Metaphors be with you.

Dave Eggers, the first author on my Summer Reading Challenge list, is really satisfying my deep admiration for exuberant writing; now no doubt (since I possess no consistent style) my own fictional forays will bear the distinction of fervid overwriting (instead of my other vein, that of the petulant self-conscious minimalist).  Usually I’m a bit arch and secretive about my admiration for blatantly po-mo fiction writers and their M.C. Escher tricks: the footnotes, the diagrams, the “wink wink I’m writing about about me writing about me writing a book blah blah blah” thing.  Eggers, though, at least in his debut memoir, is simply a good enough writer that the gimmicks feel like fascinating arabesques, not loud wallpaper meant to cover a stained wall full of nail holes.  He uses the kind of metaphors that most authors would feel a need to build up to as though he’s got better ones to spare, these are just the cannon fodder.  A modest example:

At the same time, it would also be nice to make clear the mistake Laura in casting has made, to have our cameo make clear who the real stars are, stars who far outshine this dowdy Judd person — we the brilliant ringed planets, he just a tiny, cold moon. (245)

Very nice.  He’s talking, by the bye, about the casting agent who decided not to feature him on MTV’s The Real World.  That’s profligacy of talent for you.

On the other hand, I’m reminded of a luminary in my personal pantheon, Milan Kundera, who is incredibly more parsimonious with his metaphors.  There is a place in Testaments Betrayed where he castigates the translators of Kafka for muddling Kafka’s rare, spare, hugely meaningful metaphors.  For instance, one time in The Castle, K. is having sex with a woman on the floor of a bar, and Kafka describes him in terms of a foreigner wandering blindly in an unknown country.  Brilliant.  The fate of the casual lover is at once, electrically, united with that of the exile, and in one paragraph, Kafka has dealt with some of the major themes of the modernist age.  

So my question is: which is better?  Not Kafka vs. Dave Eggers, obviously; I think that one’s pretty much settled, good as the latter is.  But who deserves more respect — the virtuoso who can drop metaphors the way Sviatoslav Richter dropped notes in his Sofia recital (i.e. they make the final product even more impressive), or the brilliantly conservative minimalist who makes every single metaphor a sort of climax within the novelistic texture?  Or are they simply two different but equally respectable modes of expression, like blues and jazz?

Your thoughts are welcomed, nay, encouraged.

One response to “Metaphors be with you.

  1. you’re borderline inspiring me to crack that book open again.

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