‘There are three centres of what might be called mythological and folkloristic creativity in the Middle Ages. […] The cathedral, the castle, and the cottage – you go to any of the areas of high civilisation, and you will see the same – the temple, the palace, and the town. They are different generating centres, but in so far as this is once civilisation, they are all operating in the same symbolic field.’*
A metaphor suggests there is more to see than simply what lies on the surface, beyond the function there is the experience. Between the spirituality, the governance, and the day-to-day life of the people, there exists the possibility of creating expansive metaphors that move life beyond the functional:
‘Myths are so intimately bound to the culture, time, and place that unless the symbols are kept alive by constant recreation through the arts, the life just slips away from them.’*
Why the arts?
The arts are trying to say, this painting, this poem, this sculpture isn’t it; there’s something more beyond:
‘Our thinking is largely discursive, verbal, linear. There is more reality in an image than in a word.’*
Answers are more functional: Here’s something that should work. A question opens an adventure:
“What people think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question.”**
In This is a Poem that Heals Fish, Arthur’s mother tells him how to heal his bored fish Leon:
”Hurry, give him a poem!’^
This turns out not to be an answer or solution, but the beginning of a quest for Arthur:
‘A poem!? But what is a poem?’^
Arthur looks in cupboards.
And underneath beds but he cannot find a poem.
He realises his quest will take him further, to the people he knows, asking them what a poem is:
‘Determined, Arthur continues his search.
He runs to Lolo’s bicycle shop.
Lolo knows everything, laughs all the time,
and is always in love.’^
A year ago, I found myself in Washington D.C., walking the city as a way of reimagining my work having stepped out of a role that I’d fulfilled for more than thirty five years. We’re rediscovering how walking is more than functional, how it leads us to experiences beyond what we see on the surface. Walking itself is a metaphor:
‘The flaneuse is someone who gets to know the city by wandering its streets, investigating its dark corners, peering behind its facades, penetrating its secret courtyards.’^^
(*Joseph Campbell in Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.)
(**Medical researcher and virologist Jonas Salk, quoted in Michael Bungay Stanier’s The Coaching Habit.)
(^From Jean-Pierre Siméon and Olivier Tallec’s This is a Poem that Heals Fish.)
(^^From The Paris Review’s Radical Flaneuserie.)