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Metaphorically Speaking

So, one of my students made fun of my metaphors. No one has ever made fun of my metaphors before. It was a bit of a shock.

This story would be better if I could remember what my metaphor was (perhaps in future tellings I'll make something up), but, anyway, I said something and all the kids looked at me like I was crazy, so I said, "I was speaking metaphorically." One student, Steven, continued to look at me bemusedly. So I asked, "What?"

STEVEN: [Laughing.] Nothing.

ME: That was a perfectly good metaphor.

STEVEN: [More laughing.]

ME: Seriously: What?

STEVEN: You've got to admit, some of your metaphors are kind of… out there.

ME: [Aghast.] Out there? My god, no one has ever dissed my metaphors before. I'm mortified.

STEVEN: I'm sure you'll come up with some better ones.

ME: Accckkkk! Is that supposed to make me feel better?

STEVEN: [Opening mouth to speak.]

ME: Oh my god, stop talking!

At this point, all the students were cracking up, as my voice had reached a comically shrill pitch. I was, in fact, aiming for comedy, so as to regain control of the situation and salvage whatever remained of my authority, but, in reality, I was still reeling.

As I can't go on living if I believe that there is, indeed, something amiss with my metaphors, I have decided that this experience is further evidence of my belief that the young people do not like metaphors. Sure, they can handle a nice, blunt analogy, and they know teachers will ask them about blindingly obvious symbolism, but I can feel their resistance as an almost physical thing if I try to take a text somewhere they don't want to go. I can't quite figure out what, exactly, they're resisting, though—whether they think i'm trying to put one over on them, or if they just don't like the idea of arcane or even multiple meanings.

I think that my students trust me for the most part—that they don't perceive me as a peddlar of intellectual snake oil—so I'm inclined to believe that ambiguity and uncertainty make them uncomfortable. Ambiguity and uncertainty make everyone uncomfortable to some degree, but perhaps these states hold special horror for the teens, as they dwell in a pretty much continuous continuous state of confusion and flux. Maybe they want words to simply mean what they say. Maybe they want literature to give them rock-solid answers instead of compelling them to ask questions.

If this is the case, it's too bad for my students. I don't care if they remember the name of Cathy's big brother in Wuthering Heights five years from now, but I hope I've taught them the wonder of ambiguity and necessity of asking questions.

November 21, 2003 | Permalink