Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Metaphors. Letter #75

            There are good things and bad things about metaphor. I try to distinguish between metaphors that collapse two things into one and metaphors that highlight the connection between two things while simultaneously highlighting their differences. The second kind, in Charles Altieri’s lingo, expands the available universe. A bigger universe, abundant and interconnected, an ecosystem brought to you by literary devices. A collapsed universe metaphor might be something like A Dog is a Bear. We did name our dog “Bear” and he does look like a tiny bear cub. Black and fluffy and squishy. But he also looks like a pig and a hedgehog and swims like a fish on the snow. To say he is a bear is to ignore his other animal-partners. He’s rolling on the ground right now with the dog we named Zora because Zorro in Spanish means fox and this one looks like a girl fox but she also looks like a coyote and a wolf. She acts like a mama to Bear the Dog. She acts like a sister. Like a brother. To describe either of them well, you have to keep turning the circle of metaphors. Bear is a big baby but he’s also a ferocious forest beast. It’s for our own safety that I make these metaphors multiple.
            I use a lot of metaphors to try to describe the effects of the budget cuts on Higher Ed. I think I’ve used the word “eviscerate” before, which, now that I watched the latest Walking Dead, has a whole new meaning for me as one of the zombies was walking around with his intestines hanging out like spaghetti pouring from his stomach. But it’s a semi-apt metaphor. We at the university are still walking around, at least some of us who haven’t been let go, but kind of in a daze. We’re hungry too. A little desperate, although I don’t think of spaghetti as appetizingly as I did before.
            Perhaps “cut off at the knees” is a good metaphor. Again, we are still mobile but people (other universities) run past us, taunting our scabby, stubby knees with their research grants and fully funded graduate students. It’s a little slower to get things done, but you’re right, what does not kill us makes us stronger. Or at least covered in scar tissue.
            I’ve also tried to describe to you the idea of collectivity—that the more educated every single student is, the more educated Arizona as a whole could be. We lift each other up by devoting time, energy and money to every single child in the public school system and, if we can, in the Higher Ed system. I think of it like a web of interconnectedness. Even if there is selfishness to it: I am better off if every single person has an opportunity to have a better education and a better job and a more secure economic situation. I imagine this web, not really like a spider’s, more like the mycelia on the forest floor, connecting tree root to mushroom—cloth-strong and pervasive. I imagine lifting it up, out of the forest, onto the quad where everyone can step on it and recite from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, “I contain multitudes” and each of us is elevated above their concrete-bound situation and is able to aspire to new heights. Inspiration, aspiration. These dreams of education. Lofty dreams indeed but like any metaphor, you can poke holes in this analogy. You could argue that higher isn’t better or that not everyone wants to abandon the concrete. You could argue that the top is only for some. Only they at the top get to decide who rises and who stays put. We are committed to a system of hierarchies. How would we understand a world where even they who walk on their knees, who walk zombie-like, who come from families with no mycelia at all, who come from other countries where all the trees have already been obliterated, where no mushrooms grow at all, are all walking at the same speed that they who born running through the forest already run?
            Oh. That is what I thought they called the United States of America. That forest of equal opportunity. That mycelia that makes a blanket upon which each of us can stand and rise up together.
            That’s what I love about metaphors. Metaphors are multiple. If you keep them spinning, you end up with a pretty good picture of a dog, or a country.

No comments: