– Amanda Coplin, The Orchardist (2012)
Some craters on the Moon are from meteorite impacts, others from volcanic eruptions. The pitting on the orchardist’s face is from smallpox, a disease of skin eruptions.
Smallpox manifests with a rash; the pimples burst and scab over. The scars are a literal record of having had the disease. In The Orchardist, they are the metaphorical mark of a survivor – someone who has endured catastrophe, and healed imperfectly.
People looking at the blotchy basins of the Moon, filled with dark lava, may see a face – like a lopsided jack o’lantern. That man in the moon has looked upon innumerable seasons of planting and harvest, myriad years of disaster.
Photo: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University
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– Only the Brave (2017)
The bear on fire is a sudden, spectacular movie effect. It fills the eye, and before you can think about what it might mean you’ve already understood the speed, power, and impulsiveness of fire – how it runs over anyone who stands alone in its path. Josh Brolin’s character describes the bear as “hard-charging into the darkness.” Then he adds, “I’m feelin’ a lot like that bear, Duane.”
The bear is a manifestation of the fire (spirit of the fire) but is also a creature caught in the fire, running for its life. Like a firefighter when the operational plan has gone wrong.
Two of the firefighters, the chief and the recruit, have come to their job after drug addiction, drawing a line against lives gone out of control. They have been in the kind of trouble where you can lunge to the left or the right but cannot get free. The beauty of the bear on fire is that of the tragic hero, a doomed creature struggling to the end to be free.
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– Jeff Bridges on Real Time (October 5, 2018)
Jeff Bridges credits the trim-tab metaphor to Buckminster Fuller, who compared social reform to steering a supertanker. The rudder on a vessel that size is so large it can’t be turned by ordinary means. The engineering solution is the trim tab, a mini-rudder that steers the main rudder, which then turns the ship.
From this principle, it follows that small groups and even individuals can influence the behavior of a mass society – turning it away from traditions of racism, for example.
While supporting the hope that a few good people can bring about good on a grand scale, the metaphor includes a stern requirement, that trim tabs do their work in conjunction with a rudder. Random acts of kindness do not turn the ship; turning the rudder turns the ship.
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– Claude Levi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques (1955)
Memory is like geology for Levi-Strauss, or at least the part of geology that tears down the forms that it built up before. You could call it deconstruction.
This is the perspective of age looking back, aware that continents and monuments have slipped and slid, some sunk out of sight forever. This is not the perspective of forward-looking youth, when the whole world is new and yet to reach its height.
The peak that stands out in memory is a least-likely survivor, grinning idiotically after all others have been worn down to nothing. You strain to remember the face of a loved one and yet can recite every word of the song from Mr. Ed.
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– Tim McMahon, InflationData.com, July 14, 2006
The “baked into the cake” metaphor seems to have gotten started in the early 2000s, first among stock-market bloggers and then political talking heads. The question is: are things being dissolved into the cake batter, like sugar, flour, and baking powder? Or is there a prize being suspended in the middle, like the trinket in a king cake? If so, the “prize” is often an unwelcome consequence.
Inflation is a good thing in conventional (non-metaphorical) baking. Gas bubbles trapped in the batter give cake its air-filled texture, so it springs back when pressed lightly. But inflation is bad in financial markets. Money that is light and airy buys less than money that is heavy and dense like gold.
Either way, the sense of the expression is you are stuck with your cake as is. You not only have it, you are going to have to eat it too.
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– quoted in Larry J. Siegel/Criminology (1986)
Batman was a 14-year-old Brooklyn gang member who wore a cape. Everyone was afraid of him because he shot people without provocation, and without emotion. He was as unfeeling as the most lifeless product of nature, a stone. Behind the stone comparison is another comparison: emotional warmth is like body temperature, with both being seen as defining characteristics of humanity. “He’s a cold fish” and “cold-blooded murder” are variations showing that, when it comes to being a human being, reptilians need not apply.
Emotional warmth becomes empathy when linked to human powers of imagination, as seen in the Henry James short story “A Landscape Painter” (1866), in which Mr. Locksley bares his heart to Miss Quarterman: “You have a great deal of imagination, but you rarely exercise it on the behalf of other people.…Your crime is, that you are so stone-cold to a poor devil who loves you.” You could say the same of Batman, if you weren’t afraid being shot.
Falstaff dies by degrees in Shakespeare’s Henry V. As recalled by the Hostess, he asked for extra blankets on his bed because his feet were cold. Just making sure, the Hostess says, “I put my hand into the bed, and felt them, and they were as cold as any stone; then I felt to his knees, and so up’ard and up’ard, and all was as cold as any stone.” With a groin gone cold, it was clear the drunken, gluttonous, cowardly parasite, and paragon of human flesh, was no more.
