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Metaphors of Mind

, 392 pages

6 halftones, 4 line drawings

June 2015



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Metaphors of Mind

An Eighteenth-Century Dictionary

An encyclopedic dictionary along the lines of Voltaire’s classic Dictionnaire Philosophique, Metaphors of Mind provides an in-depth look at the myriad ways in which Enlightenment writers used figures of speech to characterize the mind. Drawn from Brad Pasanek’s massive online archive,, this volume constitutes a veritable treasury of mental metaphorics.

Dividing the book into eleven broad metaphorical categories—Animals, Coinage, Court, Empire, Fetters, Impressions, Inhabitants, Metal, Mirror, Rooms, and Writing—Pasanek maps out constellations of metaphors. He frames his collection of literary excerpts in each section with a more descriptive and theoretical discussion of what he calls "desultory reading," a form of unsystematic perusal of writing frequently employed by Enlightenment thinkers. By surveying the printed past alongside the digital present, the book treats eighteenth-century writing as its topic while essentially exemplifying its rhetorical approach.

More than an exercise in quotation, this intellectual history offers illuminating readings of fragmentary literary works and confrontations with neoclassical and contemporary theories of metaphor. The book’s entries complicate received ideas about Locke’s blank slate, question M. H. Abrams’ claims about mirrors and lamps, and chart changing frequencies of metal metaphors in a moment of industrial revolution. The book also responds to current anxieties about reading and the mass digitization of literature, touching on recent discussions of "distant reading," "shallow reading," and "surface reading." Promoting critical and creative anachronism, Metaphors of Mind redefines the notion of an archive in the age of Amazon and Google Books.

Brad Pasanek is an assistant professor of English at the University of Virginia. He is the coeditor of Beyond Liquidity: The Metaphor of Money in Financial Crisis.

"While the book is not meant to be read as a monograph but as a dictionary, many well-versed readers will be tempted to do so anyway, so rich and lush are both language and litany."

" Metaphors of Mind is a genuinely significant book. An exciting and stimulating read, it promises to precipitate and augment important conversations both in eighteenth-century literary studies and in the field of digital humanities more broadly."

"Pasanek has produced a kind of distant-reading-by-hand, combining scale and literary sensitivity by dint of hard, thoughtful work. Many scholars use search technology, but few have done it as self-consciously as Pasanek.  Metaphors of Mind will be important both because of its concrete historical contributions, and because it theorizes a hermeneutic process that humanists already use unreflectively."

" Metaphors of Mind is one of the truly major works of literary historical scholarship of the early 21st century. Not only is the book brilliantly conceived, groundbreaking, and significant, but it is also on the cutting edge of the digital technologies that scholars are so rapidly embracing. Pasanek’s book is a work of profoundly engaging erudition, performing all the functions of investigation and criticism apparently effortlessly. The manuscript is beautifully written, extremely lucid and free of jargon, and downright funny."

" Metaphors of Mind is one of the most compelling blends of traditional literary critical methods and the new digital humanities/data mining projects that literary studies has seen to date. With welcome clarity and disarming humor, Pasanek provides an eye-opening survey, peppered with vivid examples, of the countless ways in which eighteenth-century Anglo-American culture imagined perception and personal identity. I feel confident predicting that in the years to come  Metaphors of Mind will be frequently cited, quarried, and emulated by historians, psychologists, philosophers, as well as literary critics."

"Self-avowedly experimental, this book both transforms the form of the scholarly monograph and provides its best defense, all in the most understated – almost surreptitious – way. Pasanek's Metaphors of Mind constitutes a major intervention in eighteenth-century studies, but it is crucial reading in the field of media studies as well."

"... the database behind the book lets one investigate the verb, instance by instance. The book itself provides a bird’s eye view of its large terrain, and the reader can easily settle on specific images to investigate in the hundred pages of detailed endnotes."

" ... Metaphors of Mind belongs on the shelf of every student of eighteenth-century literature and culture, those interested in the history of cognition, and scholars working in and through novel approaches to history. No doubt we will be discussing this work for some time."

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