Picture for a minute a language wherein its speakers have to find a way of describing quintessential stuff like love and recollections without recourse to metaphor. Leave out, for a minute, the symbolic referents used to get over the problem of abstractions: mind-benders such as, What is this Crazy Little Thing Called Love I keep hearing about on the jukebox? What is a memory, because I’m damned if I can remember? What is this feeling of joy because trying to describe it is really getting me down? And, If death is the undiscovered country, then who the f**k would want to fly there? Try getting by in the bardic language of love and remembrance without borrowing heavily from the world around us – from the phenomenological world of things: of nature’s great spectacles, like hurricanes and heatwaves, and drops of water, and delicate plants and hearts of oak, and organisms – like love itself – that live for a day then die. There would be no picture, for one. My love is like a red, red rose would become my love is like a physiological entity, a feeling if you will, induced by the hormones oxytocin and endorphin that are secreted in varying quantity as an endocrine response to a strong impulse normally associated with human behaviours, most notably sexual reproduction and pair-bonding. For the dispassionate scientist of love, this most mammalian of felt experiences does not flood the senses, burn the fingers, smoulder with desire, or even – to borrow from the late, great Jackie Wilson – lift me higher and higher. Rather, it needs no symbolic transport to carry it from speaker to listener, because for the scientist love is not an abstract, it is biological function of higher mammals that finds its context socially. At a push, love is a trick designed by nature to make the bonding stick, to maximise parental success in raising their single offspring through a relatively long period of care and early years development. Or, to fall back on a metaphor, love is a trap for fools. Not that all parents are fools. One thing love is not is the force that makes the world go round. No, no. That would be angular momentum, conserved by something felt not only as a physical force but also, coincidentally, by lovers falling rapidly out of love: namely, inertia.
Let us think of the head without recourse to metaphor. A stab at the head might result in injury, but a stab at defining it? Can that result in anything other than metaphor? In ifkucinglovescience terms, the head is a biological development shared by nearly all orders of animal. Some heads, admittedly, are more head-like than others. Your average head contains brain cortex and that cortex contains centres/lobes tasked with different jobs. Vital organs generally situated in earshot (clear punmanship intended) of the brain endow the organism with hearing, seeing, tasting and smelling. Now let us do away with these inadequacies – with this dour, clinical description – and think instead of the head as a command centre for all sensory instruction. Better think of it as a nerve centre for all signals sent and received to and from various locations around the organism. Better still, how about as a whole universe in itself, or a third eye of higher consciousness, or even an ever-greying signature of physical identity? Maybe the head area as the part of the whole that we fall in love with most and remember best. Now let us go mental on metaphor. Let us wallow in the stuff as a hippo would in a mud bath. The head is now a house. The cranium is the walls, the eyes are the windows, the ears and nose the alarm system, the mouth the noise that emanates from it, and the brain? Oh! That chestnut. The brain is the sum total of the various rooms that connected by electricity, gas and water make the house a homeostatic, live-in system. But more than that, the brain is everything within the house that brings that house to life. An empty house is pretty brain dead as the living brain dead are pretty vacant. Hence, in making symbols of the head we have a perfectly suitable metaphor to describe a house to, say, an undomesticated E.T. who exists on an exoplanet without streets and cul de sacs. But one, nevertheless, evolved to have livings, sentient beings with heads.
Now let us take a tangential journey through metaphor back to sentiment. We are going to bring the head back to love via the house. Stay with me now. The de facto head of the household was, in days of yore, nearly always the man. However, in the larger houses, aka manors, a governess (she who put the manners into manors) was oftentimes employed to do what Mary Poppins couldn’t without bed knobs and broomsticks. Many governesses became so attached to the higher pursuit of etiquette that their sense of duty became their eventual raison d’être. As career spinsters their heart would often lie within the walls (or cranium) of the house. Once those governed under their wing (why use the word tutelage when the metaphor wing will fly?) had grown up and flown the nest, the life of the ex-governess must have been lonely and sometimes bereft. Comforted by an eternally grateful head of household, some may well have been allowed to grow sick and die there in their attic beds from where they rose again to resume their duties, this time as ghosts. To this day many a spectre – wearing heel length Edwardian frock, pigeon-breast blouse, talking like Eliza Doolittle could only dream of – goes drifting down dilapidated manor halls looking for kids to graduate from the school of propriety. They haunt the house. They fill the metaphorical head, in other words, with ghosts of the past. The memory that stole you away, out out the blue, from your present whatever-it-is- you-were-doing, that memory was actually the riffling of white diaphanous drapes in the conservatory, the kind you see in spooky films. And that sudden recollection of a girl you once thought you would love until death shook some sense into you, the one that made you drop your spanner in the alternator belt, rear up and whack your head on the underside of the car bonnet? That was actually the dog barking furiously in the kitchen from an inexplicable presence that, among the newest occupants of that big, old manor where legend had it an old lady in a long black frock died sitting primly in the attic one hundred years before, none but their dog could sense.
Dogs and metaphors – where would we be without them?