Trinity In Mind: Rhetoric & Metaphor, Imaginal & Archetypal

Story. Culture. Knowledge.

Two elements: pattern and communication. What are the patterns of our communications along with the patterns of cognition and experience underlying them? How do we communicate these patterns when our very attempt is enmeshed in them?

It’s not just an issue of rhetoric and metaphor. It’s a stepping back and looking for a pathway to higher ground. A meta-language maybe is needed, but not meta in a way of making language abstract and detached. Death can’t speak for life.

I’ve never been in love with language. This could be seen as a flaw of mine as a self-identified writer. Admittedly, language is sort of important to writing. What I appreciate is communication, the essence and the impetus thereof, the desire to express, to be heard and possibly understood.

I have nothing against language. It just is what it is. My lack of love isn’t a hate; it’s a wariness. I’ve often found too superficial writers who’ve fallen in love with language. There can be a trap in linguistic narcissism. Even great writers can get caught up in their own cleverness. In these cases, it’s not always clear they’ve fallen in love with language itself or just the sound of their own voices.

Compelling language takes more than catchy phrasing and aesthetic sensibility. A writer or any other user of language has to first and foremost have something worthy of being shared and to be given voice. Language, however rarely, can touch something deeper. Then language isn’t just language.

It’s not the writer that matters, but the Other that is speaking through the writer. This deeper level is the imaginal and archetypal, the creative source.

Along with my lack of verbal romance, I have other ‘failings’ as well.

I’m prone to anti-climactic conclusions. This is because most of life feels anticlimactic to me. What can I say, I write what I know. The anti-climactic relates to another ‘failing’.

I’m also prone to a passive voice. Every writing manual I’ve read warns against this, but good advice never stopped me. It seems to me that a passive voice communicates something an active voice can’t, and that something obviously isn’t readily accepted by modern mainstream society or at least the English-speaking portions.

An active voice requires someone or something that takes action, but as I see it not all or even most of life involves action that is willed, directed or otherwise caused by actors. Still, the active voice is rooted in traditional storytelling. The question is: Are there other stories to tell and/or other ways to tell stories?

Our language determines our reality. So, what consensus reality is being reinforced by writing manuals? I’m not arguing against standard English writing. Certainly, I’m not arguing against compelling language and the active voice is more compelling; rather, I’m considering what we are being compelled by and toward.

The standard of compelling shouldn’t be its own justification. A soap opera is compelling. In fact, the average soap opera is more compelling to the average person than the greatest of art. Most people are compelled, usually mindlessly, by ideas and beliefs, metaphors and narratives that aren’t necessarily of much worthiness.

How do we judge worthiness? What is good writing versus what is great art? Does ‘good’ writing imply communication that is moral and true, whatever that might mean? What exactly is good and bad about the active versus the passive voices?

The most dangerous part about rhetoric is that we forget it’s rhetoric and mistake it for reality.

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9 thoughts on “Trinity In Mind: Rhetoric & Metaphor, Imaginal & Archetypal

  1. I was thinking further about the idea of writing manuals as rule enforcers of the collective reality tunnel.

    This idea is similar to William S. Burroughs’ theory of language as a virus with the human body-mind as the host. Burroughs related this to his wider thinking on addiction and power relationships, both being about control. Control is controlled by its need to control, not unlike how a virus propagates simply for the sake of further propagating.

    Burroughs sought to escape language as virus that controls us and indoctrinates us into a worldview of control. The main technique he exerimented with is the cut-up. It was an attempt to create conditions of seeming randomness in order to allow uncontrolled patterns to emerge, old texts being used new meanings.

    Burroughs was more extreme than I am in my own speculations. One could see his relationship to language as almost adverserial. Writing is dangerous to the writer most of all because language is a thing of power. I appreciate Burroughs’ brilliant mind, but I don’t know how far I’d follow him down that dark and widing road. He was Manichaean; as for me, not so much, except in my darkest moods.

    Language is tricksy. It’s the play thing of the Trickster. I think Burroughs might have agreed. His cut-up technique is definitely something of the Trickster mentality. In my interpretation, though, I’d take a more neutral stance. I lack the melodrama of Burroughs’ vision of the artist as an ontological revolutionary. My aspirations maybe are more humble.

