speaking of mortal stakes…

by Feng

Sometimes it is impossible to extract metaphor from reality/literalization because so much of thought and consciousness is dependent on metaphor. We have to communicate the nature of our ideas through metaphor because ideas are not material. For example, I just used the word “through”, which is a physical phenomenon. When someone “under-stands” or “gets” an idea, it is a metaphor that expresses that. Much of what we take for granted is informed by the way our metaphors work. I am now “walking you through” or “leading you through” an argument. The tenor and vehicle aren’t truly distinct. If we approach arguments and debates linguistically as war, violence is already implicit.

On the recent attempted murder of Rep. Giffords, Johannes G. writes:

One obvious example of this violent rhetoric is Sara Palin’s images of Giffords (and other Democratic incumbents) in rifle cross-hairs and with the statement: “Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD.” In the aftermath of Giffords’ death, Palin has been arguing that she didn’t mean it literally, that it was merely a metaphor. As if it doesn’t matter how one puts something; as if, in a metaphor, the vehicle doesn’t matter, only the tenor.

Today on the radio, somebody made an oblique reference to “metaphors” – and the dangers of literalizing them. This made me think about all poetry class I’ve ever taught: I keep telling the students that the vehicle of metaphors matter, it’s not just a code to get through to the tenor. Somebody who is beautiful as a rose is very different from somebody who is beautiful like a machine gun. Comparing your opposition of a political opponent to shooting them is not the same as comparing it to exchanging ideas or whatever.

The title of his post is “Do Metaphors Matter”?

Metaphors literally matter.

SIDENOTE: Christian Hubert has a nice collection of thoughts on metaphor here: http://christianhubert.com/writings/metaphor___model.html#86

I’m reminded of something I read long ago, the often ridiculed Julian Jaynes book “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”. Jaynes believed that consciousness is an invention of an analog world on the basis of language. I may not be so hot about his theory that humans in the time of the Iliad had a less evolved consciousness than humans now and were all schizophrenic, but there is something to the argument that the mind develops with language (an idea that is taken for granted nowadays, apparently). Ideology is constructed. It matters how it is constructed, and how language is used. Behavior and language form a feedback loop.

I, too, find it interesting that friends of Loughner said he “had a fixation for grammar and words, saying that he challenged Giffords at a previous public meeting with the impenetrable question: ‘What is government if words have no meaning?'”

Does it matter whether or not Palin’s rhetoric motivated Loughner? I doubt that they’re that directly linked. The above and J’s post are creating  a lot of tangents for me right now about assassins and serial killers vs. military units. Their special brains.  Their unique minds.

Anyway, war cannot happen without rhetoric. People cannot be mobilized in war or turned into killing machines without some extent of ideological feeding. Now I am reminded of the training of soldiers leading up to the Nanking massacre, which consisted of dehumanizing routine beatings and the imbibing of an ideology that justified inhuman behavior:

…their imperial hierarchy lay at thecenter of the world morality and that the Japanese were superior to all other peoples. As part of this philosophy, China was made the focus of contempt. Initially, some Japanese intellectuals used Chinain order to develop a more confident Japanese identity. Anti-Chinese attitudes spread in Japan as the popular voices of journalists and politicians condemned China as backward and encouraged Japanese expansion into Chinese territory. By the 1930s Japanese school textbooks taught students to believein Japan’s superior position in Asia, to view China as a civilization in decline, and to consider Chinese people morally deficient. This view permeated the Japanese military, leading to racial slurs and contempt. Soldiers were told that expansion into China was Japan’s destiny and that heroic behavior sought victory and death. The overall atmosphere of the Japanese military life created soldiers who followed orders, ignored personal feelings, and treated anyone beneath them with the same contempt that they experienced themselves. -Walter Zapotoczny (www.wzaponline.com/TheRapeofNanking.pdf)

When chinese civilians were compared to animals/pigs, this was used metaphorically. When the massacre happened, the metaphor was literalized as an inevitable consequence. Communication is physical. There are too many examples of this.

Well, I haven’t really said anything after all. I have a difficult feeling today.