Sunday, 10 August 2008

What is the function of the metaphor & simile?

The usual response to this question will be confined to examples of these tropes drawn from literature.

However, I would like to suggest they existed long before literature; that they have always existed as a means for men and women to relate to the world around them; in other words, as instruments to bring the incomprehensible into the familiar.

They, of course, fulfil the same function today.

It is most apparent among people who have access to a smaller vocabulary.

The much ridiculed clich├ęs, 'I was sick as a parrot' and 'I was over the moon' are used to mock the inarticulateness of certain sections of society. Teenage conversations are littered with sentences that start with "It was like…".

However, metaphors and similes serve us all in the same way.

Even the most articulate find it difficult to describe sublime or profound emotions in direct terms. In fact, by definition, it is an impossibility. Deeply felt personal feelings, be they of anger, love, isolation, or despair, are, in a sense, beyond the bounds of language precisely because they are so personal. (Despite what people think no one can truly empathise with another. One can sympathise, i.e. stand alongside another, but not empathise, i.e. stand in the place of another.) So it is usual to resort to metaphor or simile to bring them to the surface of common understanding.

Aqua, a woman who suffers from Chronic Major Depressive Disorder, and courageously addresses her illness in her blog, has posted how her pdoc, as she describes her therapist or psychiatrist, gave her a number of images, i.e. metaphors and similes, to help her, in her words, make 'the insurmountable seem possible'.

You can read the original post here.

Indeed, it was her post that started me thinking about these tropes in this wider context.

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