Metaphor and Reality

by Richard Kovac

What if a metaphor became real? If there were enough strength behind a metaphor, would it not be taken as - and be - reality? This is not meant to be subjective where, of course, it is true, but objective and even material in nature. This broad psychological drift is no doubt philosophical, and related to signs and symbols, but it's also found in the religious idea of transubstantiation.

Now I don't think theology is going to heal you or me, but sometimes we seek to understand what we believe, and put it into a larger context. What is the function of religion, which is still so prevalent in our modern world - you can't deny its ubiquity. It seems religion, any religion, bears witness to an invisible realm. This invisible realm is sheer nonsense, you may decide. The conditions of bourgeoisie life do indeed confound all such intimations of the transcendental.

But I am interested, as a poet, in metaphor itself. "The flowers on the tree hover and whirl about in the wind." Does this evoke a ghost from youth? Does it bring her into presence again? I suppose this is in the realm of magic, as well as religion, as if by repeating certain words (mantra or incantation), the desired could be obtained.

A skeptical reader of genuine ability asks, "how does this brief discussion help build up anything useful?"

My answer is that as a man, "nothing of man is alien to me" and in exploring the metaphor and its relationship to poetry and religion, we may discover what is at the root of our use of language and our cognitive function as human beings.

Religion, magic, metaphor may be positive or negative, good or bad, and I'm certainly not about to worship Shiva, The Destroyer. But it can be helpful, as even a hardened atheist might be willing to concede, when it builds houses and digs wells for the poorest of the poor - who simply are not able (not enough calories or water) to help themselves. There are about a billion people in this category.

Metaphor is the particular genius of the human species, but in what sense can you claim that metaphor itself is rational? It seems to me like a leap of faith, although almost all of the uses metaphor is put to are rational, or serve rational purposes.

Some of us set up a straw man and then calmly proceed to demolish it. We may call this straw man "religion", but it has nothing to do with true religion, anymore than the Crusades or the Inquisition were "religious" in nature - rather they were hateful and despotic and murderous. The Third Reich with its slaughter of eight million precious human beings was the culmination of false religion, and most so-called Christians in Germany went along with it.

The metaphors of early Christianity had lost their meaning, descending into ritual. The bread which was supposed to create one body of the human race became a way of separating the good genes from the bad genes, and we know that all such racism is bad.

The world we live in, since then or a bit before, has become largely a vast illusion. We are like blind men groping our way through a cave where the shafts of light from outside are invisible to us. We feel our way, and the usual categories often fail us. All we of good will are welcome at the communion table where religion is properly defined as "kindness to widows and orphans in their distress, and staying uncontaminated by the world."

Let me remind you that Heidegger and Jung made their accommodations with the Nazis, which is not keeping "uncontaminated by the world". It must have been a hallucinatory experience to see the Bishop of Rome bless the tanks that Mussolini sent to Ethiopia.

I have digressed from the subject of metaphor somewhat to give an impassioned sermon again - and without humor. But I cannot but help feel that our civilization is going through an experience similar to the holocaust (but more subtle) even at the present time. So put up with me until I can write something cute about the origins of popcorn.

"Out of the unreal, lead us to reality." (ancient Hindu prayer.)

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