Yet Another Complaint about Orwell

Among my least favorite sentences in “Politics and the English Language” is “The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image.”

At this blog and elsewhere I have complained about this risible presumption on various grounds.  I have railed about Orwell’s singling up the aims for which one might deploy a metaphor because I hold that metaphors are appropriate means to many ends.  I have laughed at the expedience of Orwell’s presumption in the context in which it appears in his classic essay because Orwell’s dictate so facilely and foolishly served his argument more than the truth.  I have derided Orwell for presuming that all or most readers read visually rather than in alternative modes, doubtless because I seldom visualize while I read.

In this entry I come to senses.  I do not come to my senses. I come to the senses of all humans.  Humans have senses other than sight.  Why wouldn’t humans use or interpret metaphors using other senses as well as vision?  The simile “cool  as a cucumber,” for example, calls up temperature and texture perceived via touch, not vision.  When Stuart Scott proclaims on ESPN that a play or player is “as cool as the other side of the pillow,” I decode that simile by means of tactile feeling, which is sensible because I seldom can see the other side of the pillow.  Did Orwell scrutinize many deafening silences or discreet silences?  When someone wrote that another should “play it by ear,” did Orwell visualize the notes or the ear?  A film detective smelled a rat;  I hope Orwell did not imagine that metaphor visually [or at all].  I believe that the phrases “salty remark” and “salty humor” are metaphors or metaphoric.  I doubt that they are based on visualization of salt either in piles or in shakers.  

If in detective fiction Orwell encountered a red herring, did the redness throw him or others off the trail, or was the smoky odor or briny taste [tasted through olfactory organs] more pungent than the fact that the flesh of the kippered fish had turned red?  Perhaps Orwell had in mind hounds that tracked via their visual acuity rather than their noses?

Metaphors are often too abstract to involve senses much at all.  Food for thought” may be too abstract to call up anything;  if one visualizes a banquet or a snack, however, I suspect one is in the minority.  What visual does “boggles the mind” call forth?  Would Orwell dodge that one [and some others above] by denying that they were metaphors?

Give it up, George!


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