Th. Emil Homerin, Belief, Metaphor and Art

by Mark Staff Brandl

Dr. Th. Emil Homerin has been my main intellectual discourse partner since we were 10 years old. We have done many projects together including installations, performances, articles, comics, a book cover and more. Furthermore, Homerin has written many books and articles, all with stimulating ideas in them (and one with a cover by me). One paragraph written by him in an early publication is particularly important to art and metaphor, thus I have cited it numerous times and do so again here.

What Th. Emil Homerin has written of metaphor and naive belief in the context of religion holds for the arts even more so.

When a myth or belief is no longer accepted as a literal account, whether due to a period of crisis or cultural transition, it may be recast in a new form, humanizing and assimilating more primitive dimensions by the symbolic and evocative nature of metaphor. The primary symbols of a culture are then perceived and colored by the individual consciousness receiving a specific complexion over long periods of time, and their multiple, often subtle, meanings lend themselves to those religious and poetic usages whose function is to establish man’s meaningful existence in a seemingly indifferent world. Th. Emil Homerin 1

Certain assumptions may, following Homerin’s assertion, become more useful, not less. Artworks which were previously viewed as “inspired oracles of an ecstatic saint” may now be interpreted as “profound descriptions of humanity’s existential state.”2

This is not a loss, except perhaps of naïveté, but rather a gain in understanding. I assert this transformation of literal belief into more evocative cultural metaphor is one of the chief functions of artists today.

  1. Th. Emil Homerin, “Echoes of a Thirsty Owl: Death and Afterlife in Pre-Islamic Arabic Poetry,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 44, no. 2 (1985), p. 174.
  2. Idem, From Arab Poet to Muslim Saint: Ibn al-Fārid, His Verse, and His Shrine, Studies in Comparative Religion (Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1994), p. 96.