But how insular and pathetically solitary are all the peoples we know! . . .

Such is the tragic necessity which strict finds underneath our domestic and neighborly life, irresistibly driving each adult soul as with whips into the desert, and making our warm covenants sentimental and momentary. We must infer that the ends of thought were preemptory, if they were to be secured at such ruinous cost. They are deeper than can be told, and belong to the immensities and eternities. They reach down to that depth where society itself originates and dissapears; where the question is, Which is first man or men? where the individual is lost in his source.

But this banishment to the rocks and echoes no metaphysics can make right or tolerable. This result is so against nature, such a half-view, that it must be corrected by a common sense and experience. . . .A man must be clothed with society, or we shall feel a certain bareness and poverty as of a displaced and unfurnished member. He is to be dressed in arts and institutions, as well as in body garments. Now and then a man exquisitely made can live alone, and must; but coop up most men and you undo them.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Society and Solitude, 1870.

Reading Judith Butler, I had to track down exactly what metalepsis meant. I had a feeling it had something to do with metonymy, but of course I had confused metonymy with synecdoche. I thought it had something to do with a stand in value. I was both right and wrong. Once and for all, I can now sort out these rhetorical terms.

Synecdoche is where a part stands in for a whole, as in saying “turn the wheel” when you mean turn the car. Metonymy on the other hand, is using a indexical symbol to refer to a whole, as in saying the crown when you mean the Queen. Metalepsis is a double metonymy.

In other words, metalepsis an indexical symbol which refers to another indexical symbol. An individual’s conception of society is a metalepsis. We refer to our inner symbol of what society is, which can only refer to the outer convention (rather than a thing in and of itself). It is an individual index of a communal index. A game of smoke and mirrors, far removed form any directly referent reality. That’s what makes it so absurd to think about what comes first: self or society? There is no tangible referent, only a vague and nebulous concept. Butler believes that gender is a metalepsis. She has a powerful point.