Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Nature Abhors a Metaphor

You were well beyond courses in literature and literary criticism when you learned not to attribute human emotional responses to inanimate objects or phenomena. Such attributions, often made in some of the literature you read, were called out by critics with a designation you considered harsh, but necessary.

Violations of this sort were given the name Pathetic Fallacy by John Ruskin, a Victorian Era critic and watercolor painter whose pronouncements intrigued and delighted you because of the way he seemed to be suspicious of unnecessary detail. When you first learned of Ruskin and were assigned portions of his signature three-volume work, The Stones of Venice, you were attracted by the notion that although his subject was architecture and his principal focus was the difference between Gothic and Renaissance styles, here he was, presenting an approach to literature as well.

His approaches could be applied to philosophy, artistic standards and, to the extent you were able to appreciate such things, morality. You were a bit put off by his use of God as the high standard to which artists dedicated the results of their work. To an extent, you still are. 

But thanks to that great triumvirate of Christopher Isherwood, Swami Prabhavananda, and The Bhagavad-Gita, each of which you were to become more closely aware, you were able to see Ruskin as an advocate of work as an offering to a higher standard, work as a form of worship, if you will, karma yoga, if you will.

To the work you are entitled, but not the fruits thereof.

Nice as it is to be paid for your work, especially since you have in recent days deposited a royalty check for a tad less than eighty dollars, you did not do the work for the expressed purpose of making eighty dollars or any amount. You did the work because you felt like it, wanted to do it, could not, in fact, not do the work.

"Nature abhors a vacuum."  Ruskin had words about that. So did you.  Did Nature, you wondered, know she abhorred a vacuum. Perhaps She had something to say about the matter, and thus you were off on your hobby horse, a concept you got from Lawrence Sterne, author of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.

"When new born Dawn came on with her rose-fingered daylight". Homer, right? The Odyssey, right?   Pathetic fallacy, right? Much as you admire and to this day reread Homer, you never had a wish to write the way he--or more probably, they--did.

This is not to say you wished to leave inanimate detail out of your writings. Rather, you look for ways to impart some greater sense of presence from them than mere thing-ness. For this, you rely on figures of speech, of simile, metaphor, on that great quality of speech known as irony.

Nature will never abhor a vacuum in one of your stories, nor will It be assigned a gender because of your own belief--with help from Ruskin--that doing so is patronizing. Nature will, indeed, be a present force in your stories. Not, perhaps in the Arctic frost of Jack London's story, "To Build a Fire," but nevertheless as a force where a tsunami of human events, more often than not at great competition with one another, will befall one or more of the characters you select to endure and--somehow--profit from them.

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