Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Theorybomb! The Anus/Onus of the Metaphorician

"Truths are … metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force…"
-Friedrich Nietzsche, “On Truth and Lying in an Extra-Moral Sense”

Let’s tweak the Nietzsch: As every novel metaphor is a propositional untruth, is bullshit, so a moral burden lingers upon the lips from which metaphor issues. This is the Anus/Onus of the Metaphorician. This burden does not pertain to the dead metaphors that limn the folk consciousness of our language. It may be that poets, too, are exempt from it, or at least answerable to different (not to say higher) ethical demands. The Anus/Onus of the Metaphorician casts its shadow on those who would tease out novel metaphors in the realm of what we’ll call “open discourse”, discourse which exists outside of any aesthetic frame, as one of many strident noema which are said to constitute the “real world” (whatever the hell that term means). Barstool chatter, boardroom conversations, and your intense negotiations with a young flyboy over how much this hand-job behind the dumpster is going to cost you—these are open discourse. Words uttered by actors, passages from novels, and the lyrics of songs are not.

How to take the following metaphor, then? (A man by the name of Henry Copeland is describing the flexibility and versatility of blogs versus traditional newspapers, even as newspapers belatedly rush to modernize):

“A newspaper is a boat, a highly evolved mechanism designed and built to float in water. Blogs are bikes, built to cruise in another environment. Now, you can pull a bunch of planking off a boat and add wheels and pedals, but that won't make it as light and maneuverable as a bike.”

I’ll tell you how to take this: despise it. This is a metaphor so unwieldy and shit-stained that it is hardly a metaphor. It is really more like a half-assed allegory, so byzantine and torturous are the paths of its logic. This is horrible.

The Anus/Onus of the Metaphorician consists of a single stipulation, or rather, an imperative: that in the realm of open discourse, metaphorical riffing should remain within ethical bounds. If metaphor is uncouth, it is as good as willful deceit; it retains the lapsarian stench of falsehood, which is the birthright of every novel metaphor. Mr. Copeland’s scabrous metaphorical abomination is as good as a lie—for it is a lie. The artfully spun metaphor, on the other hand, is loosed from the categories of discursive truth and untruth on the swooning upward draft of aesthetic revelation, in exactly the same way that fiction and poetry have fixed themselves in a firmament beyond the moral reproach of “truthiness”, as Colbert might put it.* The ethical metaphor in open discourse is in fact a brief and violent, regenerative flowering of the human verbal-aesthetic impulse, and all the more moral for it. So, readers, go forth and metaphor, but make sure they are good metaphors, or else you are a dirty, filthy, Copelandic liar, you mendacious strumpet. You brute.

Ok, so your metaphors must be apt, but who gets to adjudicate? Metaphorical morality, like general human morality, is a chaotic system of confused and sometimes conflicting subsystems. It begs an arbiter. Churches have their priests, temples their rabbis, mosques their imams. Who might be the preacher-man in the Pentacostal Idlewild Reformed 5th Day Adventist Church of Latter-Day Metaphor? Allow me to suggest myself for this job. Please. I think about metaphors a lot. I am neat and clean. I mean, I didn’t used to be, but I am now, so that shows how I overcame adversity. I also wrote my senior thesis on metaphors. Translation too, the thesis was about translation and metaphors. It was half about metaphors.

Please give me this.

*Does anyone else think that “truthiness” is a really useful word? I feel like it has a practical, neutral valance that “veracity” does not… is it media-hyped folly to embrace this spring chicken? Perhaps wise and thoughtful language-ist Joe should think on this.