"The root's hidden and abject form resembles the unsayable aspects of the psyche."

— Wampole, Christy

Place of Publication
Chicago and London
The University of Chicago Press
"The root's hidden and abject form resembles the unsayable aspects of the psyche."
Metaphor in Context
Not only is it a particularly powerful subconscious image; I argue that it is a figure for the subconsciousness itself. The subliminal mind is often depicted as a subterranean network that follows a bifurcating logic rarely touched by the light of day. The root's hidden and abject form resembles the unsayable aspects of the psyche. This living botanical thing reaches for what it needs, formulating its desires by yearning for them. It is an embodied motivation. The plant's radical desire for what has decayed in the soil stands as a figure for memory, the reaching into dark recesses for what used to be alive. The root represents a matriarchal impression, an irrecuperable home where one's character and body were still in their embryonic phases. If people think of themselves as rooted beings, it is due to an umbilical memory of an attachment to the earth, a memory that has been severed in more ways than one. Something specific about the root encourages its metaphorization as both the tenor and the vehicle, to use I. A. Richards's distinction. For example, when roots are anchors that help the tree remain steady, they are the tenor; when people say that they are rooted in their homeland, the root is the vehicle. The smoothness of our metaphorization of this botanical form makes us often forget that it is a figure of speech; we imagine ourselves to be as rooted as the oak tree outside the window. Because of its metaphorical flexibility, the root is a favored figure of poets, who use it often in lyrical works about exile, homesickness, filiation, and the symbiosis between humans and the earth. It is alive but cannot protest our metaphorization of it. Its ugliness and subterranean dwelling make it a suitable candidate for metaphoric appropriations related to the abject, the taboo, the illicit, the underground, and, indeed, evil itself. Furthermore, with its vascular design, the root resembles the veins, nerves, and neurons in human and animal bodies and the rivers and tributaries that saturate the land. As I'll show, the application of this metaphor goes far beyond the morphological correspondence between the root and things of similar form.
(pp. 18-19)
Christy Wampole, Rootedness: The Ramification of a Metaphor (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2016).
Date of Entry

The Mind is a Metaphor is authored by Brad Pasanek, Assistant Professor of English, University of Virginia.