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Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Metaphor in Question

"I live in a world of poetry," she said. "Everything seems significant to me. Everything has meaning. It's what gets me into trouble"

Una Persson in The Entropy Tango by Michael Moorcock.


History, besides BEING a metaphor
Is MADE of metaphors.

I want to EMPHASIZE that.

Evolution is a metaphor -
one that Charles Darwin
much resisted.

The word does not appear
In the eighteen fifty-nine
"Origin of Species"

("The survival of the fittest"
Didn't turn up till the fifth edition
and there as a quotation
from the work of Herbert Spencer)

Being classically educated
Darwin knew that "evolution"
means "a rolling out from"

He didn't like that a bit

Implicit in the word
is the idea that the organic present
has rolled
- progressively, Whiggishly
and inevitably –
from out of the past.

That’s what his predecessors (and successors)
Meant by the use of that metaphor
That's not what Darwin thought he saw
In the garden at Down
Or the volcanic lumps of the Encandatas

Niether did he see
The History of Life
As a ladder
From lower to higher

On his "entangled bank"
all life,
plant, insect, mould and duck
was exactly as "evolved"
as every other "form most beautiful"
Every bit as lovely...
Every bit as interesting


He didn't like his title either.

"Origin of Species" was a
publisher's echo of the earlier
(Best selling)
"Vestiges of Creation"
Robert Chamber's anonymous blockbuster
of 1844
To which, many people thought,
"Origins" was a sequel.

In Vestiges, Chambers talked
of "evolution"
of higher, better forms
succeeding, lower, simpler breeds
till at the pinnacle stood man
(white, male, possibly Scottish)
with mutton chops and a waistcoat -
a monkey's paw
fiddling in his pants

On the publication of Origins
(which didn't sell like hotcakes - or Vestiges)
Huxley, Darwin's bulldog, snapped at bishops.

But Huxley never accepted -
Descent with modification
Naturally selected in the struggle for existance -
as the engine of life's changes

But he, like Herbert Spencer,
Andrew Carnegie, and, yes
Adolph Hitler
"believed" in "Darwin"

Darwin the metaphor, that is.


In the beginning, then
Man created Darwin
just as Man created God

as a metaphor
out of metaphors

as a belief
a cause
an explanation


The Revd Adam Sedgewick
Who taught Charley his geology
broke his pupil's heart
when he wrote to Darwin
how he loved him
and how he hated his ideas.

But Sedgewick hated "Vestiges" more,
Despised it,
Assuming the anonymous author
to be a woman -
Like Eve, seeking out of vanity
For things she shouldn't know.

(Original Sin, also
Is a metaphor
But not for "knowing" No.
For "meaning"

Because till Eve took the apple
Nothing had a meaning
Everything had names for what they were.

So there was no need for metaphors
In the Garden.)


Pace Aristotle,
a human being (since Eve)
is a "meaning" reed

It must have happened first in Africa
Possibly with a yam or a banana

We've been in trouble ever since.

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