Friday, May 3, 2013

Writing as Metaphor, or Metaphor as Writing

At some point in a lifetime of reading and attempting to grasp the principals of story, you arrived at a vital junction.  Once you moved past the junction, there was no turning back.  The point of no return extended enough beyond literalism and straightforwardness that everything thereafter became detached from linear linking of event and into the world of metaphor.

Writers you admired more for their voice and tempo, say Frank Morrison "Mickey" Spillaine, might have foresworn any association with metaphor, but that did not stop you.  What you saw did not stop with what such writers offered.

You don't intend your own fiction to emerge as metaphor.  You once did, but you suffered for it, and yes, you can say with some assurance of accuracy that a life devoted to acquiring and developing narrative skills is of necessity a metaphor for such concepts as exploration, frustration, discovery, bewilderment.  Each of these qualities are stops along the way to another metaphor (or possibly a pathetic fallacy) called voice.

Writing does exude a personality.  You are transfixed by the sounds of voices in gathering places, how some, regardless of gender or age, irritate you while others are entrancing, often causing you twinges of envy.

Only yesterday, you were in a hospital-like venue (the Santa Barbara Surgical Center) where, for the third time in about ten years, you awaited active participation in a minor surgical procedure, the final effects of which would improve your vision from a base you considered better than adequate to a place of extraordinary new awareness of the world about you and, thus, suffused with a sense of being grateful to an almost silly degree.  Your attitude was enhanced by a mild local anaesthetic, just enough, the anesthesiologist thought, to render you comfortable.

You were.  Comfortable, that is.  Until you heard the voice or a fellow patient, likely awaiting a similar procedure.  His voice seemed raspy, querulous, weighted with the resonance of a fly caught between panes of a window.  This was the voice you heard for the next several moments. Writing about the voice causes it to echo in your memory.

Voice is a reflection of personality, of presence, of intention, of motive.  The definition is as appropriate for conversation and verbal presentation as it can be seen to relate to the written voice, exuded by writers from other centuries and landscapes.

Writings about Sigmund Freud often refer to a pronouncement of his that may well be apocryphal:  "Sometimes a cigar is only a cigar."  The unspoken half of this equation is:  "Unless it is a metaphor for a phallic symbol."  Metaphor at work.  Freud may have even said metaphor at work, some of the language of psychotherapy is filled with references to Freudian symbols, metaphors for other things, metaphors for the popular metaphor of the elephant in the living room.

Some writers suggest through metaphor or more direct statement that all writing is about something oblique to the writer's intended meaning.  When you have finished a short story, you often give the text a close reading after reaching the point where you believe the material pays off by resolving some of the open notes and chords it strikes.  Aha, you tell yourself, so that was what the story was all about.  Aha, that story was a metaphor for--and then you fill in the blank with your own take on what you meant and what you'd arrived at while composing the narrative.

If you are going to talk to yourself or write stories investigating the unexplored places within the terrain of your psyche, you'd better rely on metaphor.  Persons over the age of fifty or so who talk to themselves without doing so in metaphor are targets of suspicion.  Are they street persons, turned loose without meds?  Are they conversing with imaginary individuals?

On the other hand, writers who deal with metaphor and who have conversations with various facets of themselves are seen more as explorers than aggressive panhandlers on the hustle for spare change.

A sociologist may see both groups as social outcasts.  Street persons and writers, for their part, may well conclude sociologists are guilty of moving the goalposts in the ongoing ambiguity of life.

Post a Comment