Multiverse of Metaphors: Many Worlds From a Limited One
The limit of language is shown by its being impossible to describe the fact which corresponds to a sentence, without simply repeating the sentence.
— Ludwig Wittgenstein
Language is rich through the living stream that channels its meaning. Through eddies and dams, churning rapids and waterfalls, language flows through the mediums of Space and Time, still carrying on to distances beyond reckoning, riding the crest of radio waves into parts unknowable. In this case, we are the Homo Ludens, the Ones who Play, since language games are the channels through which meaning is directed. But like a river, currents often veer off into trickling streams, before the ground absorbs what’s left, leaving a muddy patch of silence. The limits of our language are the limits of this world, leaving us groping for others to clarify the mud.
Just as the river where I step
Is not the same, and is,
So I am as I am not.
Perhaps the most suitable definition for metaphor are the words above, written down in the fifth century B.C. Of course, those words are also associated with the flux of Time, making it a metaphor of many faces. Wisdom is often silence, while words upon words are often just the wind blowing through a dead riverbed, whistling away the days and nights, without end. A good metaphor can refresh the empty channel through another riverbed, in another world. In that other world that seems similar enough to our own to be thinkable, fresh waters of unknown origins gush up from below, as surely as they fall from mind-bending clouds that put the greatest of nimbuses to shame. While even metaphors have their limits, they are limitless in the many worlds they engender. Rivers of Time and Metaphor lead to insights on the nature of Space and Time, leading to ‘this’…now ‘this’…, on and on, through a whirligig of insights riding the current of so many metaphors that the Ur-world of the hypothetical first imagined metaphor is gone, just like Heraclitus’s river. Language certainly has limits, but it also has tricks, like any good player.
The earth is melted
Into the sea
By that same reckoning
Whereby the sea
Sinks into the earth.
As far as language goes, metaphors are made ‘real’ through many worlds. SFF fiction dives headlong into the many rivers and discovers worlds that often inform readers about their own, in ways no twenty-four hour news stream ever could. Realism in fiction can open up an internal world, thus changing the world at large, through the perspective of the narrator and their own metaphors. When these imagined worlds carry the reader through fantastical routes, from the subterranean to the cosmic, the reader might find a little fresh insight, like a deep drink of water after a blistering day in the metaphorical desert. Metaphors aren’t the life-sustaining springs that well up from mountaintops and bring water to the millions, but metaphors are those rare sips of water that taste like honey.