Monday, October 9, 2006

Power of metaphor

This is an extract from Why Lawyers Should Surf co-authored with Dr Michelle Tempest which is now available on Waterstone's website here or can be ordered from XPL Publishing on 0870 079 8897 (p&p is included). Further extracts can be found here. To see a review of the book in The Independent click here.

Jose Ortega y gasset said, “the metaphor is perhaps one of man’s most fruitful potentialities. Its efficacy verges on magic, and it seems a tool for creation which God forgot inside one of His creatures when He made him.” How much better, for example, to take the poet Rabindranath Tagore’s description of the Taj Mahal, a monument to the Emperor Shah Jahan’s wife, as “a teardrop on the cheek of time”, than merely to describe its physical appearance?

Roger Payne, one of the world’s leading whale specialists and the man who recorded the whale songs which were sent out into open space in the Voyager mission has talked about the power images ca have on our collective subconscious. In Among Whales, he goes as far as to say that the story of Moby Dick conjured so powerful an image of the whale that it would “enter our minds, and…once inside…metastasize and diffuse throughout the whole engine of human ingenuity”. Ultimately, he suggests that might even go so far as to re-connect us with nature so that we “make the transition from Save the Whales to Saved by the Whales.”

Another image which has entered our minds and diffused throughout the engine of human ingenuity is that of surfing itself in relation to the internet. It provided a perfect description for the freedom and movement which the information superhighway could provide not only in the sharing of information but also in connecting communities together, just as the oceans flow from one to another. Some surf writers have railed at the idea that non-surfers should be acquiring this word and particularly for something which couldn’t on the face of it be further from paddling out into the sea, perhaps most articulately by Andy Martin as far back as 1995. Writing in The Independent, he commented that, “the sinister implication…is that ‘There is nothing beyond the Web.’ Being is being on the Net”. He suggested a compromise, “I promise not to lose my cool every time you surf the Net on the condition that if you slip and press the wrong key you download death in a million-volt wipeout.”

However, just as whales may ultimately save us by firing up visions of the natural world, so it is with surfing. Computer hacks the world over may be using the word without much thought but underneath they are stoking the fires of their imagination. It is the ocean in the human soul which is awakened by these gentle breezes. Our deeper selves. They have always been in us. Whales. Surfing. They are the routes within. The means.

1 comment:

Rhadamanthus said...

For a fascinating insight into the use of the metaphor (particularly the fire metaphor) in judicial opinions I would refer everyone to the intelligent yet conservative opinions of Justice Scalia (US Supreme Court). Most entertaining and illuminating.