Under the Green Desk Lamp…
In our last article, ‘Without Words’ we reflected on the idea of what the world would be like without the vocabulary to define it. The concept was an interesting one to write about and consider; ultimately, it got us thinking back on another article we wrote, ‘The Metaphorical Imperative’.
The Metaphorical Imperative, for those who don’t recall, was a notion we explored about the source of and meaning behind creativity. In a nutshell, the idea is that as human beings evolved and our cerebral capacity expanded, the ability to question our world or ask ‘why’ would have appeared around the same time as the ability to use abstract conjecture to answer the question. These activities are certainly tied to language, although they need not be defined by it. Still, for the purposes of this article, we will take articulated thought as the base point for our considerations.
The fundamental assertion behind the concept of ‘The Metaphorical Imperative’ is that if humans owe any reverence or thanks for their current state, we owe it to the incredible work of evolutionary architecture that is our own minds—not to any god, devil, or undefined miscreant in between.
The need for existential reassurance, the fear of death, and the question of what we are and why we are here; these are all the direct products of a brain grown sufficiently complex to wrestle with such abstractions, and this alone is more miraculous and better cause for celebration than any story I’ve read in a holy book.
But that leads us to the next point. If our ability to ask questions is a miracle, what can be aid of our ability to create the answers for them?
Metaphor is the abstract use of one object to find or create meaning in another. If abstract thought is the impetus for asking ‘why’, then the tool for answering it is metaphor. My contention is that these abilities would have evolved in relatively close proximity to one another, representing a true ‘awakening’ of humanity.
If we are to discuss metaphor and meaning, we might as well start with one of the most famous—and central to our current topic. In the Garden of Eden, it’s said that Eve (that reckless upstart) ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and thus doomed mankind forever.
Thanks a lot, Eve.
I find an interesting parallel in this. This fruit, the ‘knowledge of good and evil’ which caused mankind’s fall from innocence, is symbolically comparable to the notion of the Metaphorical Imperative, in which we gain both the ability to question our nature, and the skill to fashion suitable answers.
But it’s really the answers that interest me here; the nourishing apples to the terrible hunger of ennui. Via our ability to create meaning, the human race has tapped into our most fundamental and defining abilities: creation, art, and belief.
The power of this ability might be observed most directly in expressions such as organized religion, whose depth of belief has inspired acts of miraculous empathy and terrible cruelty. But the power of metaphor isn’t limited to religion alone. Any story—TV shows, books movies, video games—has the power through metaphor to provide just as much as religion to anyone with the ability to relate to it on a personal or psychological level.
Stories are the foundation of all culture; ideas, philosophy, art and religion, the fundamental basis of humanity can be defined as the ability to dream things up in a way they are not.
There are no exceptions. Whether it’s sports, gods, science-fiction, or science alone, everyone places their trust in some grand idea, anchoring their hopes and aspirations to some intangible notion that rings true to them.
Luke Skywalker, Aragorn, The New Orleans Saints, Zen Buddhism, Zeus and Allah and Jesus, all the angels in heaven and demons in hell have sprung from this one key human drive. All art is the product of the metaphorical imperative, and stands as testament to everything which makes us human.
But here an important consideration arises in our series of metaphors. If, as suggested earlier, this key drive which makes us human (for both good and ill) was represented as the great deception of the devil in the garden, then perhaps all artists are in fact worshipping the devil.
Perhaps the development of consciousness and desire in humans was an accident—a random fluke forever changing the course of our species. No doubt we would have existed in perfect harmony with our environment if we’d never developed the capacity to believe we are separate or better.
Maybe it’s a good thing, and maybe not. But although this cerebral capacity has led to great pain and suffering throughout history, I refuse to believe it is not also the thing which will see us to what we need to become. Creation and metaphor, for all our missteps, define us as the beautiful, shining bastards we are, and will someday show us just how incredible we can truly be.
All we need to find is the right story.
-Brad OH Inc.