really good metaphors are always the same

Jorge Luis Borges: I remember a joke of Oscar Wilde's: a friend of his had a tie with yellow, red, and so on, in it, and Wilde said, Oh, my dear fellow, only a deaf man could wear a tie like that!

Ronald Christ: He might have been talking about the yellow necktie I have on now.

Borges: Ah, well. I remember telling that story to a lady who missed the whole point. She said, Of course, it must be because being deaf he couldn't hear what people were saying about his necktie. That might hae amused Oscar Wilde, no?

Christ: I'd like to have heard his reply to that.

Borges: Yes, of course. I never heard of such a case of something being so perfectly misunderstood. The perfection of stupidity. Of course, Wilde's remark is a witty translation of an idea; in Spanish as well as English you speak of a "loud color." A "loud color" is a common phrase, but then the things that are said in literature are always the same. What is important is the way they are said. Look at metaphors, for example: When I was a young man I was always hunting for new metaphors. Then I found out that really good metaphors are always the same. I mean you compare time to a road, death to sleeping, life to dreaming, and those are the great metaphors in literature because they correspond to something essential. If you invent metaphors, they are apt to be surprising during the fraction of a second, but they strike no deep emotion whatever. If you think of life as a dream, that is a thought, a thought that is real, or at least that most men are bound to have, no? “What oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed.” I think that’s better than the idea of shocking people, than finding connections between things that have never been connected before, because there is no real connection, so the whole thing is a kind of juggling.

Christ: Juggling just words?

Borges: Just words.

- Jorge Luis Borges, from his Paris Review interview. You can read the whole thing here.

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