What is a metaphor for?

metaphor

Metaphors help readers see the world in a new way. Below are some hints for creating a resonant metaphor.

metaphor

Every metaphor or simile is a little explosion of fiction within the larger fiction of the novel or story.

— James Wood, How Fiction Works

The metaphor is a fabricated image, without deep, true, genuine roots. It is an ephemeral expression. It is, or should be, one that is used only once, in passing. We must be careful, therefore not to give it too much thought; nor should the reader think too much about it.

— Gaston Bachelard, Poetics of Space

“Metaphors matter”, as Bernard Bailyn has reminded us, for “they shape the way we think” — all the more when they make sense in the light of actual experience.

— A. Roger Ekirch

The Difference Between Imagery and Metaphor

A metaphor gives concrete substance to an impression that is difficult to express. Metaphor is related to a psychic being from which it differs. An image, on the contrary, product of absolute imagination, owes its entire being to the imagination.

— Gaston Bachelard, Poetics of Space

Don’t Hate On The Mixed Metaphor

A mixed metaphor is defined as ‘a combination of two or more incompatible metaphors’.

Actually, there is a way in which mixed metaphor is perfectly logical, and not an aberration at all. … In contemporary parlance, what people dislike about mixed metaphor is that it tends to combine two different cliches, as in, say, “out of a sea of despair, he has pulled forth a plum.” The metaphorical aspect is actually dimmed, almost to non-existence, by the presence of two or more mixed cliches (which be definition are themselves dim or dead metaphors).

— James Wood, How Fiction Works

In other words — a mixed metaphor is fine. Cliches are bad.

The Secret Of Powerful Metaphor

Often the leap toward the counterintuitive, toward the very opposite of the thing you are seeking to compare, is the secret of powerful metaphor. […] Obviously, whenever you liken x to y, you will be drawing attention to the fact that x is really nothing like y, as well as drawing attention to the effort involved in producing such extravagances. The kind of metaphor I most delight in, however […] estranges and then instantly connects, and in doing the latter so well, hides the former. The result is a tiny shock of surprise, followed by a feeling of inevitability.

— James Wood, How Fiction Works

(I’ve heard that ‘surprise plus feeling of inevitability’ combo before, elsewhere, in describing ‘the perfect ending’ to a story. So metaphors and endings have a few things in common.)

Metaphor In Children’s Literature

Maurice Saxby tells us that metaphors in children’s literature need to be on the child reader’s level for them to work:

When the image or metaphor is within a child’s range of sensory, emotional, cognitive and moral experience and is expressed in linguistic terms that can be apprehended and comprehended by young readers, a book becomes classed as a children’s one.

— Maurice Saxby, Give Them Wings

Homes and Symbolism In Film and Literature

sunny home literature film

Homes are an outworking of the characters who live inside. Sometimes, in fiction, the house even seems to come alive in its own right.

There exist sunny houses in which, at all seasons, it is summer, houses that are all windows.

— Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

For my notes after reading Gaston Bachelard, see Symbolism of the Dream House.
Continue reading “Homes and Symbolism In Film and Literature”

Symbolism Of The Dream House

house symbolism

House symbolism is an interesting way of looking at a story. Most stories have a home in there somewhere.

What Would Be The Houses Of Filmmakers If They Were Based On Their Own Films

Buildings As Characters In Fiction

Some (e.g. Scherner) interpret houses in dreams as stand-ins for the human body. The windows, doors and entrances are the entrances into the body cavities. The facades are smooth or provided with balconies and projections to which to hold. In anatomy the body openings are sometimes called the body-portals.

Dwellings in fantasy don’t always look like the rectangular structure we know and love.

Bilbo’s circular house feels particularly cosy, in stark contrast to the jagged mountains in the distance.

the-hall-of-bagend-hobbit

Buildings As Characters In Fiction

the house of the seven gables

Sometimes in literature you’ll hear a setting interpreted in the same way as a character. What does this mean? When should you do this?

Most stories: Storyworld affects character. 

In some stories: Storyworld interacts with the characters.

The way in which place interacts with human beings is one of the focal points in philosophy, so if you want to know more about that, philosophy is the place to go. For example, Heidegger coined the phrase Dasein to describe the state of ‘being-in-the-world’.

Look especially closely at stories set onboard ships. Ships are often treated as characters. In sci-fi, it’ll be a spaceship. (Outer space is metaphorically the same as the ocean., just a different genre.)

from The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe
from The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe

Is This A Type Of Metaphor?

Related: Symbolism of the Dream House, from Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space. Bachelard questions whether the personified building in literature truly counts as ‘metaphor’. He instead wonders if it should be simply referred to as ‘linguistic imagery’, since ‘house as person’ seems like a bit of a stretch.

On the other hand, a positivist psychologist would immediately reduce this language to the psychological reality of the [hero].

The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard

Genius Loci: A location’s distinctive atmosphere

When talking about places as characters in literature, the term Genius loci is related. It’s Latin, of course. In classical Roman religion, a genius loci was the protective spirit of a place. If you ever come across a picture of a figure holding a bowl or a snake, that’s probably an ornament of the genius loci. (The plural is genii, by the way.)

If you go to somewhere like Japan, or watch Japanese anime, you’ll see the Eastern equivalent, for example the butsudan in traditional Japanese homes. (A corner of a room where you put photos of dead loved ones and incense and food offerings.)

But here in the West we simply refer to ‘the spirit of the place’ rather than something that’s actively guarding. Light is important here. The genius loci is powered by the sun.

The term used to be used only in reference to gardens, but now can describe the spirit of any kind of place.

EXAMPLES OF PERSONIFIED HOUSES FROM LITERATURE

Drama, Mystery, Romance

Atonement house

However elegant the old Adam-style building had been, however beautifully it once commanded the parkland, the walls could not have been as sturdy as those of the baronical structure that replaced it, and its rooms could never have possessed the same quality of stubborn silence that occasionally smothered the Tallis home. Emily felt its squat presence now as she closed the front door on the search parties and turned to cross the hallway.

Atonement, Ian McEwan

Young Adult Novel, Drama

The House In Norham Gardens cover

Belbroughton Road. Linton Road. Bardwell Road. The houses there are quite normal. They are ordinary sizes and have ordinary chimneys and roofs and gardens with labournum and flowering cherry. Park Town. As you go south they are growing. Getting higher and odder. By the time you get to Norham Gardens they have tottered over the edge into madness: these are not houses but flights of fancy. They are three stories high and disguise themselves as churches. They have ecclesiastical porches instead of front doors and round norman windows or printed gothic ones, neatly grouped in threes with flaring brick to set them off. They reek of hymns and the Empire, Mafeking and the Khyber Pass, Mr Gladstone and Our Dear Queen. They have nineteen rooms and half a dozen chimneys and iron fire escapes. A bomb couldn’t blow them up, and the privet in their gardens has survived two World Wars.

The House In Norham Gardens by Penelope Lively

Drama

he Shipping News house

She ran with Sunshine up and down the curve or rock. The house threw their voices back at them, hollow and unfamiliar.

The gaunt building stood on rock. The distinctive feature was a window flanked by two smaller ones, as an adult might stand with protective arms around children’s shoulders. Fan lights over the door. Quoyle noticed half the panes were gone. Paint flaked from wood. Holes in the roof. The bay rolled and rolled.

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx