Similes

by on Nov.05, 2010

Hey all, I’m cooking up a full length review of Rosa Alcala’s “Undocumentaries”, as well as a going-on-thirty-page essay about Bolano’s use of and and or, and its got me thinking about similes.

Yes, similes.

What’s interesting about similes is how overt they are– they have the like or as, anyone can pick ’em out. They propose a likeness. Yet there is something duplicitous about the simile, because every time they say like, they are really saying unlike. Because ‘likeness’ is not identical-ness, it’s not complete. There’s a certain residue of unlikeness that is signaled by the word like. Visually speaking, the word ‘like’ comes between two entities and visually enacts a tremulous link between two things are not identical. Two weights that want to split apart (that are already split apart). Like is the join that sunders. For all its overtness, ‘like’ is literary thinking splitting apart, generating a dark matter.

For example, when Rosa Alcala writes “A Girl Like Me”, and uses that girl as the protagonist-figure of her poems, we begin to realize that the like smuggles in an entropy in place of an apparent binary. The girl is the ‘me’s likeness, but there is a split there, an unlikeness, an unspeakable distance between the speaker and the ‘girl’ that creates noise in the form of poem. As the girls multiply in the poems– the Yugoslavian girl, the girl in the factory, a writer girl– the reader is left in a flexing, aporistic space– what is likeness? If one can generate multiple likenesses, can they really be said to be ‘like’, or is every ‘like’, as Plato feared, really generating counterfeits, ill-formed knockoffs which expand the number of things in the world?

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3 comments for this entry:
  1. Carina Finn

    that’s just what I love about similies — the creation of one is essentially the unraveling of the components into more components that can be endlessly analyzed and compared, if one has the time/energy/inclination. I think “as” is even more interesting than “like” in a lot of ways, because there is something inherently performative about it. I do think the idea of “like” as a counterfeit-generator is at both interesting and valid; if x is like y then it is merely imitative, but why is that bad? and why shouldn’t there be a lot of counterfeits in the world? without them, chinatown (nyc) and poetry would both be out of business 🙁

  2. Johannes Göransson

    I think a lot of the ideas/tropes etc that we’ve been talking about on this blog have been attempts at rescuing the “counterfeit” – kitsch, translation, decadence – from the pervasive rhetoric in contemporary poetry that not only rejects these features, but in many ways produce them. Mostly these are opposed by the serious, the masculine, the rigorous, the true, the natural. As you note, Chinatown is very counterfeit in all kinds of ways. And I think that example suggests some of the xenophobic dimensions of that kind of rhetoric. For some reason I’m having trouble writing clearly. Sorry about the tortured sentences.

    Johannes

  3. Monica Mody

    Love this, Joyelle. Perhaps this tension between likeness and unlikeness is the reason we feel so much affection for similes (and not just, as we believe, the similarities they signal). There’s these lines from Laura Riding’s poem “You or You”:

    “I love you doubly, / How well, you, you deceive, / How well, you, you resemble. / I love you therefore.”

    Will “you” the original steer the copy’s limits of being like or unlike itself? Until when?