Szasz on Metaphor

I wanted to write a post on metaphor.

I wanted to try to justify my belief that it is worth struggling through poetry until ease comes naturally.

So, I typed into google “if you are not at home in the metaphor, you are not safe anywhere.” I thought this was a (nearly) direct quote from Frost’s essay, Education by Poetry.

The first hit, interestingly enough, was a paper by Thomas Szasz (The Myth of Mental Illness and Coercion as Cure: A Critical History of Psychiatry).

Szasz shares a remarkable story.

In 1931 Robert Frost delivered a lecture at Amherst College with the unexciting title “Education by Poetry.” It is a profound meditation on, and warning about, uses and abuses of metaphor. Long before I “discovered” the vast errors hidden from us by the metaphor of mental illness, Frost wrote:

“Health is another good word. And that is the metaphor Freudianism trades on, mental health. And the first thing we know, it has us all in up to the top knot.. What I am pointing out is that unless you are at home in the metaphor, unless you have had your proper poetical education in the metaphor, you are not safe anywhere. Because you are not at east with figurative values: you don’t know the metaphor in its strength and its weakness. You don’t know how far you may expect to ride it and when it may break down with you. You are not safe with science; you are not safe in history … They don’t know what they may safely like in the libraries and galleries. They don’t know how to judge an editorial when they see one. They don’t know how to judge a political campaign. They don’t know when they are being fooled by a metaphor, an analogy, a parable. And metaphor is, of course, what we are talking about. Education by poetry is education by metaphor.'”

“Paraphrasing that phrase, I suggest that education by psychiatry is education by and with mendacity, a thesis I have maintained for more than half a century.”

Szasz concludes,
“If you are ignorant of metaphor, warned Frost, “You are not safe with science, you are not safe in history… in the libraries and the galleries.” You are certainly not safe if you believe that psychiatrists care for and cure sick people, when in fact the coerce and control persons helpless to resist their violence.”

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