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6:59pm on Tuesday, 6th December, 2011:

What's a Meta-Metaphor for?


As I've mentioned before, I don't usually remember the dreams I have at night. I must have dreams because everyone has them, but I almost never remember having had any, let alone what they were if I did have them. When I do remember them, it's either because I deliberately set out to have them, or the dream was a consequence of some external stimulus that woke me up. However, very rarely — maybe once a year or so — I get an unbidden dream: one I didn't ask for and which has no obvious external cause. There are therefore something of a special occasion for me.

Last night, I had such a dream.

My unbidden dreams last for much longer than the ones that wake me up. This one was set to be movie length, but only reached to just beyond the start of act III before it stopped. That's still well over an hour's worth of material (in dream time; in real time it would have only been seconds). I was quite annoyed that it finished because I wanted to find out what happened. I almost woke myself up, I was so annoyed; instead, though I woke myself up because I realised it was a metaphor.

Now the thing is, when I have a dream I always know I'm dreaming. I have them so infrequently that when they happen, I know they have to be dreams because things like that don't happen to me otherwise. (Alternative: I only remember those dreams I have in which I know I'm dreaming). This dream, I quickly figured out, was a metaphor. I won't go into the details, because other people's dreams are never interesting and they all end up meaning that there will be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine and the collapse of the euro. However, there was one character in it who might as well have had the word "symbol" stamped on their forehead. It was a metaphor.

So, there I am, having this dream that's a metaphor for something. I know what that something is (no, I'm not telling you, that's not the point here), and it's pretty clever even though I say so myself. I'm impressed. The dream, while following a plot about X, is actually saying something about X's relationship to a different subject, Y. I want to see how it pans out.

What happened when the dream stopped prematurely is that I suddenly realised that I'd been tricked: the dream itself was a metaphor. In other words, constructing a metaphor about something was itself metaphorical. The dream had to stop where it did as part of that metaphor. I hadn't been dreaming about the relationship of X to Y; I'd been dreaming about the relationship of [the relationship of X to Y] to Z. I'd completely missed this, but it was pretty obvious when the dream stopped and I wondered why. It stopped exactly where it had to stop for the meta-metaphor. That surprise is why I woke myself up: I wanted to think about it while I still remembered great chunks of it.

For this reason, even though I still want to find out how the X-to-Y storyline ended, I shan't set anything up to have the rest of that dream tonight. Not knowing the ending is the point of it.

I still have no idea what the meta-metaphor was for, though. All I can say is that I'm pretty sure it's not part of an ever-ascending staircase of metaphors (thank goodness!).

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Copyright © 2011 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).