What, then, is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms—in short, a sum of human relations which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins.
I only had one class with Dr. Mikelonis, but we hit it off right away. My research lead me back to Nietzsche today, and I remember the concluding essay she shared with us at the closing of one of the first graduate seminars I attended—I don’t recall the course title, but it was a survey of theories of metaphor. She invited me discuss visual metaphors in subsequent incarnations of the class, and we spoke from time to time about photography and stereography. She was incredibly generous with her time, and inspiring in her love for the genuinely complex. Most of her professional resume reflects her interest in pedagogy and intercultural communication, but this wasn’t the Victoria I knew. Most of her friends called her Vickie, but I somehow couldn’t—perhaps because she always called me Jeffrey (no one except my mother does that—but it’s the name on my transcript). Names aside, our relationship was entirely informal.
When she died, I found myself drawn back to Hesse and Arbib’s The Construction of Reality, a long form meditation on the relationship of faith, schemas, and metaphor. I read it for a while, and then decided that the primarily secular nature of the papers I’m working on right now made the digression counterproductive. Today, I’m reconsidering that. The schizophrenic duality of spiritual (intuitive) truths and scientific (projected or external) truths is at its core a debate over the correct role of history. Reading The Use and Abuse of History was going slowly, but today I revisited Victoria’s favorite capstone essay (written a year before the History essay) and in the final paragraph, found new insights:
There are ages in which the rational man and the intuitive man stand side by side, the one in fear of intuition, the other with scorn for abstraction. The latter is just as irrational as the former is inartistic. They both desire to rule over life: the former, by knowing how to meet his principle needs by means of foresight, prudence, and regularity; the latter, by disregarding these needs and, as an “overjoyed hero,” counting as real only that life which has been disguised as illusion and beauty. Whenever, as was perhaps the case in ancient Greece, the intuitive man handles his weapons more authoritatively and victoriously than his opponent, then, under favorable circumstances, a culture can take shape and art’s mastery over life can be established. All the manifestations of such a life will be accompanied by this dissimulation, this disavowal of indigence, this glitter of metaphorical intuitions, and, in general, this immediacy of deception: neither the house, nor the gait, nor the clothes, nor the clay jugs give evidence of having been invented because of a pressing need. It seems as if they were all intended to express an exalted happiness, an Olympian cloudlessness, and, as it were, a playing with seriousness.
The man who is guided by concepts and abstractions only succeeds by such means in warding off misfortune, without ever gaining any happiness for himself from these abstractions. And while he aims for the greatest possible freedom from pain, the intuitive man, standing in the midst of a culture, already reaps from his intuition a harvest of continually inflowing illumination, cheer, and redemption—in addition to obtaining a defense against misfortune. To be sure, he suffers more intensely, when he suffers; he even suffers more frequently, since he does not understand how to learn from experience and keeps falling over and over again into the same ditch. He is then just as irrational in sorrow as he is in happiness: he cries aloud and will not be consoled. How differently the stoical man who learns from experience and governs himself by concepts is affected by the same misfortunes! This man, who at other times seeks nothing but sincerity, truth, freedom from deception, and protection against ensnaring surprise attacks, now executes a masterpiece of deception: he executes his masterpiece of deception in misfortune, as the other type of man executes his in times of happiness. He wears no quivering and changeable human face, but, as it were, a mask with dignified, symmetrical features. He does not cry; he does not even alter his voice. When a real storm cloud thunders above him, he wraps himself in his cloak, and with slow steps he walks from beneath it.
While few (besides Nietzsche) would see the embrace or discarding of history as an either/or situation, the equation of faith with a sort of ahistorical consciousness and rationality with historical consciousness is useful when considering the incredible variety of attitudes toward history in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.
Thank you Victoria. I miss you a lot.