thing none YO!

we book, you look

October 07, 2005

Metaphor as thesis, 1

Apart from unifying differences by direct comparison, the central metaphor a writer deploys is her treatment of, and attitude to, the subject matter. In some instances, the central metaphor will even circumscribe tone and voice.

For the reader, the central metaphor provides a way to proceed with reading. Though the conclusions one arrives at will not necessarily be "universal," reading a poem organized around a central metaphor is easier than reading one that is not. This has to do with how we're taught to read and write, how language is built up for us from alphabet to words to sentences to discourse. Sounds and signs coalesce towards meaning.

The central metaphor in a poem, then, is similar to the thesis statement of an essay: it is the main "idea" that is developed throughout the text.

Let's consider Gemino H. Abad's "Jeepney," for example.

"Jeepney" suggests we think of the jeepney as a way towards thinking about ourselves.

The first line is a proposition--"Consider honestly"--that we think and examine the jeepney/ourselves in a spirit of truthfulness. We see in the subsequent lines of the first stanza that the call to honesty is necessary: the jeepney is not the "king of the road," as superficial thinking on it would have us believe. The jeepney is:
this piece of storm
in our city's entrails.
Incarnation of scrap,
what genius of salvage!

If we follow the poem, the jeepney is the proverbial hunk of junk: the end product of bits and pieces of other vehicles--originally, US World War II army jeeps--that have long since met their maker. These bits and pieces now serve another vehicle's life as it chugs along through "our city's entrails." Despite this negative depiction of the jeepney, Abad pulls back: the jeepney, the Filipino is a "genius of salvage."

The opening stanza accomplishes several things at once. We are looking at the jeepney and at ourselves: we have a gift for improvising, we have a penchant for scavenging for junk and resuscitating it for our own uses, our true self can be found in the guts of our city. But here, things are a mess all thrown together, suffering through digestion and indigestion.

The poem proceeds by using the concrete details of the jeepney such as its ubiquitous, material presence and gaudy appearance:
Its crib now molds our space,
its lusty gewgaws our sight.

Or its daily, awful circumstances:
In rut and in flood,
claptrap sex of traffic,
jukebox of hubbub

or its unattractive driver:
Look, our Macho Incarnate,
sweat slung round his neck.

or those of us unfortunate enough to have to ride the vehicle, against all common sense:
See how our countrymen cling
to this trapeze against all hazards.

The concrete details are juxtaposed against ideas and propel the ideas forward. There is something true about all this, the poem says, but something funny about this truth: "I sense our truth laughing/ in our guts". This truth needs no articulation; the speaker knows it intuitively: the jeepney is about history, its "breakdowns and survivals" are our history and our future ("our Book of Revelations/…/…our last mythology."). We "cling" to this identity of our improvisations and failures. We "survive" our failures by living in close quarters. As a community, we enjoy the company of each other's misery and we engage in gossip: "our minds rev up on gossip". In the poem, it is, tragically, gossip that fuels us our thinking.

[to be continued]