Monday, October 04, 2004


I've just finished reading Blue Like Jazz and I can tell already that I'm going to need to read it again. I think I'll need to read it slower the second time around. One thing that I've been thinking about is a chapter where Don talks about the power of metaphor.

In the book he talks about a speaker he heard at an alumni event. The speaker was talking about metaphor and how the words we use to describe something affect the way we think about it. He gave the example of cancer and how we tend to speak about cancer in war terms. People fight cancer, they battle it. No one recovers from cancer, they beat it. The speaker went on to say that there is sometimes unnecessary stress and guilt brought on for cancer sufferers because of the war metaphor. He said that sometimes people fear that they have been pushed into an evil battle that they might not be strong enough to fight.

He went on to talk about how we tend to describe relationships in economic terms and how that changes our thinking about what love is like. And all the while I was reading it I kept thinking:

what metaphor do I use to describe myself?

A metaphor is simply a comparrision, a figure of language used to help us wrap our heads around a new idea or help us imagine a place we have never seen. We use metaphor to teach, to describe, to label. I'm not sure what metaphor I use for me. What do I think about when I think about myself? An interesting question -- and not in terms of Satre and Kiekergaard and why am I here? But in a literary sense, how do I write about myself? What metaphor do I use to pen the poetry of my own life? I'm not sure. But it's a question I think I should know the answer to, a question that deep down I think I DO know the answer to. I just need to take the time to think about it. I'm going to do that.

1 comment:

Marco said...

Hey hey Claire,

Thanks for your note on my blog.

I looked into "Blue Like Jazz" and found it very interesting. Haven't actually READ it yet, but I love the conversational tone and self-deprecating humor (maybe that was just the passage I read. The book didn't belong to me, and I could just glance into it for a few minutes as the owner had left it lying on a desk).

As to metaphors to describe ourselves -- I have always found that very difficult. I always dread the moment (in a job interview, for example) when I am asked to "describe myself". What is there to say? Brown hair, corrective lenses, likes to hitch hike, enjoys music, chronic insomniac, etc., etc., but nothing really unique or telling.

I especially hate listing my strengths, because (to use another "war" metaphor) your strengths are your allies at your back. You can only turn around to look at them when there's a lull in the fighting or before the fight begins. Since we're born fighting our weaknesses, though, and these never disappear, I find I can't often take the luxury of seeing what's on my side. Weaknesses are easy enough to see, since we face them on a continual basis. Rather like the enemy in hand-to-hand combat. But strengths -- if I spend too much time looking at them I find the enemy has meanwhile attacked me in the back.

So, would the central metaphor for my person have to be, by default, a negative one? Probably not, since the negative attributes are the enemy, right? No army identifies itself with what it fights. But many (like "fire fighters" or "crime fighters") identify with their role of fighting a certain enemy. Even that would be negative, though, in a sense.
"Marco the fighter of apathy" or "Marco whose enemy is selfishness"?

Interesting idea.

Cheers and keep blogging.