I Wish I Could Know

I enjoyed this:

“We live by metaphor, even if we are not given to translating into words those complex combinations of emotions and the sensuous information our brains accumulate. The fine lyric poet reveals metaphors to us not as the baubles and decorative exempla of argument, but as the source and origin, the power before which mere statement pales because only metaphor can be both precisely concrete and richly suggestive, both utterly mundane and mysterious at the same time.”

T. Alan Broughton
A Little NightMusic:
The Narrative of Metaphor

For many years I have been struggling to understand why little children can sometimes clearly see things that wise adults can’t and why primitive tribesmen can sense wonders and truths in the world around them that civilized Europeans completely overlook. I’m not refering here to survival skills, but to what seem to be innate spiritual perceptions of things so obvious we don’t like to say them.

I’ve come to the tentative conclusion, at least, that the reason lies in the excesses of the Western habit of analysis, a habit rooted in a corruption of Cartesian “dubiousness” and the terror of being misled by an authority. There seems to be no greater shame to an American than to think an unoriginal thought or to be fooled by a leader.

Which means, of course, that we spend most of our lives swimming in a cesspool of shame.

Maybe it’s ironic, but at the root of this anxiety and doubt is a lack of confidence, not only in authorities (religious and secular), not only in nature itself, but even in our own ability to make sound decisions or judgments. After all, would authority bother us so much if we felt confident in our ability to assess it? We are, it would seem, very scared.

As the years blear past me, and as I watch others and myself think, I do so with a genuine fascination, wonder, delight, and sometimes fear. And I become ever more certain that there are things we all know – and also that we can make a lot of progress just enjoying that knowledge. We are driven from this knowing by the fear I mentioned earlier.

We can be delivered from the fear by thinking like children again. It may be that metaphor is the path back to that childlike state. If nothing else, every metaphor admits what we already know: that everything is like everything else, no matter how different, and that the world we live in makes beautiful, mysterious, sublime, terrifying, ecstatic sense.

I don’t know, but maybe Robert Browning was talking about this knowledge when he wrote:

Truth is within ourselves; it takes no rise
From outward things… and to KNOW
Rather consists in opening out a way
Whence the imprisoned splendour may escape,
Than in effecting entry for a light
Supposed to be without. Watch narrowly
The demonstration of a truth, its birth,
And you trace back the effluence to its spring
And source within us; where broods radiance vast,
to be elicited ray by ray…

I say, “Maybe,” because I can’t be sure what he means. But it seems to be drawing on something that resonates. He later adds this:

Hence may not truth be lodged alike in all,
The lowest as the highest?

One of my friends is a young man whose brain has been damaged by violent assaults, but one thing he does better than I seem able is to see the beauty of simple things, like dogs. I am caninically retarded. I try to make up for it with wit. He just loves things.

He, clearly, is the highest; I, clearly, am the lowest. May the good God of light raise me to his level.

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