    • Cut-up? I am familiar with this idea, but not the name. Leonardo Da Vinci used it more broadly than just language, I use it in that way also. The issue is that after you have found the new relations of ideas or objects, you go ahead to isolate them. It’s like linguistic experimentation in the labs of sentences. You study it and you realize more definitely the meaning, range and application of your new creation and you can use it again and again with understanding. It’s related to my idea of Art as nothing but abstraction and accentuation.

      • Burrough’s seemed to have had a more radical inspiration behind his experimenting. He strongly embraced randomness. His experiments didn’t even require his own witings. Any writing would do. It was as if he was seeking to separate art from the artist. In this way, creatve randomness rather than any artist determines the form and meaning. It is randomness experimenting with human language, not the other way around.

        • Yeah, that’s the idea. Randomness goes ahead and after that you find the new relations. These new relations are then studied for meaning and so forth. This is totally focused on the subject, the art, not any person. It is research.

  2. Benjamin: As someone who specializes in such matters, I urge you to not get caught up in that active vs. passive voice debate. It’s an issue only to people like Strunk & White who privilege literary language over all other types. Fictional narratives involve characters doing things; therefore it makes sense to make those characters agents of sentences, which normally means putting them in the grammatical subject position, favoring the use of active voice. But there are many many other types of writing, which don’t all give prominence to human agents doing things. And in many of those cases the passive voice actually works better.

    • I wasn’t all that hung up on the active vs passive voice debate. It was just a minor thought in my more general speculating.

      I want to communicate well. So, I want to actually express my own sense of truth while doing so in such a way that leads to comprehension in others. In this light, I was pondering what makes for good communication, as well as who judges it and on what basis.

      Furthermore, I was just being a bit philosophical in considering what underlies language. Writing norms aren’t just about good communication for they are intertwined with social norms. The challenging part is how can that which exists outside of norms be communiated well, and maybe how can writing be an agent of challenging and changing norms.

      I’ like to be a good writer, both in the sense of effective communication and moral sensibility. i’m not against the attitude of art for art’s sake, but that isn’t what centrally motivates my writing aspirations.

      • “Writing norms aren’t just about good communication for they are intertwined with social norms. The challenging part is how can that which exists outside of norms be communiated well, and maybe how can writing be an agent of challenging and changing norms.”

        That’s what’s weird about writing norms. I try my best to walk the line in between the “in” and the “out”. I write with good grammar but communicate stuff which exist outside the world created by the norms. It is what even gets me more hung up on linguistics than anything else – walking the “middle”, communicating what is outside in the inner language.

  3. “I’ve never been in love with language. This could be seen as a flaw of mine as a self-identified writer. Admittedly, language is sort of important to writing. What I appreciate is communication, the essence and the impetus thereof, the desire to express, to be heard and possibly understood.”

    Neither have I. It’s just an invention of “the caduceus to communicate what is in the soul”. I wonder about people who say they love words. Very foreign to me. With me, it’ll look like a deception with the way I play with words and “make love to them” but it’s the meaning behind the agent I’m interested in not the archetype itself. I want you to see what I see: geometry and mathematics are more useful for this, I have come to realize but even they have flaws to a possibility-oriented mind like mine.

    “I’m prone to anti-climactic conclusions. This is because most of life feels anticlimactic to me. What can I say, I write what I know. The anti-climactic relates to another ‘failing’.”

    That, to me, is story proper, as I showed in “Saudade”.

    “It seems to me that a passive voice communicates something an active voice can’t, and that something obviously isn’t readily accepted by modern mainstream society or at least the English-speaking portions.”

    That’s the issue. An active voice involves too much of the writer and makes it feel too subjective, too down-to-earth. When it is passive, you know “it is of the gods”, it is coming “of itself”, the Other speaks, not your own invention. But I have found that the active voice amplifies story because it allows less imaginative minds to have that intersubjectivity that immerses one in the story and allows you to walk in the world the text has created.

    “What is good writing versus what is great art?”

    I was discussing this with another in light of Ezra Pound’s saying that great art is characterized by meaningfulness. But, that means nothing. Everything is meaningful. Even a mistake is meaningful in the sense that it is a mistake. He said nothing really, or he hesitated to dive into the imaginal where the real sense of what he meant to say dwells, but also the dangers. What I came up with was that great art is defined by how much appreciation or effect is has on people as well as how much of the author’s being is infused into it. It isn’t the surface, it is something archetypal that is sensed in the work. It is difficult to copy great art in a technical way – if it is appreciated at all, it is only so for the technical adeptness not the entirety – it will only count as good writing or the art of writing, not like story.

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