12 March 2012

Lots of people including Aristotle think error
an interesting and valuable mental event.
In his discussion of metaphor in the Rhetoric
Aristotle says there are 3 kinds of words.
Strange, ordinary and metaphorical.

"Strange words simply puzzle us;
ordinary words convey what we know already;
it is from metaphor that we can get hold of something new & fresh"
(Rhetoric, 1410b10-13)
In what does the freshness of metaphor consist?
Aristotle says that metaphor causes the mind to experience itself

in the act of making a mistake.
He pictures the mind moving along a plane surface
of ordinary language
when suddenly
that surface breaks or complicates.
Unexpectedness emerges.

At first it looks odd, contradictory or wrong.
Then it makes sense.
At this moment, according to Aristotle,
the mind turns to itself and says:
"How true, and yet I mistook it!"
From the true mistakes of metaphor a lesson can be learned.

Not only are things other than they seem,
and so we mistake them,
but that such a mistakenness is valuable.
Hold onto it, Aristotle says,
there is much to be seen and felt here.
Metaphors teach the mind

to enjoy error
and to learn
from the juxtaposition of what is and what is not the case.
There is a Chinese proverb that says,
Brush cannot write two characters with the same stroke.
And yet

that is exactly what a good mistake does.
Anne Carson, "Essay on what I think about most," Men in the Off Hours (Knopf: 2000): 30.


Factory Supervisor said...

particulary like the error margin here; the beauty of mistake, the chaos and the discovery...
that happy accident.
exists in many works of art and the basis of many very great works of art.
to be honest, the basis of all that is truly great and true.
and the only true way to learn.


wrenna said...

To be allowed to make mistakes these days is a great luxury. I'm pleased you like this!