Les Is No More (Les Coleman, 1945—2013)

Les Coleman (Geary’s Guide, p. 28) died on January 17. He was a kind and witty man, endlessly alert to the surreal and Dada-esque aspects of real life, which he translated into his visual and aphoristic art. I was fortunate to get to know Les over the past few years and on one visit to his South London home bought a work I treasure: a drawing of two goldfish swimming in separate compartments of a water-filled hourglass. “Les Coleman was a rare bird,” according to his friend and fellow artist Patrick Hughes, “a fine artist who devoted himself to comedy. All through his career Les stuck to his vision of art evoking laughter, a grim smile or a subtle grin.” That profound, absurdist comic vision is plain to see in Les’ wonderful aphorisms, of which I’ll never get enough…

A thorough inspection of the birthday suit revealed a number of holes.

True deception goes unnoticed.

Wind supports all flags no matter what the flag supports.

A bridge has no allegiance to either side.

The distance a goldfish swims is not controlled by the bowl.

Audience: play watched from the stage.

The more a ball bounces the less it bounces.

Puppets go to sleep the moment they break free from their strings.

Each page in a book knows its opposite page by heart.

Glass is silent until broken.

Headstone: death’s bookmark.

Metaphor and Innovation

The metaphor-minded, aphoristically inclined Dave Lull sends news of ‘Bad Metaphors, Bad Tech‘ by Rob Goodman in The Millions. “It’s only in terms of what’s old that the newest technologies make initial sense,” Goodman writes, a point also made beautifully by Owen Barfield in his exquisite book History in English Words: “When a new thing or a new idea comes into the consciousness of the community, it is described, not by a new word, but by the name of the pre-existing object which most closely resembles it.” Here’s a central paragraph from Goodman’s piece:

“More than smoothing over progress after the fact, metaphors themselves often drive progress. The insight that turned a balloon into a piece of Baroque art was the same kind of jump that turned a billowing shirt into a flying machine. But if smart figurative thinking can spark and explain new technologies, defective metaphors can do just the opposite. When the words and images we use to familiarize the new become too familiar — when metaphors start to die, or when we forget that they’re only tools — they can become some of the most powerful forces against innovation. It’s not always technical walls that stop change in its tracks. Sometimes, innovation is limited by language itself.”