Walker Percy Wednesday 160


An unvarying element in the situation is a pointing at by context. There must occur a preliminary meeting of minds and a mutually intended subject before anything can be said at all. The context may vary all the way from a literal pointing-by-finger and naming in the aboriginal naming act, to the pointing context of the poem which specifies the area where the metaphor is to be applied. There is a reciprocal relationship between the selectivity of the pointing and the univocity of the metaphor: The clearer the context and the more unmistakable the pointing, the greater latitude allowed the analogy ofthe metaphor. The aboriginal naming act is, in this sense, the most obscure and the most creative of metaphors; no modern poem was ever as obscure as Miss Sullivan’s naming water water for Helen Keller. A perfectly definite something is only the most tenuous analogical similarities.*

Given the situation of naming and hearing, there can only be one of three issues to an act of pointing at and naming. What is said will either be old, that is, something we already know and know quite overtly; or something new, and if it is utterly new, I can only experience bafflement; or new-old, that is, something that I had privately experienced but which was not available to me because it had never been formulated and rendered intersubjective. Metaphor is the true maker of language. The creative relationship of inscape, the distinctive reality as it is apprehended, and the distanced metaphor is illustrated by Hopkins’s nature metaphors. His favorite pursuit in the nature journals is the application of striking (sometimes strained) like-yet-unlike metaphors to nature inscapes. There are some pleasing effects. A bolt of lightning is

a straight stroke, broad like a stroke with chalk and liquid, as if the blade of an oar just stripped open a ribbon scar in smooth water and it caught the light.

* The old debate, started in the Cratylus, goes on as lively as ever: what is the relation between the name and the thing, between the word green and the color green, between slice and slice, tree and tree? Most linguists would probably say there is no relation, that the name is purely an arbitrary convention (except in a few cases like boom), that any seeming resemblance is false onomatopoeia (no matter how much you might imagine that slice resembles and hence expresses the act of slicing, it really does not).

But here again, do likeness and unlikeness exhaust the possibilities?

Apparently not. Curtius remarks that “despite all change, a conservative instinct is discernible in language. All the peoples of our family from the Ganges to the Atlantic designate the notion of standing by the phonetic group sta-; in all of them the notion of flowing is linked with the group plu, with only slight modifications. This cannot be an accident. Assuredly the same notion has remained associated with the same sounds through all the millennia, because the peoples felt a certain inner connection between the two, i.e. , because of an instinct to express this notion by these particular sounds. The assertion that the oldest words presuppose some relation between sounds and the representations they designate has often been ridiculed. It is difficult, however, to explain the origin of language without such assumptions.”

It is this “inner connection” which concerns us. The sounds plu and sta, which could hardly be more different fro m the acts of flowing and standing, must nevertheless exhibit some mysterious connection which the mind fastens upon, a connection which, since it is not a kind of univocal likeness, must be a kind of analogy.

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