Monday, November 18, 2013

C. S. Lewis on Imagination and Truth

C. S. Lewis
Wikipedia

Here, in the final paragraph of Lewis's essay "Bluspels and Flalansferes: A Semantic Nightmare" (complete on pdf), is something to ruminate on:
It will have escaped no one that in such a scale of writers the poets will take the highest place; and among the poets those who have at once the tenderest care for old words and the surest instinct for the creation of new metaphors. But it must not be supposed that I am in any sense putting forward the imagination as the organ of truth. We are not talking of truth, but of meaning: meaning which is the antecedent condition both of truth and falsehood, whose antithesis is not error but nonsense. I am a rationalist. For me, reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning. Imagination, producing new metaphors or revivifying old, is not the cause of truth, but its condition. It is, I confess, undeniable that such a view indirectly implies a kind of truth or rightness in the imagination itself. I said at the outset that the truth we won by metaphor could not be greater than the truth of the metaphor itself; and we have seen since that all our truth, or all but a few fragments, is won by metaphor. And thence, I confess, it does follow that if our thinking is ever true, then the metaphors by which we think must have been good metaphors. It does follow that if those original equations, between good and light, or evil and dark, between breath and soul and all the others, were from the beginning arbitrary and fanciful -- if there is not, in fact, a kind of psycho-physical parallelism (or more) in the universe -- then all our thinking is nonsensical. And so, admittedly, the view I have taken has metaphysical implications. But so has every view.
I came across this quote by chance, and I've had time only to skim the essay, so I have nothing significant to say about this . . . but I wanted to save it for further reflection on the relation of truth to metaphor.

I can add that Lewis offers some good advice on writing a couple of pages earlier:
[H]e who would increase the meaning and decrease the meaningless verbiage in his own speech and writing, must do two things. He must become conscious of the fossilized metaphors in his words; and he must freely use new metaphors, which he creates for himself. The first depends upon knowledge, and therefore on leisure; the second depends on a certain degree of imaginative ability. The second is perhaps the more important of the two: we are never less the slaves of metaphor than when we are making metaphor, or hearing it new made.
Good advice, as I said, and connected -- as in everything Lewis wrote -- with his larger views on imagination, reason, and truth.

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10 Comments:

At 5:23 AM, Blogger dhr said...

all our truth, or all but a few fragments, is won by metaphor

Lewis! Thanks for dealing with my favorite author, together with Tasso.

As to the topic, in a paper by Raimon Panikkar these statements by José Ortega y Gasset were quoted, that sound quite fitting:
“When a writer finds fault in the use of the metaphor in philosophy, he simply betrays his ignorance of both what philosophy is and what metaphor is.”
“Poetry is today the advanced algebra of metaphors.”
“The most fruitful capacity Man has is probably metaphor.”
“Each metaphor is the discovery of a law of the universe.”
“An unjustified neglect of metaphor by scientists keeps it in the condition of an unknown land.”

 
At 5:41 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sounds like someone got carried away with metaphor!

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:58 AM, Blogger dhr said...

Yeah, after all, what's meta for?

As far as I am concerned, I would replace "metaphor" with "pun" in all those sentences ;-) Unbelievable, huh?

 
At 8:26 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

In puns, we've both met a form made for our mindset!

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:04 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

'...if there is not, in fact, a kind of psycho-physical parallelism (or more) in the universe -- then all our thinking is nonsensical. And so, admittedly, the view I have taken has metaphysical implications. But so has every view."

I disagree.

Suffice it to say, all our thinking in not nonsensical. Example: 2+2=4.

But when we think about metaphysics--yep--that is nonsense.

 
At 5:20 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

"2+2=4"

Aren't there some metaphysical implications of that?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:01 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Metaphysical significance? Maybe--and I suppose that's my point. Just "maybe." The rest is speculation.

But 2+2=5 definitely has political implications....

 
At 12:34 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yeah, 1984.

Jeffery Hodges

@ @ @

 
At 9:15 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...


2+2=4

 
At 10:20 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Lyre!

Jeffery Hodges

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