Since finishing my last book, I have moved on to a book I have wanted to read for ages, Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. As a parent of a child with autism, I have heard interesting things about the fact that this story is written from the point of view of a person who has autism and speaks frankly about it. I can’t speak directly to how an autistic person sees the world, but I think that the way Haddon approaches the writing is very authentic, and it is written with first-hand experience of autistic individuals: Haddon had worked previously with autistic children. It’s a very compelling work; I started it today and am already about 75% done with it.
So far, two very interesting topics have jumped out to me. The first is a literary issue, concerning metaphors:
The word metaphor means carrying something from one place to another, and it comes from the Greek words μετα (which means from one place to another) and φερειν (which means to carry), and it is when you describe something by using a word for something that it isn’t. This means that the word metaphor is a metaphor.
I think it should be called a lie because a pig is not like a day and people do not have skeletons in their cupboards. And when I try and make a picture of the phrase in my head it just confuses me because imagining an apple in someone’s eye doesn’t have anything to do with liking someone a lot and it makes you forget what the person is talking about. (p.15)
And shortly thereafter in a footnote concerning the sentence “It looked as if there were two very small mice hiding in his nostrils”:
This is not a metaphor; it is a simile, which means that it really did look like there were two very small mice hiding in his nostrils, and if you make a picture in your head of a man with two very small mice hiding in his nostrils, you will know what the police inspector looked like. And a simile is not a lie, unless it is a bad simile. (p.17)
Forgiving some obvious errors – the phrasing “a pig is not like a day” indicates a simile, which is explicitly not problematic according to the narrator Christopher, and “the apple of my eye” is not so much a metaphor as an idiom – I find the evaluative distinction between a metaphor and simile to be fascinating, mostly because both are examples of figurative language, language that is explicitly not meant to be taken literally. (Of course, one can reliably assume that an autistic narrator will be prone to errors of hyperliteralism; it’s a stereotype. Christopher in particular is also very opposed to lies in general, so bringing out this point isn’t surprising.) It should give us pause, however, in our own language use to consider those disadvantaged groups that may have problems with comprehension: language learners and those with linguistic delays or deficiencies.
(I also had never really thought about the etymology of the word metaphor: it is definitely very meta.)
The second is more contemplative, which is Christopher’s musing on prime numbers:
Prime numbers are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away. I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them. (p.12)
Dead on, in my opinion.
I don’t even have to finish reading this book to tell you, faithful reader, that you should read this book if you haven’t already. If nothing else, it will give you some insight into a more diverse way of seeing the world, and you will find yourself entertained in the process.