I’m reading Lewis’s essays in chronological order (at least the ones I haven’t read yet), and I just read a strangely titled but very interesting one. The title is ‘Bluspels and Flalanspheres: A Semantic Nightmare.’ Told you it was weird! Bluspels and Flalanspheres are two words Lewis made up to illustrate the point he was making about meaning. He was speaking about an argument in philological and philosophical circles about the nature of meaning and metaphor and their connection to specific words. Specifically at issue was the idea of ‘dead’ metaphors. English has many words whose basis is a metaphor that either no longer relates to modern life, or that has been essentially forgotten. He argues, essentially, that in using a term without an understanding of the metaphor underlying the word, either we have an understanding of the meaning of the term we use from outside sources, or that we are speaking nonsense. He distinguishes further between metaphors we create to teach others and metaphors that teach us. In the first case, the metaphor is a tool separate from our meaning. In the second, our understanding of the term is created by the metaphor itself. In the second instance, further study may enable us to have an understanding of the term separate from the metaphor, but if we don’t develop that understanding AND forget the metaphor, then we would just be using the term without an understanding of what it meant and would therefore be talking nonsense. I won’t get into what bluspels and flalanspheres are (or the metaphors that underlie them), because that would just be re-writing the essay, which isn’t my goal today!
My interest is in a further point that Lewis makes – that many of the things of which we speak cannot be spoken of at all except through metaphor, and that more ‘scientific’ or ‘non-metaphorical’ language is often merely a different metaphor. He gives the illustration of the word ‘soul’, originally indistinguishable from the word for ‘breath’. He says that it is quite true that we can – and often do – have a conception of the soul that does not include the metaphor of breath. But any other words we can use to describe the soul are equally metaphorical. Even the more scientific language of complexes and respressions and neuroses are equally metaphorical. And he makes the point that being able to choose between metaphors at least shows more understanding than having only one to shape our understanding. If a man has never seen the sea or a boat, he will need to use metaphor to understand what one is. And having more metaphors (‘sea-stallions, winged-logs, wave-riders, ocean-trains’) will give him at least a better idea than any one of them alone. But they are still functioning as metaphors. The only non-metaphorical language we use is essentially names of physical objects – and unless we’re pointing at a particular boat, there are probably metaphors underlying even that. (It’s fun to write and think about the metaphors in even the most direct of language – ‘underlying’, for instance)
‘Either literalness, or else metaphor understood: one or the other of these we must have; the third alternative is nonsense. But literalness we cannot have. The man who does not consciously use metaphors talks without meaning. We might even formulate a rule: the meaning in any given composition is in inverse ratio to the author’s belief in his own literalness.’ Ahhhhh. Here at last we’re getting to what interests me – and relates to the trilogy. Further on in the essay, he says, ‘The percentage of mere syntax masquerading as meaning may vary from something like 100 per cent. in political writers, journalists, psychologists, and economists, to something like forty per cent. in the writers of children’s stories.’
So, I think when Lewis had a topic, or set of topics, that he wanted to discuss seriously, deeply, meaningfully, he turned intentionally to using metaphor. As he crafted the trilogy – or at least the last two-thirds of it – he consciously used Ransom and Tinidril and Weston and the planet Perelandra itself as metaphors. And when he came to the end of the book, he chose a different, a more pointed, obvious (to him, at least) metaphor – the god Mars and the goddess Venus. He was using a variety of metaphors to communicate his themes, just as he said helped our understanding. And when he wanted to communicate something of the various facets of his God, the most important, the most wide-reaching and most beautiful topic of all, he wrote it in the form of children’s stories, containing the most meaning and the least ‘mere syntax’ to his way of thinking. So I don’t think it would bother Lewis at all to be best remembered, most beloved, as the author of children’s stories. I think it would please him.
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