Having just glided in from some snarly, humming but glorious Otherworld (i.e. leading a Vision Quest group up on Dartmoor), and removing the final burning embers from my tangled locks, i realise that is only weeks before i take the iron bird to Turtle Island to teach with Robert Bly and Daniel Deardorff the story of IRON JOHN over in Minnesota. My modest notes have swelled over the summer into a commentary on several of the stories un-chewed details. What i wanted to drop in here was a small section on metaphor i'm working on-as a kind of afterthought to the main essay. It's not finished, and twists around like a startled fish. I always fish with a straight hook anyway.
Metaphor as Magical Practice-
The Power of Imaginative Leaps
The metaphor is perhaps one of man's most fruitful potentialities.
Its efficacy verges on magic, and it seems a tool for creation which
God forgot inside one of His creatures when He made him.
(1) Jose Ortega y Gasset
I write when commanded by the spirits, and the moment I have
Written I see words flying about the room in all directions.
(2) William Blake, Ibid, p.21
Metaphor is always a linguistic turn of the head. Done well it provides a form of relief. Some green shape soars overhead and for a second the literalist in us scrambles for breath, a delicious blow to the heart winds us. But winds bring associations; venision, dust, the tang of the ocean. Metaphor is a way of allowing fresh air into the page or room or conversation.
In the terminology of this essay it is ‘forest language’; unwieldy sometimes, noisy, tangled, but offers dialogue with deep waters. But it also longs for its dancing partner of discernment and logos, to help affirm and hone its shape. I am suggesting metaphor as a gateway to the eternal,as a discipline to be practised, as a way of getting near the Wildmans spring with the golden fishes.
Something happens in the movement from simile to metaphor. When someone is no longer ‘like’ a troubled Lion but IS a troubled Lion, some kind of un-truth is rolled back , the imagistic power is clearer, truer. In the inclusive universe of metaphor could there also be a desire to reach out to certain sensed energies at the edge of our vision; that by offering associative incantation we attempt an accord with the occult, the river beneath the river. Is metaphors inclusiveness a kind of nervous twitch towards attempted control of ungovernable beings?
Art, no matter how minimalist, is never simply design. It is a ritualistic
reordering of reality. The enterprise of art, in a stable collective era
or an unsettled individualistic one, is inspired by anxiety.
Every subject localised and honoured by art is endangered by its opposite.
Art is a shutting in in order to shut out. Art is a ritualistic binding
of the perpetual motion machine that is nature….Contemplation is
a magical act.
(3) Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily
Dickinson, Penguin, 1990, p.29
In this light, myth-telling becomes a warding off, an attempt to define community agendas, to designate dance steps to all our shaggy fears. Are gatherings like the one in the Minnesota woods a collective attempt to shape a place for the unwieldy machinations of our terror-spots? Are we merely(as tellers) reassuring the crowd, standing sentry duty at the edge of the village?
I think Paglia is partially correct, but what she misses is the ecstatic, the leap, the joyous quality in arts propulsive mutterings. She lingers too long in paranoia. Art is not always an attempt to neuter nature, but sometimes an offering honestly given. The assumption also that Art is somehow devoid of impulses from the wild is artificial also, it’s not simply one-way traffic.
The Cunning Man or Woman does not go into the wild to dictate terms, but to hold the efficacy of the tribe in dialogue with the majestic and troubling mirror of the living world. Levels of surrender are paramount to the experience. Whilst holding certain truths, in this instance Paglia still feels too anthropocentric. Blakes’s being ‘commanded by the spirits’ hardly indicates dominion.
This is not to deny the libational quality of the experience, but also to re-emphasise the un-scripted process described in chapter one. As tellers we are not trying to unduly wrestle a shape onto the moment but to stay honestly curious to the vaguries of the stories movement through the hut, psyche and community. We don’t seek a homegenized picture, but many image-centres opening in the body, jostling for position. As Yeats’ says;
A symbol is a metaphor which does not have a restrictive first
term and which consequently has an indefinite number of meanings.
(4) W.B. Yeats, Poet as Mythmaker, Morton Irving Seiden , Michigan State University Press, 1962, p 4.
It is also vital to re-emphasise the element of impurity in the process. This isn’t an aspiration towards some imagined ‘right way of doing things’, a Saturnian return to some by-gone era. It is wrong to start hacking away completely at the street-savvy 21st century individual you also carry with you. The point is that’s it’s not all you are. The Peur and the Senex find a troublesome accord in the mythworld. The Peur carries the ambitious leaps of the imagination, the Senex is activated by both the connection to history and the repetitive quality of storytelling. Too much Senex and the story feels prescriptive, too much Peur and there is no archetypal resonance.
So as tellers we are mongrels, anti the pure-strain, beset with contradiction.
Yet Yeats’ poems are not in the strictest sense true to their ancient
prototypes. If he was primarily an Irish poet, he was also an author
writing in English and studying and being influenced by the masters
of English literature. The country of his birth may have given to his
muse her loveliest robes and the pedestal on which she stood; but
the jewels she wore came from across the Irish Sea. When he grew
past middle age, Yeats gave her a crown of flowers, the leaves and
petals of which he had gathered in the gardens of Europe and
the Orient. His muse was Irish but his pose was international.
(5 ) Morton Irving Seiden, Ibid, p.7
So as three tellers we come to the story not naïve to its history but also open to its present. Constellations of ideas formed around it may break off like exhausted crustations. On the other hand the community telling may mean that certain folks hold rigidly to old perceptions of the tale. In some ways this event is a microcosm of the relationship men and women have had with myth for thousands of years. Will the story breathe or will attempts be made to hold it frozen, becoming concrete, or ‘iron’, before our very eyes? A heavy religion.
Art is suggestive rather than explicit: it makes no attempt to persuade into a general agreement or provide mediocre levels of explanation. And the whole value of all culture disciplines is in this objective statement of vision.
(6) Northrop Fyre, Fearful Symmentry: A Study of William Blake, Princeton Paperback, 1947, p.87.
The artist does not seek unity; he seeks to unite various things, and the divine imagination of God is similarly a unity of varieties. “Exuberance is Beauty” says Blake: no one ever has enough imagination until he has too much, just as a volcano is never active until it spills over.
(5) Ibid, p.99.