By a quirk of circumstance, some students in my introductory creative writing class in New Zealand have to be there. It’s a requirement for a broader communications degree, and some of them wonder why on earth they should be sitting in on lectures about, say, poetry if they plan to apply their skills to business or politics.
Mining has offered itself as a useful example of why, since it sits at the intersection of politics and business—an intersection called “economic development.” The New Zealand National party government has floated the idea of a 7,000-hectare mining site on conservation land. In March, Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee was quoted as comparing the proposed site to a “postcard on Eden Park.” Eden Park, for those outside NZ, is a sports stadium (rugby and cricket) in Auckland. In other words, he was selling mining by suggesting it was a very small piece of land.
Naturally, someone did some calculations and pointed out that the proposed site was much larger, as a proportion of the surrounding land, than a postcard to Eden Park. It was actually, according to a statistician, equivalent to 121 postcards.
Brownlee responded that he was being “metaphorical” in his comparison.
Was he? I’m having trouble tracking down the exact quote. Did he originally say, “the size of a postcard on Eden Park?” Or did he say, “Look, Mate, it’s a postcard on Eden Park”? There’s a difference.
Oddly, according to reports, Brownlee also responded to cries of inaccuracy by arguing he didn’t mean the rugby field per se but all the surrounding grounds of the complex. Doesn’t this clarification seem to suggest that he meant his comparison literally, not metaphorically?
I’m not taking a side in this post on the mining issue or on Brownlee’s motivations. I’m taking a side on the civic value of learning what a metaphor is and how to go about knowing one when you see it.
Are the lessons of poetry relevant to politics and business? Should we know when someone is being metaphorical and what on earth that means? “What on earth,” of course, being in this case a phrase meant literally.