Metaphor as a Metaphor for Life

Ulrich realizes that his life has followed two tracks, which he sees metaphorically as two trees.

These two trees were the shape his life had taken, like a two-pronged fork. He could not say when it had entered into the sign of the tree with the hard, tangled branchwork, but it had happened early on, for even his immature Napoleonic plans had shown him to be a man who looked on life as a problem he had set himself, something it was his vocation to work out.

…Harder to recognize because more shadowy and dreamlike were the ramifications of the other tree that formed an image for his life, rooted perhaps in some primal memory of a childlike relationship to the world, all trustfulness and yielding, which had lived on as a haunting sense of having once beheld the whole vast earth in what normally only fills the flowerpot in which the herbs of morality send up their stunted sprouts. (I,646)

He sees a way to integration through another metaphor.

Now, as he realized that this failure to achieve integration had lately been apparent to him in what he called the strained relationship between literature and reality, metaphor and truth, it flashed on Ulrich how much all this signified than any random insight that turned up in one of those meandering conversations he had recently engaged in with the most inappropriate people. These two basic strategies, the figurative and the unequivocal, have been distinguishable ever since the beginnings of humanity. Single-mindedness is the law of all waking thought and action, as much present in a compelling logical conclusion as in the mind of the blackmailer who enforces his will on his victim step by step, and it arises from the exigencies of life where only the single-minded control of circumstances can avert disaster. Metaphor, by contrast, is like the image that fuses several meanings in a dream; it is the gliding logic of the soul, corresponding to the way things relate to each other in the intuitions of art and religion. But even what there is in life of common likes and dislikes, accord and rejection, admiration, subordination, leadership, imitation, and their opposites, the many ways man relates to himself and to nature, which are not yet and perhaps never will be purely objective, cannot be understood in other than metaphoric or figurative terms.  No doubt what is called the higher humanism is only the effort to fuse together these two great halves of life, metaphor and truth, once they have been carefully distinguished from each other. But once one has distinguished everything in a metaphor that might be true from what is mere froth, one usually has gained a little truth, but at the cost of destroying the whole value of the metaphor. (I,647)


2 Responses to “Metaphor as a Metaphor for Life”

  1. Michael A. Roberts Says:

    Yes. This is at the heart of M’s rhetorical project, his logic of tropes.

    • Jim Everett Says:

      I agree. He wants scientific metaphor, but is aware that a focus on either comes “at the cost of destroying the whole value of the metaphor.”

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