Sunday, November 28, 2010

Presentation Is Metaphor (?)

Because language is a pendulum you need a ticket to ride, the further the distance from the world an art object can be, while maintaining a communion with the world, the greater its possibility for achieving the future. Or perhaps the closer to the world an art object can be, while maintaining its distance?

Words, however, come with their own forced marches. While you blink, they make fun of you. Still, they remain useful.

What might it mean to “achieve the future”? Simile? Metaphor? Analogy? Simile is clever, it’s an association. What about metaphor? Where is the line it crosses to become analogy? Parable?

It’s why they liked Pee Wee Herman and Ronald Reagan, in one life, and “realism” in the next. Realism is always comedy. Comedy though, is never realism.

That poetry is made of “words” and not “ideas” makes for a good line, but it misses the point. That a poem is made of words puts too much emphasis on getting the “best words” in the “best order.” That’s only part of the case. It makes people want to create apt similes. This spoon is just like my mother. When I look into it, I see myself reflected back upside down. And on and on.

Where is the line realism crosses into surrealism, when we allow for desire? And then we call it Psychological Realism, or perhaps Hypnagogic Realism. Where is the line that separates art from hypnology?

Poems are just as much—or I would argue, more—a project of getting, or setting, the messier parts of language and/or thinking in an arrangement, or sequence, that holds. It’s the sequence of words, not the best word that interests me.

Because of this, maybe, I have a difficult time defining metaphor for myself, beyond the easy denotation. Simile seems weak. Metaphor strong . . . but where does metaphor end and “direct presentation of the thing” begin? That feels best.  A place to get to.  And how does one make that jump? 

What are the Leaping Poetry of Robert Bly and The New Sentence of Ron Silliman if not ways to enact enigmatic forms of metaphor? Isn’t juxtaposition a form of comparison? The reader must compare and contrast constantly while reading to make meaning.

(These examples are chosen through the use of an Ouija board.)

All things written are concepts. There’s great error in pretending otherwise. And great error in taking an easy walk with a faulty gait. We compare things to get at how things are. Which is how we are. We experience the difference and the similarity of things to bring ourselves into context. Someone else would say “focus.”

Classifying poets as either simile-loyal or metaphor-loyal can be a fun party game, but it ignores the necessary metaphorical underpinnings of the art act itself. Which can lead to fame and fortune, but what does it profit you if you lose your soul?

I could say these things, but I’d have to wear the blood suit, and I fear blood.

How negative can capability get? How capable can negativity get? (As a series of guesses.)

I love you because you are a metaphor for me.

Can’t we get away from ourselves? Shouldn’t we want to?

Does metaphor help more than simile does? Or is metaphor a smoke screen, a misty version of direct presentation?

We sing as a form of toweling off. We run out of our houses and into the streets to dance.


At 11/28/2010 12:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John, what does it mean to "achieve the future"? You suggest means by which we might achieve the future--simile, metaphor, etc. but can you clarify your terms a bit? Do you mean how might we reach a state of timeliness via art, or are you being more metaphysical, as in, how might the nowness of our art speak to/inform/reflect/complicate/resist the laterness of our future?

As for your argument, "all things written are concepts," I agree, for the most part. The term, concept, here, however, seems to denote a stagnant quality. I think language, both spoken and written propels the speaker and the spoken to out of stagnantion--out of the merely conceptual into the actual. Language and all art can bridge the chasm between the other and the this. So all things written are conceptual, but once experienced, have the potential to become other than conceptual while still retaining the conceptual.

When I think of simile, I often find myself returning to Homer where I'm not only interested in the application of simile, but rather in the necessity for simile. Homer's use of simile goes beyond simple comparison--he complicates our understanding of simile as well as that which simile compares where the object being compared is seen next to a series of changing objects; it's difficult to be rooted in either the object or the simile. It's a slippery world out there.


At 11/28/2010 12:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Getting away from ourselves " -- which yes we should want to do -- is usually imposing ourselves on something else for a change. Futurity lies in happily letting the other stay strange without turning away.


At 11/29/2010 5:13 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


The goal of art (as I see it) is to get to a position of ‘there is’ (to borrow a term from Levinas, though perhaps not quite as he meant it). I use the term ‘futurity’ in something of the same way, or to gesture at the always not yet. In this way, the goal of art is to be always not yet. Immanent. (I think the idea of art as 'the immanent' I’ve gotten from somewhere, but I can’t remember just now.)


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