This is going back to this beautiful book that I read over the summer, by John Brockman who curates Smart People’s (Professors, Doctors, Candle Stick Makers) answers to extremely fascinating questions. I want to talk about this book, 2012 : WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE DEEP, ELEGANT, OR BEAUTIFUL EXPLANATION? and specifically throw my two cents in on top of Benjamin K. Bergen entry.
He points out that Aristotle and your English Teachers have told you to construct a proper metaphors you compare two things that are similar to each other in an overarching way. So “Juliet is the sun” works because they are both radiant.
But Bergen points out the work George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in the book, Metaphors We Live By, and says all of that is bogus. Metaphoric language isn’t random and based on similarity at all, it is much more deep, elegant and yet simple.
I’m going to outline his logic for you:
What metaphors are: abstract things that you describe in terms of concrete things. ie Morality is more abstract than cleanliness. He’s clean= he has no criminal record. BUT, You cannot reverse this. Concrete things can’t be the explanation for abstractions. Metaphors don’t work like this: He’s moral= doesn’t mean he’s bathed. In semiotics, the red dress stands for sexual liberation, but sexual liberation can never stand for the red dress.
So metaphors work because they tap into a structured mapping between the two conceptual domains in people’s minds. So metaphors are way more than a linguistic device based on similarity- they are the ability to create paths which we literally UNDERSTAND/(see- (pun intended)) the world in.
This is where I think poetry is insurmountably important, by creating new metaphors and that work, we are uncovering how life is thought of in our collective consciousness. I think that is pretty amazing. Poets literally become people that are writing out the puzzles to how humanity functions. It is a process of decoding and revealing these maps that for one reason or another already exist in everybody’s minds. It is a beautiful process of explaining, the otherwise unexplainable and gesturing to a code of humanity with your words. Creating metaphors that work, is one step closer to identifying how we process and understand the world. Poets are literal explorers of the mind, discovering and writing the map for us all.