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The Solidity of the Road to Metaphor and Memory, Misha Reznikoff, 1934

"Suffering might always be the lingering effect of innocently ineffective metaphoring."

InappropriateMetaphor is the root of all evil. It enables us to perceive difference where no meaningful difference exists. It ties us to self-destructive habits, encourages international conflicts, and might convince someone to build ineffective border walls. It fuels global warming, redlining, and urban blight. It encourages disposables which last for centuries. It fuels fear and institutionalizes ignorance. It justifies dominance when cooperation would better serve. It promotes tenacious inequality and bigotry, poverty and great wealth, debilitating sickness and declining health. It makes us crazy while passing for perfectly sane. It represents manners of living as if they were necessary imperatives. It poorly informs us.

Shifting metaphors might mend anything.
An old enemy becomes a new friend. A feared opponent becomes a trusted ally. An unsolvable problem becomes a feature instead. A boulder blocking progress becomes a roadside attraction. A bungled preparation becomes a surprise discovery then a favorite meal. Once reviled, later revered. Our labels seem to define content. One man's pandemic seems like a simple head cold or mild flu to another. Which metaphor best serves an end? Forget the truth, as it seems to twist and bend into whatever form required for normalization. The new normal is some old normal re-characterized.

Pandemic was always a metaphor. How appropriate of a characterization is it? Even if it satisfies the formal definition, does this characterization properly condition us to cope well with it? It ain't quite a plague but it's not nothing, either. While the scientists slave to discover a cure for it, the politicians try on different metaphors to neutralize or enhance its effect. Each individual, too, tries on different labels to identify some more satisfying experience. What seems deadly to some seems benign to others. Which characterization might prove most appropriate? Many months and frightening setbacks finally produced the 1919 pandemic recognizable as a deadly dangerous presence, only after many InappropriateMetaphors preceded it. History determines which metaphors proved appropriate.

A physical cure would produce a first-order change. A more appropriate metaphor could produce a second-order change, a shift in general understanding and acceptance. We have a President without scruples as exhibited by his impressive ability to mis-characterize almost anything to serve his personal agenda rather than any obvious public good. His metaphors inevitably seem wholly inappropriate, and I cannot imagine how anyone might believe them to be otherwise. But, you know, some actually seem to believe. Nothing is not metaphorical, for our language amounts to nothing more (or less) than seemingly endless metaphorical characterizations. Shifting the metaphor might utterly transform any dissatisfying experience. Suffering might always be the lingering effect of innocently ineffective metaphoring.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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