"The eighteenth century," Barfield comments in
"The Harp and the Camera," "used to talk of a 'ruling passion'; but there
is also the ruling metaphor. Perhaps for reading the signs of the times,
it is a good deal more important" (RM 74).
Barfield has noted the existence of a phenomenon
he calls metaphoric internalization, the largely unconscious implementation
of the vehicles of certain metaphors in the creation of the prevailing idolatry
of an age. For example, the computer now contributes profoundly, usually
without our clear recognition, to our understanding of many aspects of
our society, our behavior, and our minds. Barfield has noted other profound
In each metaphorical instance, the
tenor is not well known or understood; it demands the clarification a good metaphor
can bring. The vehicle,
on the other hand, is something whose qualities we are already familiar
with; we borrow, quite selectively, what we know about the vehicle tenor and
apply it to the tenor, making the tenor more comprehensible.
In understanding the collective
representations of an era, Barfield insists, we should always bear
in mind that "the influences which go to make up the outlook of an age
are sometimes seen working most powerfully--though beneath the surface--in
the very minds which believe themselves to be combating the outlook most
stubbornly" (HEW 177).
I recall very well, when I was writing
my early book, History in English Words, being astonished at the
ubiquitous appearance of the clock as a metaphor shortly after it had been
invented. It turned up everywhere where anybody was trying to describe
the way things work in nature. Then the clocks stopped--but the metaphor
went on. The student of words and their meaning and the history of them
asks himself uneasily: This Newton-Laplace
universe, in which the nineteenth century found itself so much at home,
was it after all much more than metaphorical clockwork? (RM 73)1
|See in particular "The Harp and the Camera"
in English Words--Barfield had asked "Was the rhythmical mimicry of
organic life, which is the characteristic of machinery, already having
its unperceived effect on men's minds and philosophies? . . . The closing
years of the eighteenth century produced Paley's famous watch, a popular
allegory which, in proving the existence of a creator, at the same time
relegated all His activities to the remote past" (HEW 177).