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This article is taken from PN Review 108, Volume 22 Number 4, March - April 1996.

Surface and Depth: Observations on the Road Christopher Middleton

A well may be deep, or the sea, but what about figurative extensions of the terms 'depth' and 'deep' and their cognates? Obviously a spatial metaphor is brought into play. 'Deep' also entails time: earlier human cultures lie on deeper levels than later ones, in time as in the earth; also it takes time for the seeds to grow, thoughts and images to ripen and emerge. Then there is an acoustic aspect: a voice is called 'deep' and a cello has a different range of notes from a violin, or a viola. One of the clearest analogies for the whole complex of senses assigned to 'depth' and 'deep' is music. The quality and character of music depend, more often than not, on the blending, or separation, of the registers successively audible in performance. In Debussy's G minor quartet, Opus 10, there is a consummate braiding of delicate nuance as the instruments are heard solo or combined in iridescent tissues of sound, inviting and answering one another. Yet another figurative aspect is the linguistic, as in Jakobson's paradigmatic (deep) / syntagmatic (surface) axis. With 'deep' as a qualifier for 'belief, 'despair', or 'hatred', the whole life of feeling and the worlds of cognition enter the kaleidoscope.

If 'gods' dwell in 'depths', if that is where - in terms of spatial metaphor - the slowest, most turbulent, and most persistent germinations take place, then the Olympians might have gone a bit too public; becoming apparitions, a spectacle, their mana ...


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