Good Reading : February 2017
GOOD READING FEBRUARY 2017 49 BOOK BITE METAPHORS BE WITH YOU I didn’t even know what a metaphor was at the time, but one of the best things about metaphors is that you don’t have to know what they are to be moved by them. AN A TO Z DICTIONARY OF HISTORY’S GREATEST METAPHORICAL QUOTATIONS other people, and it is good that this is the way things are. The core of Thoreau’s message is the same, but had it been phrased this way, I don’t believe I would’ve been moved. And that prospect stimulated another thought: What if the device of metaphor had not even been available to Thoreau? People rarely think about electricity when they flick on a light switch, and something similar occurs with metaphor ical language. In everyday communication, people rarely think about the powerful role metaphor plays in their lives. With electricity, though, an occasional power outage jars our attention and reveals our dependence. What if we experienced a metaphor outage? What would life be like in a world without metaphor? Your first thought might be that life would be bleak, or maybe barren. Sadly, though, you can’t say things like that during a metaphor outage. In a world without metaphor, you can legitimately describe a physical terrain – like a desert or a coastline – as bleak or barren, but life is not a tangible thing. ‘Life’ cannot be seen or touched or felt; it is a concept that exists only in our minds. When we take terms that are literally appropriate for physical objects and apply them to concepts and ideas, we are engaging in an act of metaphor. In More Than Cool Reason: A field guide to poetic metaphor (1989), George Lakoff and Mark Turner remind us: Metaphor isn’t just for poets; it’s in ordinary language and is the principal way we have of conceptualising abstract concepts like life, death, and time. I could easily list a thousand other things you couldn’t say in a world without metaphor. To highlight only a few, you couldn’t capture someone’s interest, fall head over heels in love, or break another person’s heart.You couldn’t rise to the occasion, dodge a question, or spring to action.You couldn’t close the book on a difficult per iod in your life, or begin a new chapter.You couldn’t chase your dreams, hold a belief, seize the day, or even think about the pursuit of happiness. In a world without metaphor, human communication would be crippled. And writers like Thoreau would be seriously hampered in their ability to help struggling young people find their way in the world. Happily, though, we do live in a world of metaphor. And because we do, great wr iters and thinkers have been able to craft words that have the ability to inspire and empower. Aristophanes described the phenomenon beautifully in The Birds (5th century BC): By words the mind is winged. Think back over your own life and try to recall quotations that were instrumental in shaping the person you’ve become. They were very likely expressed metaphor ically. Metaphors Be with You: An A to Z dictionary of history’s greatest metaphorical quotations by Dr Mardy Grothe is published by HarperCollins, rrp $22.99.
December 2016 - January 2017