Meta for You & Me by John Crowley

Mon 29 Nov 2010 - Filed under: Not a Journal., | 1 Comment | Posted by: Gavin

Meta for You & Me by John Crowley

My friend and fellow Small Beer-ite Elizabeth Hand sent me the following link to an article in the NY Times about the nature of metaphors and how they are implied by consciousness, and inherent in its operations.

I thought this was very intriguing, and I especially noticed the following:

“We can learn that a certain combination of sounds put together by Tchaikovsky represents Napoleon getting his butt kicked just outside Moscow. And that the name “Napoleon,” in this case, represents thousands and thousands of soldiers dying cold and hungry, far from home.” (NY Times)

Which reminded me immediately of this:

“The Spanish general Spinola, the Spider, left Flanders with his army and moved toward the Rhine and the Palatinate. Soon Mainz had fallen to him (in stories of war, cities fall at the advance of generals, but it’s not so; metonymy and synecdoche don’t do the fighting and dying, the soldiers and the townspeople do, one at a time, and not in a sentence but for hours and days.)” (Endless Things, John Crowley, Small Beer Press, 2007).

Of course we writers and professional deployers of them know that metaphor rules, and also know that what the world thinks is real is metaphor concealed. I think that the greatest illusion we live under is to think (we don’t even think it, we just assume it) that the language-system and the actuality-system are in one-to-one correspondence.  We probably couldn’t live if we didn’t believe it, and it’s close enough most of the time that we can get along.

Liz Hand responded to my response with the following quote from Leon Wieseltier, for whom the language/reality problem must be sharp:

“Metaphor is the juxtaposition of disparate elements of the world in which an unsuspected commonality, an illuminating partial likeness, has been discovered, and the more unlikely the juxtaposition, the greater the consequent sensation of the unifying of the world; and so the range of a writer’s metaphor is a measure of the range of his cognition.”

That’s a sort of assertion of belief—belief that the commonality is not in the words and the corresponding brain areas tickled, but in “the world.” A faith, maybe. I share it—most of the time.


One Response to “Meta for You & Me by John Crowley”

  1. Ted Chiang on November 30th, 2010 3:32 pm

    In his book Seeing Voices, Oliver Sacks recounts the case of Jean Massieu, born deaf and raised without language until the age of 14. When he finally began receiving language instruction, Massieu initially used nouns to describe people; his teacher wrote, “To express the swiftness of one of his comrades in a race, he said, ‘Albert is bird’; to express strength he said, ‘Paul is lion’; for gentleness, he said, ‘Deslyons is lamb.'” His lack of adjectives made him employ metaphoric language; after he gained adjectives, his sentences became more conventional. Sacks comments “One sees in the history and evolution of many peoples and cultures such a ‘primitive’ poetic language at first, subsequently displaced by more analytic, abstract terms. One sometimes feels the loss may be as great as the gain.”

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