Friday, June 06, 2008

Metaphor

I have a lot of problems communicating with other people who use metaphors, because (as I am wont to relate) metaphors depend on an underlying agreement about how the world works, and I often don't participate in that agreement, so the metaphor is an epic fail for me. This is an excellent essay that I found useful and full of thinking meat, and I recommend it. Excerpt:

Years ago, when I visited somewhere and my hosts left the television running in the room where we were talking, I interpreted that as rudeness and I felt unwelcome; I felt that if they had been interested in our conversation they would have turned the tv set off. My attitude toward my hosts -- and my behavior toward them from then on -- was affected very negatively, even though the television's sound was turned so low that it was nothing more than a background noise.

Then one day I read Camille Paglia's casual statement that the television is the modern hearthfire, and the lights came on at last in my mind. I wouldn't expect people to put out the fire in their fireplace because we are sitting near it talking; I wouldn't interpret their hearthfire's soft crackling noise as rudeness or a signal that I'm not welcome. Why on earth would I feel any differently about their television set? The change in my attitude and behavior toward both the television and my hosts was instantaneous and permanent. Neither logical argument nor coercion could have duplicated that effect.


Hat tip Suzette Hayden Elgin.

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