free verse continued

An excerpt from my paper on Robert Creeley:

A consideration of Robert Creeley’s poetics must account for this. Although later in life, Creeley was to abandon the heavy emphasis he usually placed upon the ends of lines, they could only be excised so much as they weren’t literally written into the poem. They are, in fact, an inseparable part of most of his poems. Creeley’s lines are usually heavily enjambed. Often, articles, verbs and prepositions are left dangling at the ends of lines, a device which has been said to pull the poem quickly down into the next line. This is without a doubt one of this device’s effects. His poems are quick, and true to the form of projective verse, one perception moves ‘instanter on’ another. This is not, however, the sole effect of the enjambed, end-stopped lines. Their effect reaches much farther.

“Form is never more than an extension of content,” Creeley once told Charles Olson. True to the dictum, the form of Creeley’s poems are dependent upon the content. In his poems, he moves quickly from one image, one though onto the next. This was ultimately on his goals as a poet: “I wanted the fastest juxtaposition possible, and the least explanatory manner.” The quickness of his form lends itself well to such an aim. End line pauses intensify the break between Creeley’s fast moving images, strengthening the contrast of his juxtapositions:

For love—I would
split open your head and put
a candle in
behind the eyes.

Love is dead in us
If we forget
The virtues of an amulet
And quick surprise.
The Warning, For Love

In this first stanza, the first two end words are verbs and the third a preposition. As end words, they beg for completion. What would the I of the poem do? What is being placed, and where in? In four short lines, love, a split-open head, a candle and eyes are placed in sharp contrast with one another. Form supports the juxtaposition of these disparate images against one another. The end-stopped lines serve to heighten the dramatic tension raised by the proposition of a head being split open for love. If the four lines were to be condensed into one or even two lines, the images would lose themselves in one another. It loosely scan as: For love I would turn your head into a jack-o-lantern. This is the virtue of Creeley’s form: There is, in his poems, a constant sense of what is to come. The logic of the poem is laid bare for the tensions that it creates. How will the relations implied by the verbs and preposition be fulfilled?

In formal, rhymed verse, poems ride upon the backs of their end-words. When there is a set rhyme scheme, there is, in the act of reading, an anticipation of the rhyme. Although this anticipation is not the primary focus of reading, it is absolutely a part of it. If one accepts that poetry was originally rhymed to facilitate its memorization, then one must accept this proposition prima facie. In breaking from tradition, Creeley cannot escape it. Readers of poetry are no doubt familiar with the “authoritative poetry” to which he alludes. For better or for worse, these readers have been trained to pay close attention to the end words since grade school. When this model of reading is applied to Creeley it would seem to suggest that by heavily enjambing and end-stopping his lines at odd moments, Creeley brings particular focus to typically overlooked words. Many of his critics support this view. They claim that the end-stopping emphasizes the ‘thingness’ of those terminal words. No doubt, there is some truth in this. Practically, however, it is difficult to say this is necessarily so. It seems somewhat ludicrous to suggest that the ‘thingness’ of words like not, love, she, it, on, for, day (to borrow a few terminal words from The Business ) is what a reader takes away from one of his poems.

On the contrary, it seems more intuitively plausible to posit that the effect of his odd end-stopping and enjambment actually places emphasis upon the first word(s) of the following line. The end of one line and the beginning of the next, for the most part, seem to function in call and response relationship. Terminal words, in Creeley’s poetry, pose questions and the onset of the next line brings an answer (however cryptic it may be). It is this call and response relationship between his lines that, to my mind, contributes the most to the sense of Creeley as jazzy. Reading a Creeley poem, one anticipates not the completion of a rhyme sequence, but the completion of a thought. Once, Creeley wrote that a poem should be “a structure of recognition—better—cognition itself”. This rapidity of movement and juxtaposition from line to line lives up to his definition of poetry as ‘cognition’. One is constantly in following the process of the poem, each line revealing a further layer of the idea underhand.

free verse and me

You, also, by extension. A random note worth adding to the dialogue here on Invented Usage. Admittedly this dialogue has been a little slow coming lately, but -- as cristi says -- it should be more frequent given the "home" situation. Did anyone mention that Cristi will be Managing Editing the College Hill Independent next semester? Congratulations, Cristi. I'm proud of you.

