A Metaphorical Hat Trick

The metaphorically minded, aphoristically inclined Dave Lull sends links to three recent pieces on your favorite topic and mine: metaphor…

First, a nice overview of ‘metaphorical effects’, “instances in which a metaphor commonly used to describe a psychological state or social reality can, in turn, induce that state or reality,” writes Lisa Wade in Pacific Standard, including becoming suspicious when the odor of fish is present.

Second, an exploration of whether the brain notices, or cares, about the differences among literal, metaphorical, and idiomatic expressions, by Michael Chorost in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Third, a critique of Chorost’s piece by Micah Mattix in The American Conservative.

Still More Aphorisms by Beston Jack Abrams

I first published some of Beston Jack Abrams’s Abramisms in 2007, then again in 2011, and once more in 2012. Having come to aphorisms late in life, Mr. Arbrams is nothing if not prolific. He returns here with more astute observations on silence, solitude and setbacks…

Nothing causes greater adherence to an opinion than opposition to it.

As adversity recedes so does innovation.

Small steps are as valuable as big ones: in the end they bring us to the same place.

It is clear we agree that truth is beauty; therefore it must also be clear that untruths are ugly.

Opinions are robust: they persist without support.

Few silences are unbiased.

Silence is a portable sanctuary.

The first impression reveals as much about the observer as the observed.

Death can be defined as the exhaustion of our options.

Contentment wears slippers; curiosity wears boots.

Unsuccessful people are essential since without them how would we know we are superior.

Metaphor and Vaccination

On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss is an investigation into and rumination upon vaccination, the cultural myths and fears surrounding it, and the deliberations new parents must make when deciding whether they should or shouldn’t vaccinate their children. The book was inspired by the birth of Biss’s first child, but it is also deeply informed by Biss’s engagement with metaphor. “The British call it a ‘jab,’ and Americans, favoring guns, call it a ‘shot,'” she writes. “Either way, vaccination is violence … The metaphors we find in this gesture are overwhelmingly fearful, and almost always suggest violation, corruption, and pollution.” If you’re looking for a smart analysis of the confluence of metaphor and medical decisions, this is it. Here’s a review from the LATimes, an interview from NPR and a sneak peek from publisher Graywolf.

Schopenhauer and “the art of not reading”

During an afternoon of reading and writing, came across this timely rumination by Leland de la Durantaye in the Harvard Review, “The Art of Ignorance: An Afterword to Ludwig Börne.” The article features a translation of Börne’s prescient essay “The Art of Becoming an Original Writer in Three Days”, about which I blogged back in 2006, and goes on to consider Börne’s influence on Freud and Schopenhauer’s typically ornery take on a world in which there is too much to read because too much is published. Sound familiar?

Schopenhauer is , of course, author of one of the best aphorisms about reading:

Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them in: but as a rule the purchase of books is mistaken for the appropriation of their contents.

An excerpt from de la Durantaye’s short piece follows, but the article is worth reading in full.

“In 1851, towards the end of a long life of reading, Schopenhauer wrote of the “high importance” of “the art of not reading. This was a response to new developments—what he called “the literature which in our days is spreading like weeds.” This “Unkraut der Literatur” that, in his view, threatened to overrun the age is what he was seeking to address. His dialectical mind was not long in finding the means to this end.

If there was too much to read, the solution was to not read. For Schopenhauer, a singular danger awaited those who did not cultivate this “art of not reading.” This was that the clever minds of the day might become “der Tummelplatz fremder Gedanken,” the “playground of others’ thoughts.”

To make the matter clear he offered a comparison. Just as in physical matters when someone never walks but only ever rides, he will sooner or later lose the ability to move of his own accord, so too, he reasoned, must things proceed in mental matters. Given the profusion of things to read, he worried that his age would “read itself stupid.” It was to counter this danger that he recommended his special art.”

The Many Metaphors for Ebola

“Is Ebola the ISIS of biological agents? Is Ebola the Boko Haram of AIDS? Is Ebola the al-Shabaab of dengue fever?” Teju Cole wonders in this hilarious New Yorker post