“Of Such Poetry Is Consciousness Made”


  Snow blanketing the earth… This metaphor came to mind while discussing figures of speech with my youngest daughter the other day just as the recent blizzard picked up steam.  (There goes another one – and I’ve mixed ‘em already!  Dang!)

  Metaphors and similes are interesting.  No, much more than that.  They’ve been the generative force behind the development of language and the concomitant expansion of our consciousness.  Think about it.  You’re trying to explain a new concept to, say, your child.  “Well sweetie, it is uh, sort of like…

  See what I mean?  Take that back a few eons when the tongues of our ancestors first started wagging and you will find that “language and its referents climbed up from the concrete to the abstract on the steps of metaphors”.  Take for example the conjugation of the elemental, but irregular verb ‘to be’.   

  It comes from a Sanskrit word meaning “to grow” or “make grow”.  The English forms ‘am’ and ‘is’ evolved from the Sanskrit verb ‘to breathe’.  The consideration of this is sort of like linguistic archaeology.  “It is a record of a time when man had no independent word for existence and could only say that something ‘grows’ or that ‘it breathes’. 

  The ability to construct metaphors and similes must have greatly quickened the pace of evolution for both language and consciousness.  Pick a body part and think off the endless words and concepts for which it is the root: “head of an army, table, page, bed, ship, household, nail, steam, water; eyes of needles, winds, storms, targets, flowers, or potatoes…” etc etc.

  Or back to the snow.  The idea of a white blanket upon the earth generates the notion of seasonal dormancy.  The earth, plants, hibernating animals are all put to a cozy rest till spring.  Whole lot of info conveyed by the employment of a single word in this referential manner.

  What really blows me away is that by extension, the content of our subjective conscious mind is but a metaphor itself for the external real world.  And, frustratingly, that being the case we shall never be able to achieve an understanding of our consciousness in the same way we can of something of which we are conscious.

*This quote, the ones below, and the content of this post were drawn from one of the most incredible books I’ve ever read: The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes.  I’ve referred to it before and I’m sure I will again.

**In a footnote of my 9/3/10 post I mentioned the visit by my daughter and son in law to the library in Alexandria, Egypt.  They reported that 98% of the many computer screens were logged on to Facebook. It will be interesting to see how the current state of affairs pans out.  Social media breathing life into democracy or chaos.  And, in either case, does go any credit/blame to GWB?


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