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things 16
summer 2002

Objective Language

At things, we are interested in all sorts of things. Among them, as we have had cause to remark before, the human brain.

Like any other thing, it has a history, size, shape, weight - no matter that it is the thing we use for thinking about all other things.

The mind - now that's another thing. Or rather, probably not. Only by the most extended of our definitions - that things must be discrete, in other words separable from one another - can the mind be considered an object. No wonder then, as Monika Parrinder discovers in her essay 'Objects of the Imagination' - to describe the mind we have invented a multitude of metaphors. The mind is a blank sheet of paper, a container, a landscape, a machine, a computer, a blueprint.

Our words go out into the world to apprehend objects - we name things. But the process is two-way: objects come back to inhabit language via language, as metaphor, simile, metonymn, synecdoche, analogy, allegory, symbol - any one of the ways in which things pervade the way we think. There is no escape: however much we may wish to believe that we can escape into the world of pure language, pure representation, the real world comes back to haunt us.

And so the circle is complete. The writing in things describes objects that lie outside language, in the real world; and it is suffused with tropes - words used in figurative senses - that are derived from that world. Language, that great human enterprise which sets us apart from the rest of the world, also unites us with it.

As life changes, langage changes. But the more it changes, the more it remains the same, and our English language is littered with metaphors from the past, more or less intelligible to contemporary users if we really think about them. We can be hoist with our own petard; we can run the gauntlet; we can put our reputations on the line; there's even a slight disjunction in hanging up at the end of a telephone call. It's enough to drive you nuts.

things proposes a history of metaphors (and the rest) and the real life that lies behind them. It will be a collaborative endeavour, and a long one.

We invite contributions

things 16, Summer 2002

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