Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Metaphor Under the Bed

This is a little fictional piece I wrote for the theme "What's Under the Bed?".

My father once told me I was a child of the “Boolean generation”. This curious statement puzzled me, but my father spoke rarely and it soon became obvious that this was all I would get out of him. Expecting as much, I had asked careful questions. It would not do to ask my father “Who was Boole?”; I had learnt to ask “Who was Boole AND NOT anybody else?”. To the first question, my father would have simply replied with a series of extremely vague descriptors: “matter”, “organism”, and, if I was lucky, “human”. It was true that they narrowed as he went on, but it was no use: he was scrupulous. I used to have occasional victories where I learnt the sex, year of birth, and, once, the hemispherical origin of the figure, but by this point I had usually lost interest.

As I say, on this occasion, my father gave me nothing but his original statement. To my careful question about Boole, he only gave essentially circular answers: “Boole was the origin of the term ‘Boolean’”. I say only essentially circular because his answer did seem to confirm my assumption that Boole was a person. As it turned out, however, Boole himself had little to do with my father’s statement: he died long before the “generation” my father charged him with was born. But I didn’t know this, and my father wasn’t about to tell me.

Why am I telling you this? It’s the necessary prologue to how I learnt about metaphor - specifically the metaphor “under the bed”. I quote again my father. As I have hopefully made clear, it is not particularly unusual for my father to explain something in this way. By giving the location of the object of inquiry, he is able to make a true statement about it without revealing anything particularly useful for my understanding. He did tell me that other metaphors were “in the closet”, “swept under the rug” and, strangely, “under my skin”. Since we didn’t have a closet, and the only rug was under the armchair in which my father sat, his legs crossed and his watch ticking slowly in the silent evening, I decided to look under my bed. The last location he gave was so utterly disturbing that I ignored it entirely, except to note that it did seem to fit with a theory I was developing about small spaces. It was with this notion of the apparent paucity of metaphor (I was already beginning to adopt the confusing but widespread use of the singular word form) that I knelt on the carpet, and, breathing in the dust, looked without fear under the bed.

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