Re: [mythsoc] Digest Number 3502
- Alana, thanks very much for your posts. The "blood" example is very
helpful. The discussion about "figurative" and "figuration" is more
difficult, but I will certainly try to work it through.
>Will do. Busy with grading this week, but I look forward to a Barfieldfest
> Ernie, I'd also recommend *Saving the Appearances,*
the weekend after next!
> Well, what I, for one, am saying is that we today make a distinction betweenHmmm. That's an interesting claim but it seems implausible. Homer
> the literal and figurative that the Greeks didn't, and that, therefore,
> using today's definitions, they combined those things in a way we do not.
certainly uses a lot of metaphor and simile; why should one suppose that
he didn't distinguish these from literal statements, or that he used
figurative and literal descriptions interchangeably? In Hebrew Scripture,
which may be irrelevant but which I know much better, it seems clear that
there a strong distinction between literal statements like "Esau was a
hairy man" and metaphorical statements like "Issachar is a strong-boned
ass, crouching between the saddlebags," or "all flesh is grass." For one
thing, these kinds of metaphors are much more common in the poetic
> Saying that "the Greeks combined the literal and the figurative" is a littleNo, because "Montana" is an arbitrary political division that postdates
> like saying, "Lewis and Clark traveled through Montana," where it's
> understood that the name and its boundaries did not exist then; the sentence
> is just using today's map as a reference point to describe the location.
them. It is more like saying "The Greeks used nouns and verbs differently"
which is inargubly true, even if they didn't (in Homer's time) have words
for "noun" and "verb". The distinction between noun and verb is a real
one, unlike the arbitrary distinction between Montana and Idaho; the
difference between literal and figurative expressions is less clear-cut
but it seems to me no less real.
> First, "his breath was taken away" does not mean the same thing as "unableYes. I was being flip with the "unable to breathe".
> to breathe." "Unable to breathe" sounds like a medical emergency; "breath
> was taken away" is merely _not_ breathing, i.e. holding your breath, without
> conscious volition to do so.
> All, I think, that Doug means here is thatExactly. That _is_ all that Anderson means here, but it is _not_ the
> Bilbo _did_ hold his breath in astonishment, and that Tolkien is not using
> the phrase merely as what you call "a stale metaphor."
interesting part of what Tolkien means.
>Certainly Tolkien is saying both:
>> Tolkien means
>> that Bilbo was astonished to a degree that no phrase, either literal or
>> metaphoric, in modern languages adequately expresses, including the
>> metaphoric "His breath was taken away"; and that claim has nothing that I
>> can see to do with the literalness or figurativeness of Elvish or English.
> Tolkien is _also_ saying that, yes, but I don't see that as incompatible
> with Bilbo's breath literally being taken away.
1) Bilbo's breath was literally taken away.
2) Bilbo's degree of staggerment was expressible in Elvish but is not
expressible in English.
But the problem with Anderson's note is that he is trying to explain (2)
in terms of (1). And that doesn't make sense, because (1) _is_ expressible
in English, in the phrase "Bilbo's breath was literally taken away."
>Ah, that's the critical point. You're saying that the characteristics of
> The relationship is that we no longer have words that can say and resonate
> in so many ways at once, so we can no longer speak with that the kind of
> overarching intensity appropriate for that situation.
the Greek worldview, which led them to unify breath, wind, and spirit and
to unify blood, life, sacrifice and family, also allowed the Greek
language to achieve overarching intensity of expression. Is that a fair
That's a fascinating claim -- obviously I will have to go read Barfield to
find out what the evidence for it is, or what the connection is between
the two parts. Unlike the claim about metaphor, it doesn't strike me as
inherently implausible. I don't see that it is closely connected to the
claim about metaphor.
> That was what IYes, but when I read your original comment, it had not yet been enriched
> explicitly said in my original comment in Mythprint.
by the subsequent discussion from you and Carl and Alana, which has very
much fleshed out what you were saying, at least for my understanding.
>Well, there we seem to have hit an impasse.
>> I think that (2) is almost inarguably true (though I'm not sure that
>> Quine or Fodor would agree); and (1) and (3) are interesting and
>> meaningful claims that might be true, for all I know. It just seems to me
>> that these are three completely separate statements; I don't see the
>> connection between them.
> I don't see them as logically connected, i.e. one does not follow from
> another, but that they're related statements which, if they're true
> statements, all connect and interrelate, seems to be obvious beyond any need
> (or possibly ability) to explain.
Thanks again, all.
- On 5/10/2011 10:39 AM, Ernest Davis wrote IN PART:
>> First, "his breath was taken away" does not mean the same thing as "unable
>> to breathe." "Unable to breathe" sounds like a medical emergency; "breath
>> was taken away" is merely _not_ breathing, i.e. holding your breath, without
>> conscious volition to do so.
> Yes. I was being flip with the "unable to breathe".
>> All, I think, that Doug means here is that
>> Bilbo _did_ hold his breath in astonishment, and that Tolkien is not using
>> the phrase merely as what you call "a stale metaphor."
A crucial element of this particular phrase is that if it is taken fully
literally, the active force is not Bilbo; rather, it is the
dragon-hoard. Bilbo did not HOLD his breath -- that would be a stale
metaphor indeed -- rather, his breath was TAKEN from him, whether he
would have it so or not.
That Bilbo _was_stopped_from_being_able_to_breathe_ is a necessary part
of what was happening, if one is to recover and use "his breath was
taken away" in all its original glory. Only if it includes that meaning
will it have the impact it would have had before "Men changed the
language that they learned of elves". To use a modern, colorless word,
Bilbo was suffocating. It is a condition which was imposed upon him by
the hoard, over which he had no control, and which, if continued, would
have proved fatal.
This does not exhaust [pun intended] the possible depths of meaning in
the phrase. That is part of the fun.