Thursday, June 2, 2016

Carrying the Objective Correlative Too Far, or Metaphor via FedEx

A curious and interesting metaphor has thrust itself upon you like a political canvasser trying to direct your vote. Like most metaphors, this one is visual and vivid, featuring you, head leaning against a wall, hand cupped over the ear closest to the wall, suggesting you are listening either to or for voices within the other room. Like most political canvassers, the metaphor is persistent to the point of nagging.

The metaphor hints at you listening to or for a conversation in another room, an activity close to one of your habitual passtimes when you are out and about such chores as taking coffee in a coffee shop, waiting to check your groceries through a market check stand, or standing in a variety of other lines for such activities as purchasing a ticket for a movie or concert, paying your copay at your health provider, or waiting at an Apple store for the availability of someone who knows more than you about how and why computers do what they do and do not do what they don't do.

In such moments of distraction, you eavesdrop on conversations until they prove themselves to have no interest or drama so far as you are concerned, or until you are caught up in the immediacy and drama of the lives of others, wanting that touch of intimate realism. 

In the process of such eavesdropping, you often review the knowledge that such conversations and personal revelations have brought you light years away from your quests for radiant them on which to base your preferred medium, the short story, and your next-in-line preference, the novel.

"Don't you think," an early college writing instructor asked you of a recent effort of yours, "that this is a bit too thematic? How many middle-aged men do you know who have conversations such as these?"  He was correct, of course, and you were reaching the stage of development where your inner reaction to those questions was still smarts and wisecrack, but you'd learned to nod your head in agreement, which was beginning to be a signal for a teacher to drop some valuable advice. "Well then, why don't we look for the big theme within the small detail instead of trying to find a story in epic details?"

"This," a much admired writer and editor said of a story you'd sent him, "is carrying the objective correlative too far."  What had seemed a good idea at the time, in your enthusiasm for the theme to an individual rushing to catch a train that had already pulled out of the station, was, on sober reflection, not so hot.  

Cutting back on metaphor is not an easy thing.  For at least ten years, you've heard teachers and even your own literary agent say, "Kill your darlings," by which they mean to delete most metaphor and, in your case, certain words such as rebarbative, chthonic, circumlocutious, pinguid, and eelemosniary. You're more in tune with the saying of a writer you knew and favor, "If it soulds like writing, I revise it," 

At this time in your life, things seem metaphoric that had not seemed at all like a metaphor through your twenties and thirties. Also at this time in your life you are aware of either a growing confidence or the resurgence of the stubbornness you thought you'd begun to wrestle to the ground in your late teens. 

In your revision of your own work, when you come upon a metaphor, you treat it as though it were an illegal alien, subjecting it to a rigorous review before you deport it. 

So far as the persistent metaphor of you, ear cupped to the wall, listening, it could be interpeted as you listening to the culture about you, spouting cliches, truisms, adages, and propaganda of one cultural bastion or another. This would be a shame, were it to be so.  

Far better if it were to be a metaphor for you listening not to the voices of the culture about you, but rather to the stubborn, rebarbative aspects of you, attempting to have conversations with you that you would do well to heed.

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