Sunday, 23 September 2012

Homer, Proust and the simile...


Was reading a bit of Homer on holiday, and wondering about the function of simile and metaphor, and the world they presuppose.

“Joy.. warm as the joy that children feel/ When they see their father’s life dawn again./ One who’s lain on a sickbed racked with torment./ Wasting away,/ Wasting away, slowly, under some angry power’s onslaught.”

Joy, or whatever emotion, is always embodied, implicated in some object, wedded to some event or person. It is not yet some abstract emotion which can fill out any random thing indiscriminately. It never fades into some purely conceptual realm, a pure dictionary-like definition.

With the Homeric simile, the sense is not that you are - through artifice - knitting the world together through analogies, but that the world is knit together through analogies. What is presupposed here is a world of correspondences, whereby one experience receives light and definition from another analogous one, not from some prior concept. Common forms of longing, satisfaction, or whatever, bring together the most seeming disparate activities.


Also,what takes place tangibly in the world is always the image and yardstick of mental events. There is no specifically 'psychological' lexicon. “Burn this into your brain” ‘metaphorizes’ the physical world in order to talk about (what we would now call) the ‘mental’. It is as if cauterizing and memorizing have the same form. The language of ‘psychology’ and of action are not, as in our world, dissimilar and differently structured.

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I was thinking it would be interesting to compare the Homeric simile with that of Proust:

"it is only that life is growing more and more quiet about me that I hear them [Marcel's boyhood sobs] anew, like those convent bells which are so effectively drowned during the day by the noises of the street that one would suppose them to have stopped, until they ring out again through the silent evening air."

 The emergence of the bells into a clearing of silence, their insistent rhythm, lulling and numbing at once, share the same form as those sobs buried deep within his memory. But it seems that in Proust, the bells of the town are only 'useful' in so far as they serve as an optical instrument for illuminating the inner life of the I.

So, is it that the Proustian simile works to define a unity within the subject (the 'I') rather than one which abides in the world?

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