Immersed in metaphor, we attempt to become more conscious of them, those we use and those we abhor, those we adopt consciously and those half-buried in our thinking and consciousness. We need metaphors, and we need to know how to use them, how they use us, and how we acquire new metaphors as we outlive old ones.
Metaphors make a difference. They help us translate the everyday, prosaic elements of life and profession into a world with personal and transcendent meaning. When our metaphors don't work, we are in trouble.
We use metaphor when description, explanation, and theory fall short. A metaphor moves toward meaning by circling around definition, description and explanation. When a direct and accessible route to meaning is blocked, we turn to metaphor. With metaphor we confront stale conventions and stunted ways of thinking with imaginative new mental pictures. Metaphors, according to the literary critic William Gass, are "a manner of inferring," a way of showing or presenting. "Showing argues and showing produces acquaintance. It presents to the mind one thing in order that the mind may seem to have possession of another." [William H. Gass, Fiction & Figures of Life 63, 64 (Boston: Nonpareil Books, 1971)]. Metaphors are at once practical and necessary, yet ever playful in the craft of language.
"[W]e may reveal more of ourselves by our . . . metaphors than by statements and sayings that are the products of more calculated deliberation. Insofar as metaphors are privy to our most profound thoughts and experiences, they may tap into cultural or personal truths of which we are not at first aware, and into notions which we may not even approve." [Bernard J. Hibbits, Making Sense of Metaphors: Visuality, Aurality, and the Reconfiguration of American Legal Discourse, 16 Cardozo L. Rev. 229, 236 (1994)]
We are unconscious about metaphor, as so much else goes on around us. We are inattentive to and uninformed about the metaphors we use and the way they deplete our energies even as we vigorously embrace them. We are even less aware of how metaphor points to and hints at the myth in our work and our lives.
Metaphor takes us to the margins of language, where, by translation, an equivalence of the incommensurable is made possible. Metaphor creates and transforms; it contains the mythic energy of language. "[T]he circumlocution of one idea in terms of another, rests on quite definite notions arising from the magic view of the world. . . ." [Ernst Cassier, The Myth of the State 87 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1946)]
"Language and myth stand in an original and indissoluble correlation with one another, from which they both emerge but gradually as independent elements. They are two diverse shoots from the same parent stem, the same impulse of symbolic formulation, springing from the same basic mental activity. . . ." [Cassier, at 88]
The transformational power of language is an opening into myth. Myth, like metaphor, is a way of thinking about one order of things in terms of a different order. With myth we amplify our understanding of the prosaic, everyday lives we live. Conventional, everyday thinking gets mired down, confined to ruts. Myth permits a way of thinking about what we mortals mean in terms of the stories of the gods we are not.
Law is presented to students as a form of practical problem-solving, as a method of locating authoritative legal rules that can be used on behalf of clients to further their interest, as we further our own. Consequently, lawyers often view themselves as pragmatic realists. This stance, rooted in the reality of law work, takes no account of the way lawyers