Metaphor and Tom Robbins

jvV ebook 180In yesterday’s post, we announced the publication of Jamais Vu Views, the long-awaited companion to our underground classic The Jamais Vu PapersIt is available in paperback and Kindle. Both books include jamais inter-views with real people participating in a fictional story. Our first-ever inter-view was with author Tom Robbins in 1987.

At the time, we were fascinated by the role of metaphor in Story (with a capital S). We felt that metaphor was more that just figurative speech, more than just analogy. What was the power of metaphor? We decided to play around with a fictive and admittedly silly idea: that metaphors are literally true, and that you could conceivably make a drug out of a metaphor.

The Jamais Vu Papers began as a newsletter that told the story an addled Los Angeles psychiatrist named Hector Glasco. He was treating a jaded celebrity patient named Hilary, who was suffering from a chronic and potentially fatal case of déjà vu—that condition, of course, in which one has the weirdest feeling that one has been here before. The cure, it seemed, was to instill a sense of jamais vu, a mysterious feeling that one has never been here before—not in this world, this life, or the most familiar circumstances.

So Hector Glasco tried to cure his patient with a dose of a mystery drug called “M”—the chemical equivalent of a metaphor. Disaster ensued, and Hilary escaped from his office on a flying carpet and disappeared. The newsletter itself was Hector’s desperate plea for help; he needed insights into the nature of metaphor. We hoped that this premise would shake loose some interesting thoughts. We were right.

Tom Robbins was our newsletter’s first subscriber/participant. He wrote to us, agreeing to send us 8 answers if we’d send him 7 questions. Naturally, Hector asked him:

As a master of figurative language, what do you think are the transformative and evolutionary properties of metaphors?

Robbins gave this lovely answer:

When we say that “Johnny runs fast,” what have we said that anyone except Johnny’s mother is apt to recall? When we say that “Johnny runs like a deer,” we have provided a memorable totemic image to which our notion of Johnny’s speed might conveniently be stapled. Should we say, however, that “Johnny is a deer,” we have eternalized Johnny, fitting him with antlers and hooves from the unyielding deep forest of primal unconsciousness.

Glasco pushed on, concerned about the use of such a powerful tool:

What will happen if chemical metaphors hit the streets?

Robbins replied:

My suspicion is that chemical metaphors may not belong on the streets. In ancient Greece, the fungoid metaphors dispensed at Eleusis were restricted to those who were deemed spiritually and intellectually evolved enough to benefit from them. Public discussion of the M(ysteries) by initiates was forbidden under penalty of death. That’s probably a sound idea. The problem is, who decides who is or who isn’t qualified for the experience? Certainly, it’s a bit elitist, but as Hermann Hesse pointed out, “The M(agic) Theatre is not for everyone.”

Our Storied discussion was off to a flying start.

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