ages:
1) Sovereign/state to the subject/citizen. The part (the king/state) represents the whole (the kingdom/the nation-state)
2) Money. The part (the coin) represents a value.
3) Mass Produced products. Books represent the thought of the author.
An important transition then between Feudalism and Modernism then is the 16th century — with the invention and use of the printing press, the discovery of the New World, and the beginning of industrialization. Industrialization and the printing press seem very related to me because you have then the mass manufacturer of objects to a mass market, which to me seems similar to how political power was located, that is centrally and then distributed out to the periphery and thus similar to metonymy. That is there is an object — a thing — that presents the whole.
To parse a simile you say there is the tone and the vehicle. So I would say the tone, the King, is like the people. The King is the tone. The people are the vehicle. There is too, then a way in which the meaning is transferred — in Feudalism and Modernism this is literally mass distribution. There are delivery/trade routes and markets. I might think of this as the transfer of meaning. And so to think of the entire age organized metaphorically might provide a useful tool to think about the mechanics of how meaning (wealth, power, and knowledge) are transferred (and therefore controlled).
We are currently in a transition between the old epoch — Feudalism and Modernism — to something new. Clearly it does not have a name yet.
The breakdown can be seen by looking at the breakdown in meaning in of the primary units of metaphorical organization in the previous epoch:
1) Sovereign to the subject has broken down. The Sovereign as a referent is an empty reference. (This is being exploited by transnational corporations — and would politically seem to be the thing to protest, but this is a mistake because there are larger metaphorical changes happening).
2) Money. Cash is also an empty referent. It has a kind of symbolic value but is not specially related to an intrinsic value.
3) Mass Produced products. Soda, such as Coca-Cola, seems to me a kind of model of how all products are in the current epoch and an extreme case of how objects can be fetishized and valued beyond their material value, a kind of emptying of the referent as well.
One of the arguments I do not agree with is that the loss of the referent is characteristic of the new age. It may be characteristic of post-modernity — this I agree with — but in a timeline, post-modernity is the congealed fat on the surface, it’s just a thin greasy layer, a scab. On the other side, we have a new age. We don?t yet have the language to describe it and perhaps, even metaphor itself is characteristic of the previous epoch and the new epoch will have a different kind of organization.
Some of the characteristics of the new epoch seem to me:
1) Sovereignty — will no longer be an issue. Each individual will be sovereign. This is how it was BEFORE. It will be a tribal order based on family lines, regional boundaries, and discourse communities. (In a sense the current clan in control of the US could be seen in this light and is perhaps an early premonition of the new order.) The dissolution of the nation-state and the rise of corporations to me seem small things in the long run compared to the re-arrangement of people outside of the structure of the nation. Cascadia (the region between the Cascade Mounts and the Pacific Ocean located in North America, mostly a marine climate, the land with Salmon bearing streams.) — nascent as it is — a kind of regional identity that will build in strength as the 48th parallel dissolves.
2) Money. Will vanish — perhaps not as a unit of exchange — but value will be in referent rather than in the symbol. This economy will be a barter economy. I have something and would like to trade it for something else.
3) Mass Produced products will be suspect. Instead objects will have to be located closely to their maker and source.