Tuesday, April 11, 2006


Snow of Spring

by Rolf-Peter Wille

"And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name."


On the mountain road our car stops and we want to enjoy the snow of spring. "Snow of spring" — what a poetic metaphor, and full of conflict! Spring is the time when we want to dance with flowers. Snow is the purity of my loneliness in winter. But there is no conflict. These "snowflakes of spring" are little white flowers that fall from the trees in May. I try to build a spring-snowman of white flowers. Unlike real snowflakes the flowers do not stick together. Then I pick a little red flower from the roadside and throw it into the white "snow." "This is a foreigner," I say. But it is just another little flower, a little red snowflake.
When the car leaves we hear a faint noise of rustling as thousands and thousands of little white flowers, and maybe one little red flower, are crushed by the wheels. "This is me," I think. I am a lonely little red flower in a sea of white flowers, but at least I shall be crushed into the others by the wheels. But not all the little flowers are crushed. We covered the windshield with hundreds of them. We are in a "wedding car" rolling down the mountain road. Back in the valley only a single white flower is left on the windshield, caught by the wiper. The rest is "gone with the wind." "This is me," I think.

Maybe it is also you.

Why are you always feeling lonely? And why are you always lost? Why do you think of spring in winter and of winter in spring? And what makes you find red flowers when you see white ones? And why are you not happy to be lost in the white snow of spring? Being "midway upon the journey of life" you could have found yourself "within a forest dark" like Dante at the opening of his Commedia. (I am not talking about the Dante Cafeteria here but about the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, 1265-1321, writer of the Divine Comedy.) And you would have to go through Inferno first before entering Purgatorio and Paradiso. "Dark forest" sounds too civilized, you think. "Jungle" would be a better metaphor.

So, here you are. Lost in a jungle. How come, you are lost in a jungle, right now?

The answer is very easy: Because you are reading this essay, and I, the author, had the crazy idea of seducing you with the "snow of spring." You followed me. Suddenly I turned the "I" into a "you" and then, using Dante as an excuse, I suddenly dropped you in a dark jungle and you did not even protest.

And how do you get out of the jungle?

The answer is easy again: You remember that you are reading an essay, written by me. You either say that I am nuts and stop reading this, or you trust me to be your "Virgil" (Roman poet who is Dante’s leader in the Commedia) who leads you out of the jungle. But let us assume now — since you are reading on — that you are really lost in a jungle. Let us assume further that this is a contemporary jungle of information and, quite absurdly but truthfully, each information in this jungle, each tree, each bush, each little white flower, each little red flower is pretending to be Virgil.

Now, this is a very fancy and surrealistic image. You are a modern Dante lost in a jungle of millions of Virgils (silva vergiliorum). More absurdly: Each little Virgil, or each information, represents a fragment of your own memory. The jungle is nothing but your beautiful home, torn apart, distorted.

How do you find back?

How do you remember that you are lost? How do you recognize the jungle as a jungle? How do you know that you don’t know? The memory of your home cannot be lost and your desire to be home is not lost. Only the clear image of your home is lost.

Let us leave the jungle for a moment and go into a Beethoven sonata. It will be nice to hear some music and relax for a while. But I am in a diabolic mood today. I do not put you into a beautiful theme but throw you right into a development section. "Diabolic" is the correct word here. "Dia ballein" = to throw across. Sorry, but you are in a jungle of disjunct harmony and fragmented melody. How does the music find it’s theme? If you are a musician you can learn from the development sections (the jungles) of Beethoven’s sonata-form movements: At the moment of greatest chaos the sonata "remembers." It recognizes a fragment as a member of its motivic club and regroups. At first it seems the devil is throwing letters at random, but suddenly our memory recognizes a word. Memory turns the diabol into a symbol. "Syn ballein" = to throw together. The word repeats and makes sense attracting more words to form a sentence. The home is rebuilt from the jungle. And who is the great architect, our savior? Of course it is Beethoven. (I hope you did not forget that I dropped you into a Beethoven sonata.)

