Metaphorical Thinking, Part II

So I’ve been thinking about George W. Bush’s repetition of the phrase “Evil Doers.” What does it mean that the person who controlled the world’s most powerful military used such a phrase?   To start off with, it means that that he is a person involved with a low level, unsophisticated type of metaphorical thinking. Bush believes in the embodiment of Good and Evil, of God and the Devil.   This belief is, of course, a mythology, and a metaphorical way of viewing the world. Except, however, Bush and other fundamentalists believe that their metaphors and mythologies are literally, factually true.

That Bush would think metaphorically about good and evil is very natural. One could say it is part of his heritage by living in West Texas and inheriting the White Hat/Black Hat mythologies of the west (or of the Anglo settler/invader/liberator and Native American mythology.)

I have also been thinking about my students who love to do gaming and or role playing activities. Somebody is the Magician, somebody the Warrior, somebody the King, the Fool, and so on. Black Knight, White Knight, Red Knight, Green Knight. All of this mythology.   Behind all this kind of thinking is the Tarot deck. If you know the Tarot deck of cards, you know that the there are cards that deal with love or riches and so on and there is also the Major Arcadia, which begins with the fool and then takes a little journey or psychological development.

Also in old stories we have the Greek and Roman and Egyptian Gods. We have fairy tales—think of the innocent girl, the mean stepmother, the stepsisters, the prince, the dwarfs, the wild girls, the father, wolves, the traveler, the witch. In the Bible there are the brothers, the dreamers, the sacrificed one, the dead and resurrected one, the whore, the moment of acceptance. Think of the mythological acts—washing feet, baptism, changing water into wine, splitting children in two, being swallowed by a whale, being turned into pillars of salt.

This leads me to think about how we think about animals—there is a deck of cards based on Native American symbolism of the various animals—snakes a transformation, ants as patience, and so on.

What I am getting at is that I am encouraging you to think mythologically.

James Hillman, a depth psychologist, made a statement something like—don’t ask what story you want to live, but what story is living you. Are you a carpenter? Are you a girl interested in children but not men? Are you a guy who is always given power and leadership positions. Then there are stories already written that tell your story.

How does this relate to poetry? Poets see the mythological content of their everyday lives. (This assumes that they know mythology, and thus can see how a myth applies to their lives—for instance, I do not think that George W. Bush saw that he was repeating the story of Vietnam—leading the U.S. into a country with a civil war that cannot be won. Those of us who were against the war in the first place know this story. Bush wanted to write a different story, a different myth. And maybe his change of mind, and change of policy, in the second term was a realization that he needed a different story.

[Since, obviously,  I wrote this this post back before Barack Obama was elected, maybe I should say something about him and his presidency, just to be fair.  What story is he living?  These sorts of things depend on one’s politics, but one could be the fallen savior.  Man, some people believed that he was going to change the world and are greatly disappointed.  Another might be the hardened innocent, that person who innocently thought good intentions would make things better and then by the end of the story is doing bad things just like everyone else.  Or the wolf in sheep’s clothing:  he was just pretending to be a good guy but all the time knew he was sneaking into the hen house for his own rapacious desires.]

Assignment: Go to a library or on-line. Look for a fairy tale or a cultural myth. Use the basic elements of the mythic tale as the ingredients in a poem.

Assignment 2: Think about an activity that has mythic power—the twelve step program, confession, the steps to grieving a loss. Write a poem about an everyday occurrence that employs these steps or some of the steps.

Assignment 3: Pick an animal or animals and use their mythological meaning to explore an issue not related to the animal. For instance, let the idea of a dog help you write about loyalty (remember to avoid abstractions). Write about the dog and let what you say be a comment about loyalty.


See part one of “Metaphorical Thinking.”

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About lymangrant

Lyman Grant is a professor of creative writing and humanities at Austin Community College. He has work at ACC since 1978. He is the author or editor of two textbooks, two books relating to Texas literature, three volumes and a chapbook of poetry. Recently he traveled the United States for a year in a 34-foot RV 5th wheel trailer with his wife and two younger sons.