Monday, April 18, 2011

The Danger in Metaphors

It takes very little before we identify ourselves with a fictional character.

Suppose you're a girl, but feel more comfortable with a boy's haircut, have a loyal dog, and generally wanting to always challenge authority. Meet Georgina a.k.a. George.

Suppose you're an orphan, living close with a pampered cousin that always receive a better deal, better toys than you. You'll find it easy to imagine you're Harry Potter.

Suppose you're a girl just moved in to new neighborhood. People tell you you're clumsy, and you feel you have had no luck with boys. You should beware lest you identify yourself with Bella Swan.

If I stop here at three examples, it's really not for the lack of examples.

But thinking you had something in common with Harry Potter is a relatively harmless association, because will it all you want, no owl will suddenly knock your window to invite you to Hogwarts. To some extent, so is an association with Bella Swan. Though if you're a girl who wants an uninvited creep to watch you sleeping, I'd wager some will be willing to grant your wish. Too willing, even.

Then what if the character that you're associating is just a step above ordinary? The character you associate with does not wave magical wands to levitate objects, nor does she have an idiotic urge to be a vampire. Would then you be able to separate where fantasy ends and reality begins?

I guess this is what Tomas in Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being unwittingly committed himself into. By identifying Tereza as a child put in a bulrush basket and sent downstream and he as a Pharaoh's daughter that snatch baby Moses, he assigned characters for himself and Tereza.

See, this is why Kundera then wrote,
"Tomas did not realize at the time that metaphors are dangerous. Metaphors are not to be trifled with. A single metaphor can give birth to love."

By putting himself in a Moses metaphor, Tomas bind his action to follow his character in the metaphor. He then took Tereza in to his life (snatching the basket out of the river), and guardew her, which subsequently grew compassion.

When you employ a metaphor, associate a character for your own life, lest you be able to separate truth from fiction, you will follow in your metaphorical character's step. If anything, for consistency's sake.

And I fear we often do so voluntarily.

Because so powerful is our desire to see the future, the metaphors that we employ become our means to divine our future, forecasting the result of the action that we take by means of the result that our metaphorical characters took.


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