I hope you have noticed, that this is a very diabolic essay. I have dropped you into the snow of spring, then into a dark jungle and then into the development section of a Beethoven sonata. I have intentionally confused you. But I hope you can recognize the symbolic meaning. A development is a jungle. This is a metaphor: A jungle is chaotic. A development is chaotic. The similarity between these two chaotic entities is not a chaos. It is symbolic. An idea emerges behind the different forms of chaos: Chaos is a moment in a journey. Chaos is a moment in a composition. We are not lost. We are composed while traveling. It does not matter which Virgil we follow at first, as long as we recognize him as a metaphor.

"Metaphor," I recognize, is a metaphor. "Meta pherein" = to carry over (to transfer). The meaning of one term is carried like wine in an amphora to the other one. I take the wine of meaning (this sounds quite biblical) from its source, let’s say the jungle, and carry it (in an amphora on my head) all the way to the target, sonata in our example, and…, voilà: my jungle eyes will see all those wild lianas in the development section of that sonata. The "jungle" becomes my viewpoint, my concept, my aspect, my theory from which I observe "development."

The source concept (father) "impregnates" the target concept (mother) giving birth to the baby metaphor (which will either die young or grow up into a mature concept). Is it the "father" who dominates this act? To quote Einstein: "It is the theory that decides what can be observed." Or, to put it more sarcastically: "To a hammer the whole world looks like a nail" (Michael Ryce). But firstly, even to the hammer some things look more like nails than others and secondly, the theory, even if it is by Einstein, will change during the observation. The observed stares back at the observer, and (as we know from Heisenberg) observing an object changes it. It means of course: There are no objective objects. This makes a lot of sense as objects are observed by subjects and an observing object makes an object out of the subject (and vice versa, of course). Or, being more practically again, there is nothing that prevents a nail from viewing everything as a wall, including the hammer. All we have to do is turn the nail around and nail it into the hammer (quite possible, if we have a steel nail and a wooden hammer). It goes without saying that this procedure changes the hammer and I believe, your subjective image of "hammer" has already changed in this "upside down" picture. Likewise, if a jungle starts to stare at a sonata, it will have to live with the possibility, that the sonata will see the jungle as a development section of sonata-form. The jungle will definitely change as a result, because several aspects of sonata-form will stick to the idea of jungle. Since a development is only a section of the linear unfolding of a certain type of composition, we may view "jungle" as only a temporary environment in the linear unfolding of a certain type of nature on earth.
In other words, and to put it metaphorically, the wine of meaning is carried back and forth between all the concepts until everybody (regardless of who is source and who is target) gets quite drunk. The great philosophical question at this point is this: Do the concepts seek each other to get drunk, or is it the wine that wants to play with the concepts? The answer would be a synthesis, or better a new metaphor, involving the two old antagonists of this question, the material (the concepts, or form of knowledge) and the spiritual (the God, the idea). The material wants to be inspired and the spirit wants to incarnate, become flesh, or form. The birth of a metaphor, no matter how private, how seemingly insignificant, is an incarnation. It is the instant when the spirit out of contemplating itself suddenly springs into form and stands before us as a reality. The contemplation is an act of comparison, or stronger: impregnation. Various concepts and experiences of our soul observe themselves in search for analogies. They want to find analogy as a memory of a shared background, of an original heritage, a vaguely remembered state of authentic wholesomeness. Quite mysteriously the instant of finding establishes itself as a gesture in time and space, as a rhythmic figure or verbal metaphor, as an image to be seen, to be heard and thus our dreamy soul is contemplating itself into solid structure.

"At that moment, when the true Ideas (archetypes) rise up, there occurs in the soul of him who sees them an altogether indescribable process of the highest intensity. It is the amazed awe that Plato speaks of in the Phaedrus, with which the soul remembers, as it were, something it had unconsciously possessed all along..." (Heisenberg).

