Communicator (communicator) wrote,

Narrative and metaphor

coalescent reports on a lecture given by Philip Pullman: “Poco a poco: the fundamental particles of narrative”.

If you are interested in storytelling the article is worth a read in full.

Because stories are things that take place in time, (Pullman) suggested, the fundamental particles of narrative are events — small, abstract events that can take on many different meanings depending on the context in which they appear. When we read a story, we instinctively apply the context to the event to derive a meaning...

(he) introduced the concept of “metaphoric charge”, analogous to the electrical charge that some particles carry; metaphorically charged events carry a meaning beyond the literal. For example, wine being spilt from stolen goblets in Belshazzar’s Feast can be understood as a metaphor for excess... it is the combination of the literal and the metaphorical, or the transition between them, that makes a story more than just a sequence of events.

I agree with this idea. I think it is the congruence between the literal and metaphorical meaning of events that gives a narrative its power, and understanding this explains why non-realist literature is as meaningful as mimetic storytelling. To violate this congruence is also meaningful of course, but like distortion in a painting, it should be done with conscious control, not by mistake.

Another person, whom I don't know, was at the lecture too. He links the use of concrete metaphor with materialism:

I appreciated the Epicureanism of his outlook - The general rejection of the mind-body duality that has proved so popular in philosophy, and the assertion that our essential modes of understanding are predicated upon the experience of the physical reality of the world.

In contrast this essay I was reading (coincidentally) today takes the opposite view - associating the rejection of metaphor with the Enlightenment and materialism.

When the sentiment of the speaker is expressed in a neat, clear, plain and clever manner [...] then and then only the expression has all the force and beauty that language can give it. (Adam Smith)

My feeling is that the human brain does operate by metaphor - I've posted before that I think modern humans have a kind of genetic mental flaw, which paradoxically has enabled us to think more creatively, although it also brings suffering and weakness. It is false enlightenment to try to suppress or control it.
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