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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6 comments:

Aqua said...

I find for m the metaphors and similes add a visual aspect to understanding concepts. For me, this is why they are so powerful. I paint and draw and dream in full colour, full of symbols and metaphors. When I was at university I would write and rewrite my notes until I could visualize them for exams. That's what my pdocs metaphors do for me, they add that one imperitive layer, the visual layer, to the lessons he is helping me learn.

I look forward to reading this blogg. Sounds interesting.
...aqua

Casdok said...

An interesting read. Some food for thought.

Leigh Russell said...

The danger with imagery in writing is that it can tempt you into a display of your own stylistic devices, rather than focusing on your characters and telling the story. Sometimes simplicity communicates better than flowery language. In my opinion. But then I'm rather a novice at writing, a fool rushing in where angels fear to tread, to offer a metaphor that is also (o horror!) a cliche...

Leigh Russell said...

ps You're welcome to visit my blog. Fellow writers always welcome.

DJ Kirkby said...

What an interesting post. As an Aspie I have been told I suffer from lack of empathy. I have no idea if I do but I assume the experts are right so it was interesting to see your thoughts on true empathy. I also do not understand metaphors or similies without thinking at great length about what the speaker might mean by which time they have moved onto an entirely different topic.

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