We could thus describe metaphor as the avatar of an archetype, or original idea. Interestingly there exist two quite different uses of "avatar" (Sanskrit: "ava tarati" = he crosses down). Originally the "one who crosses down" is a Hindu god (Vishnu), and the avatar is his incarnation. Metaphorically speaking you could call your shadow your avatar, and it would be ironic to see your shadow as an incarnation. But "avatar" is also used metaphorically to denote a computer user’s digital manifestation in a virtual world, some comic icon that represents you in online games and chat rooms and that you can move around the screen with your mouse. My God, Vishnu, preserver of the universe: How far have you crossed down, that you can be moved by a mouse? But the Hindu god in our digital metaphor is not Vishnu. It is you, the user. By reverse metaphoric transfer we have to call an avatar, such as Buddha, the "comic icon of a god," some virtual image that the god can move around the screen of our universe with his mouse.

By metaphoric transfer any projection could be regarded as an avatar: A few years ago I was looking for Dvorák’s grave in a Prague cemetery. All of a sudden I noticed a perfect white circle on the stone floor. It was not painted. Instinctively I looked upwards and noticed that I was standing under the cupola of a small chapel. Birds were nesting inside the cupola perched around the circular cornice and their droppings had projected the exact geometrical form of the cupola onto the ground. It would be possible to say that the cupola used the birds to create an avatar. It crossed down to the ground. But the birds could claim those artistic droppings as their own masterwork. They were using the cupola. Animals do use droppings as "avatars" to mark out their territory. In a German fairy-tale a young girl, apprentice of an old witch, uses her saliva as an avatar. She spits and escapes while the avatar, her saliva, continues to talk to the old witch. After the saliva dries up it stops talking. The witch notices the deceit and starts to pursue the girl.

But let us go back to the metaphor "incarnation." In the Christian universe "the word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John the Apostle). This metaphor refers to Jesus Christ, who is not only God’s avatar but also yours (in case you are human), because as a metaphor Christ was born when the concept God, via the amphora of the Holy Spirit impregnated the concept human (Maria). I hope you will not ask whose mouse is controlling this avatar now. But I hope you will notice the diabolical intent in my jokes. Attacking holy symbols or holy metaphors is diabolical. It deconstructs existing concepts. Yet my jokes are also symbolical. By relating religious and digital metaphors, as I have done here, the former ones are ridiculed but the latter ones ennobled. And, ultimately, relating metaphors creates new ones, creates new structure, and this is anti-diabolic. The devil, in case you have not noticed, is very shy. He only operates as the negative of creation, or as its "collateral damage." The moment he is recognized, he becomes a symbol, participates in the creation and thus stops being a devil.

It is possible to see symbol and diabol as complementary aspects of metaphor. If the Revelation says: "Great Babylon ruined! She made all the nations drunk on the wine of her whoring" this creates a strong symbol for the concept of human decadence and a great diabol for the idea of feminine purity. The metaphor paints a strongly disgusting image brutally blending the concepts of city, power, woman, prostitution, alcohol, bodily fluids, enjoyment, destruction and I do believe that anything dipped into this delicious blend will change its flavor forever. When Saddam talked about the "mother of all battles" this metaphor immediately seduced our secret longing for strong biblical language. In an instant Saddam created millions of new mothers. If you conduct a digital search, you will find "the mother of all search engines," "the mother of all art history link pages," "the mother of all maritime links," the mother of all excuses, all conspiracies, all pregnancy books, all vote frauds, and millions of other proud new mothers. The mother of all these imitation metaphors must be a very fertile symbol indeed. But quite diabolically it has changed our idea of a mother. The dear mother of you and me, the "mother of pearl," the "mother goose" and the "Mother of God" have become a mother of all kind of stuff. She doesn’t care what species she is giving birth to as long as it includes all specimens of it. She must be a sister of the great whore of Babylon, or maybe even, God forbid, the "mother of all great whores of all Babylons."

We can see in these examples that the battle of symbol and diabol is the mother of all metaphors (and vice versa of course). We are invited to join in this frenetic activity with all our heart. But I do believe there is something like a quality of metaphor and an ethics of metaphor. Maybe we have to be responsible for what concepts we throw into the blend.
Yet ultimately my loyalty is neither with the concepts nor with the metaphors. My loyalty is with the carrier of the amphora, or maybe with the wine (as long as it is not the wine of Babylon’s whoring). Metaphors can be beautiful flowers but they still fall from the trees like the little white ones on the mountain road. They will get crushed by the wheels. Even the little red one.

home sweet home

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