Week Four: Metaphors

By nuff
October 5, 2023
5 min read

This week, we're reading Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. The central thesis seems to be that metaphors are more than linguistic or rhetorical tools. Rather, they suggest metaphors are essential to the way we think ("most of our ordinary conceptual system is metaphorical in nature") and the way we act ("many of the things we do in arguing are partly structured by the concept of war"). While I found this argument pretty compelling, most of the examples in the reading ended up being about language, which I suppose is natural for a book, seeing as books are made of words.

The authors explain these types of metaphorical concepts as "understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another", a light and straightforward definition I would have struggled to arrive at but one that seems perfectly obvious after reading. On the argument-as-war topic, they note that this is not a flowery, slangy or otherwise contrived way of talking about arguments, it's the default way. They ask us to imagine a culture that used the metaphor of dancing instead of fighting—how might arguments be different in that case?

The last thing that struck me in the opening section of the reading was the idea that metaphors should not be total—"if it were total, one concept would actually be the other, not merely be understood in terms of it". I often find myself saying things like "that's where the metaphor falls apart", "not a perfect metaphor" or "it's not one-to-one". It never occurred to me that being incomplete might be the point.

Structural and Orientational

The authors make a distinction between a structural metaphor (mapping the structure of one concept onto another, such as arguments as war) and an orientational metaphor (mapping concepts to our understanding of physical space, such as happy as up). While reading this I went on a little side quest into the temporal/spatial metaphors of the Aymara:

The Aymara also feel time as motion, but for them, speakers face the past and have their backs to the future.
The Aymara word for past is transcribed as nayra , which literally means eye, sight or front. The word for future is q"ipa , which translates as behind or the back. 

Fascinating. But also kind of makes sense—we know the past and in that sense, can "see it".

Which sort of brings us to the last point of the reading. There are usually multiple possible metaphors for a given concept. You could think of the future as "forward", but also (in literate societies) as moving in the direction of reading in a given culture, as our video timelines now do. The authors suggest that the "winning" metaphor tends to be the most coherent with other conceptual metaphors. Happy is up and healthy is up reinforce each other.

My Metaphors

I tend to use metaphors much more loosely and illustratively. For example, in one of our first classes, I described what I would now call a procedural or multisequential medium (one that allows for nonlinear, multiple-choice input-output relationships) "a tango rather than a waltz". As far as metaphorical systems go, I certainly use the in-out spatial pairing to convey interest, willingness, participation or acceptance. Weirdly, I absolutely do not use it to describe trendiness, maybe because I'm offended by the idea that something trendy should be coherent with those other things.

I'm struggling to think of any metaphors or metaphorical systems in the world of puppetry but when it comes to our group theme (transgression), it's worth noting that the church often uses the language of flesh to discuss sin and sinfulness.


This is the part where I admit I haven't spoken to Puppet Works yet. BUT I have reached out to them and hope to interview them soon.

Project 01 Continues

I feel like I finally have the makings of a gameplan for this thing. Some updates:

  • I'm going to focus on the "how to puppet (but secretly how to puppet government)" idea. The Yoruba masquerade thing feels personally relevant and probably a thread I should pull on over the next few months, but not right now. It may even end up being what I do for the second CritEx project.
  • Digging the idea of making a tarnschriften style book(let). On one hand, I feel a bit iffy about co-opting Nazi resistance literature to make a ridiculous machiavellian tragicomedy. On the other hand, it is the perfect format.
  • Going back and forth over whether to start off with a straight-ahead puppetry guide and switch around page 6-7, as the classic tarnschriften did, or write a book that fully reads as a puppetry guide and only subliminally talks about overthrowing and installing a government
  • I want this to be funny. It's not meant to be serious either in a pro-authoritarianism or an activism kind of way. More...chaotic neutral?
  • It would be very, very cool indeed if somehow this guide could also become a puppet. Fold out into a big sheet, cut-and-fold kinda vibes?
  • I'd like to exercise some graphic design muscles here—risograph microtypography paperstock ipsum—but I'm worried all the other stuff will take too much time and energy for me to nudge a semicolon backwards and forwards for six hours.
  • I'm realising I actually don't know anything about puppet governments. More research, yay!
  • There are some interesting gen-AI subliminal hidden message things going on right now (the Obey one in that article is particularly appealing to me). I haven't been able to get Stable Diffusion to do this yet but I'm thinking the illustrations in the guide oculd all contain messages. Jonny (AI expert) thinks it's 5-10 hours of experimentation to get a good result.

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