Photo: “Falstaff on His Death Bed,” George Cruikshank (1792–1878)
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– Psalms 109:18 (New International Version)
Psalm 109 indicts an enemy for cursing, but first has these choice words to say about him:
May his days be few…
May his children be wandering beggars…
May creditors seize all he has…
May the sin of his mother never be blotted out…
This psalm is unusual in having a very specific problem to talk about that anybody can relate to: someone is saying bad things about me. The poet feels the scorn of others, who shake their heads when he passes. They brush him off “like a locust.” He is being made to “fade away like an evening shadow.” The imagery is sharply seen and felt, seeming more personal than the generic green pastures and gold regalia of other psalms.
The metaphor of the garment, too, is personal in a subtle way, noticing how deliberately assumed guises can reshape identity (like Prufrock’s “face to meet the faces that you meet”). Just as the water that you drink gets into your body chemistry, so the words that you use habitually will infiltrate your character. The evil in those words gets into the marrow of your bones.
Photo: From an engraving of Elijah denouncing Ahab
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– A gangster in Peaky Blinders (S4, E4)
Lying low during a gang war, Tommy Shelby grows restless and frustrated. He is indeed a dangerous, inhuman being, held in by circumstances that are invisible and toxic.
Yet the metaphor’s impact comes not from its applicability to Shelby but from the fact that you – in a lifetime of summer afternoons – have seen a bug trapped in some similar way and you have given a moment’s thought to the vast incomprehensibility of the universe. You ask, “What does an insect know about glassmaking or brewing or the chemistry of his own body, succumbing to fumes that are no part of the life he was designed to live?”
In asking such questions, you come to the core of Greek tragedy: we think we know what our existence is all about, but we have no better idea than a wasp in a beer glass. As Sophocles says in Antigone, “Whom the gods would destroy they first make opinionated.”
Photo: Classics Dept/University of Reading post on Archaeology & Arts /https://www.archaeology.wiki/blog/2017/01/20/greek-tragedy-small-screen/
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People turn to the conduit metaphor in 70 percent of all discussions about how we communicate through language, according to linguist Michael Reddy. The conduit metaphor has four parts:
- Communication = sending
- Words = container that is sent
- Intended meaning = thing put in the container
- Received meaning = thing extracted by the listener or reader
The “gap” across which words are sent is important – the difference between the minds of the sender and receiver. The gap is the source of all misunderstandings and a lot of pain. It’s also where deception, creativity, and 88.5% of jokes come from.
If we lived in a world where sentences were not “containers” for ideas, we would certainly spend less time looking for hidden meanings in song lyrics. If communications were not so much “sent” as emitted, like pheromones (or even excreted, like spider silk), we might not take everything so personally.
Sci-fi movies about first contact help us consider alternatives to the conduit metaphor. In The Day the Earth Stood Still, an alien shows up speaking perfect proclamatory English, but in Close Encounters of the Third Kind there is a shared-knowing style of communication. The invited see an image of a mountain and discover wordlessly where to go. The musical sequence D-E-C-low C-G is the DNA for understanding everything. Arrival offers another unmechanistic view, owing a debt to Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter House 5, in which Billy Pilgrim comes “unstuck in time.”
An episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (“Darmok,” 1991) features aliens whose language utterly befuddles the universal translator – because their vocabulary is based on metaphors.
Illustration: Garth Williams, from Charlotte’s Web; flavorwire.com
Reddy, M. J. (1979). The conduit metaphor: A case of frame conflict in our language about language. In A. Ortony (Ed.), Metaphor and Thought (pp. 284–310). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Available online at http://www.reddyworks.com/reddy-writes/research/the-conduit-metaphor/132-orginal-1979-conduit-metaphor-article?showall=.
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– Luigi Pulci, satiric poet (d. 1484)
Give Pulci credit: the brain is more like a loaf of bread than it is like a machine or computer; at least bread involves biochemistry. But the soul as a pine nut seems a bit of a stretch. Or does it?
Pulci doesn’t try to explain what the soul is or how it works. He says only that the soul is a physical thing, like the loaf-shaped organ it is lodged in. If the brain can manage such intangibles as seeing and smelling, imagining, and remembering, then there is every reason to suppose that the soul too is a natural, physical object. There is no need to suppose the soul is a “ghost in the machine” (a phrase coined by philosopher Gilbert Ryle in 1949).
Medieval medicine described three major areas of the brain (sense perception, imagination, and memory), and these functions were thought to be coordinated by central structures such as the pineal gland – named for its resemblance to a pine cone.
Image: Adaptation by Karl Stull of a portrait of Luigi Pulci, from a Filippino Lippi fresco at Cappella Brancacci, Florence; Wikipedia
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