Siouxland Observer

Master of Science

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Burger-and-Fry Guys (and Gal)

At the Flume Burger Factory, in Chico, California, Joe Montana was front and center.  Customers could not miss “Cool Joe" painted on the wall, and especially while munching a delicious Flume Burger.  During the big game there was plenty of beer and fries too — and, of course — 49er football.

For the restaurant's uninitiated, however, there was just the burger and fries.
The restaurant, housed near Orient and Flume, is gone now. (The mural too.)  The wall painting, with the look of a freshman about it is not missed much.  But Joe is, for sure. Many still remember his performance in Super Bowl XIX.The San Francisco quarterback made it look like ballet. But back in the day, during Super Bowl XVI, a reporter, also a member of the burger-and-fry guys (and gal), was not a fan.

“Go 49ers!” the repentant burger-and-fry guy yelled to another burger-and-fry guy after the team won Super Bowl XIX.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” a burger-and-fry guy said.

We burger-and-fry guys (and gal) didn’t think much of football back in the day. 

Yes, Joe Montana and the 49ers (and let’s not forget Jerry Rice) were great fun — and it was great football, watching the San Francisco 49ers kick... — well, you know — but there is more to northern California than football, Giants’ baseball, and other stuff.  A bunch of the burger-and-fry guys and gals (one female student, anyway) had nothing to do with sports. They were into Paul Ricoeur, and were huddled down in a campus building watching a guy at a chalkboard.

Of course, "Norm," the above mentioned football hating, burger-and-fry guy, wasn’t in the class, but a handful of other burger-and-fry guys (and gal) were, and they were doing wondrous things. They were learning how to study, read, and interpret the Bible (or at least one was). They were learning about hermeneutics and stuff.

In the book of over 350 pages, translated by Robert Czerny, Paul Ricoeur, Chair of General Philosophy at the University of Paris (la Sorbonne) et al., helped put it all together.

(A YouTube video posted here explores a rudimentary understanding of metaphor.  Yes, many of the burger-and-fry guys and gal might have bristled at this video.  Ricoeur was a genius, after all.  But it's fun anyway.)

While Joe was out there giving interviews; or perhaps, during an important Cal State, Chico, Wildcat football game (a reporter forgets), the burger-and-fry people were at their desks, huddled against the darkness.  Charles Winquist, a Religious Studies instructor at Cal State, Chico (who had required us to read Freud, Jung, and an eclectic group of writers, including Robert Funk and Rafael López-Pedraza), outlined his understanding of Paul Ricoeur on the chalkboard.

What Winquist was lecturing about was impossible to understand, however, but among the geniuses one brave soul spoke up: “What are you talking about?" 

If you have ever read a translation of Paul Ricoeur, or even looked at his work — a portion is shared below — you will understand the angst.  But there was more to it than this. Holt Hall was empty. Everyone on campus, and in the world, was either talking about football, watching football or playing football that school year.  The entire campus atmosphere was electrified with the 49ers and, of course, the burger-and-fry guys (and gal) could not accept this.  How could the campus ignore what really mattered?

Dear reader, please be patience.  What happened next cannot understood without quoting “The Rule of Metaphor.”  On page 299, Ricoeur said, “(that) the metaphorical utterance functions in two referential fields at once....”  Thus, there is a tension between the literal and the metaphorical.

Ricoeur seemed to be saying that the tension was located between the “terms” of the statement as a whole. Understanding thus — the given tension between a literal interpretation and a metaphorical one — creates a tension in the reference (or “meaning”) between what is, and what is not.

The duality, he said, explains how two levels of meaning are linked together in the symbol.  The first meaning relates to a known field of reference that is attached to the sphere of entities the predicates consider established meaning.

The second meaning, the one that is to be made apparent, relates to a referential field for which there is no direct characterization — a characterization people are usually unable to make in the descriptions made by the predicates.

Simply, in Holt Hall that night, what was genius, was not.  Or at least according to the lesson on the chalkboard.  The instructor began dissing jocks (all in relation to “superior us,” of course).  Yes, football was a waste of time, he said. People jumping up and down and screaming....

The lecture, and what was written on the chalkboard, has mostly been forgotten, but the anti-football lecture went on for a minute or two. The person who had asked the question stared slack jawed as the instructor answered.

An unknown metaphorical reality was the answer to the question; this is what he was talking about. There is a subtext.  We all knew this on an unconscious level, and it influenced our work and understanding without anyone really being aware of it.

Metaphor becomes the power to re-describe reality,” a student read yet again, trying to figure it out. “Earlier analyses are not abandoned, however; we can still detect metaphors in the literal absurdity of statements and point to the words in which the metaphorical action is focused….  The metaphorical word, par excellence, is the copula (the top of understanding): the “is” of the metaphorical statement contain(ing) an “is not,” for it asserts an identity that does not overcome dissimilarities."

Take garbage, for example.  Garbage is trash we throw out. Yet it can also mean how we feel about another's statement. This is easily understood by all (and may have been felt by more than one student at the lecture), but it does not change the literal meaning of garbage.

Simply, no one went for a Flume Burger that night.  There were chapters to reread....  But football took on renewed meaning.  Joe could throw a football, for sure; but so could Charley. 1

 1  Everyone probably received an “A” grade (the questioner did, anyway).  It is worth noting that Campus Security had to unlock the building; the students, and their instructor, wandered Holt Hall looking for an open classroom (many rooms, including the lecture hall, were locked that night). There were only 5 or 6 of us.  We found a tiny room open on the south side of the building.

It had been frustrating — the fact that classes were scheduled, and buildings were closed….  Did the instructor hate football lovers?  It is highly unlikely, but at least one did.  The equation shown in the selected chapter (show above) was not shared that night. Words linked by arrows and diagrams probably filled the chalkboard, but a’ over b’ — (“a” prime over “b” prime) — are usually considered unknowns, and are ever present in communication (especially between people). This was yet another “tension” revealed in the lecture that night, and it still divides human communication, and understanding today.

Individuals, and communities, still struggle to find meaning in others' words.  Without understanding metaphor (and even with) communication can descend into meaninglessness, frustration and despair.  Even hate.  The lecture was brilliant, as was the man sharing it.

In Memory of Charles Winquist