Friday, March 04, 2011

Metaphor School: A Part of Me

By James Curcio
I guess I was lucky. By 10th grade, I had been given a firm grasp of the concept of a metaphor. Not just in its sense as "a thing that is at once another thing, and yet not," but also in the sense that these "veils" or layers of meaning do not hold precedence over one another. For instance, Shakespeare is well known for having been able to "speak" to the commoners, to the merchants, and to the nobility. The 12th-13th century Spanish Jew Moses Maimonedes defined seven layers of meaning in the Torah. That's a lot.

We're going to go "back to school" today because I still get people telling me, when I say "that is a metaphor" that "no, but this is 'more real' than a metaphor," or alternately, they get a glazed look in their eye like they don't know what that means in the first place. Look, it's not about being stupid or not. I'm not on a high horse. It's about the fact that our schooling system sucks and no one got it in your head early enough in a way that stuck. Or maybe they used Shakespeare or heaven forbid Maimonedes, and you were 13 and were a lot more interested in the budding breasts of the girl across the room. I get it.

We're just going to look at three levels of meaning today, and we're going to do it in something that, by today's standards, is "ancient history." A song from the 1990s. Classic rock! Tool's "Part of Me."

Live Performance


Studio Recording


Let's start with Layer 1. As one YouTube commenter says, "it's about his dick guys..stop gettin so fucking spiritual all the time. Maynard has said it with his own two lips, it's about his dick."

If only he read Modern Mythology. Yes, layer one, the material layer: the song is about his dick. The band is called TOOL after all, right? That's pretty direct. It's about his relation to a part of his body.
Don't Follow This Model:
There no Universal Truth.

But then there's another obvious layer. The social level. It's about possession in a relationship. Listen to the lyrics again and now think he's talking about his boy or girlfriend. You are just an extension of me, you are mine.

What's a third layer? Spiritual or mystical. Allah, it has been said, and I don't want to get into the finer points of this, essentially boils dow to "submit your will to that of God." Submission to divine will. So we are all tools of that higher order or higher level.

What happens is that you get people arguing endlessly about which one is the "real" meaning of the song. And of course Maynard is going to say it's about his dick. If ever there was someone who enjoyed playing the elusive trickster in the public eye, it would be him. The same damn thing happens in religion, and actually leads to religious schisms and bloody wars. I'm cereal, guys. "It's about his dick!" "It's about possession in relationships!" "It's about our relationship with God as his servants!" And there you get three sects, a fundamentalist or literalist sect, one focused on the social or political level, and the mystics.

Call this reductionistic, but it really is that simple. Learn to understand metaphors, guys. Stop shooting each other.

Until next time...



Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized in July 2011.

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