Metaphors Made Flesh

Wednesday evening Convivium discussions often start hares that occupy me for hours or days. And of course each hare draws one to any number of interesting rabbit holes, and so it goes. Last night, the Question was, essentially, How’s It Going?. There was much talk of disappointments and rampant commodifications, so perhaps there’s an underlying Question: Can It Be Fixed?. The answer is (generally, and often resoundingly) No. And yet we keep wanting the answer to be Yes, <== granting us efficacy in the world, having our efforts and energies mean something, and not to have been somehow in vain… and so evoking rueful reflection on naïvetes of the past…

Or perhaps (I thought to myself) it’s a matter of thinking about which windmills we’ve chosen to tilt against. That Quixotic image keeps coming up, ever since Cervantes 1604, and wants looking into as a prevailing recurrent trope. It begins in a Tale of

…attacking imaginary enemies…
…striving for visionary ideals…

It didn’t take too long (just 40 years) for the windmill-tilting trope to find its way into English as a fully-fledged metaphor. A bit of googlement discovered the first occurrence, in John Cleveland “The Character of London Diurnall” (1644), in which we find

The Quixotes of this Age fight with the Wind-mills of their owne heads; quell Monsters of their owne Creation; make Plots, and then discover them; as who fitter to unkennel the Fox, than the Tarryer, that is part of him.

The Windmills now stand for

…to waste time fighting enemies or trying to resolve issues that are imaginary, unimportant, or impossible to overcome…

…the pursuit of “an unrealistic, impractical or impossible goal”…

…an exercise in futility…

See also Lehua Parker’s take

1 thought on “Metaphors Made Flesh

  1. Wende

    As so often it is left to you to make such connections, dear sir.
    Brilliant again and spawning more conjecture about the nature of the windmills against which we tilt. How might we relate to the inevitable tilting of a lifetime, especially in our elder years when they all collect in a heap to be turned over and reevaluated. Must we find ourselves futile, wanting or having “missed the mark” or might we relate to the effort of a lifetime with compassion and tenderness rather than judgement and dismay?
    Wondering Wende

    Reply

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