To poetry. That infernal beast. The topic no one cares about, or at least far less people than should. An interesting point raised by Keith Waldrop and something I talked about for some length in a paper I just completed on Robert Creeley, involves the change in expectation created by free verse. Formal verse, rhymed verse, has a very clear form of expectation. One, simply, expects the rhyme to complete itself. A to rhyme with A, B to rhyme with B. There is also an expectation of ending put in place by a metrical system (Iambic Pentameter [that beast]). One has a conscious and unconscious expectation for the completion of these regular devices.

In free verse, this is not so. Lines can be of indeterminate length (and often are). Free verse is often blank, unrhymed. As one moves from line to line, what is one to expect? What, in a sense, pulls the reader's attention down the page? Simply, it is the expectation of completion. The expectation is not at the end of line, at the termination of the form, but upon the induction of the next thought.

This idea is exemplified well in the poetry of Robert Creeley. I will, tomorrow (later today), post a snippet of his poetry and provide a more in depth explanation. More later.


vagueness solved!

haha, just kidding. vagueness poses a critical problem for many branches of language theory. but, after writing a paper on it, and losing a lot of sleep over it, here are my thoughts on vagueness:

1. vagueness is an essential part of the functioning of language. no two objects are precisely the same, so for a word to apply to many similar objects immediately requires vagueness. without vague (and i realize i'm using the term vaguely here) extensions, words could only apply once, and then language wouldn't really function as a language at all.

2. the meanings of words are conventional. everyone says this, but what does it mean? well, David Lewis's book Convention goes a long way toward explaining it in terms of game theory. In a nutshell, Lewis defines convention as: we all want to continue doing the same action provided most other people continue also, but if the majority started doing some alternative action, we would want to switch to that alternative. But he uses it to describe the meanings of whole sentences. If his theories were applied to words, they might usefully describe how vaguenesses and ambiguities and such arise. we use a word to describe a thing only when we think other speakers will do the same. for example, our only way of knowing whether a man is bald or not bald is to consider whether others would apply the word 'bald' to him.

3. The above example is not just meant to demonstrate that the application of a term to an object is vague. The meaning of the word itself changes based on how speakers would choose to apply it. i'm not really sure how to articulate this difference, but it's very important.

that's all for now. hopefully posting will be more frequent now that we're all settled at home.


Where have I gone? Where am I going?

This shall be a short post. One to shake of the cobwebs and provide a jumping off point for further posting. It's been a busy peiod here, lots of paper writing and the like. I just finished a paper on Grice this evening. Since then, I've been trying to occupy myself and decompress.

Anyway, this is post to say I'm here. For those of you, like myself, who enjoy distracting yourself with games, I recommend that you check out Icy Tower. What's Icy Tower? Icy Tower is a game in which you play the role of Harold the Homie, a small sprite trapped inside an infinite tower of platforms. Harold has no other want in life but jump up and climb the tower of icyness. The goal? To achieve massive combos. A combo, you see, is a succession of multi-floor jumps. If you jump two floors five times in a row, you have achieved a ten floor combo. Keep the combo going and get more points. Simple.

In some ways it's a metaphor for life. We are all trapped in our icy towers attempting to achieve perfection in the limited vocabulary of moves afforded us. This is stretching it, I realize, but f**k that. What's philosophy got to do with it.

If in an icy tower then jump. From Icy Tower infer JUMP!



new invented users!

or, invention users? we don't want them to sound made up....

Since school is busy, and five heads are better than two, we've taken on some new talent here at invented usage. please give a short, screen-directed burst of applesauce for Adam F., Josh B., and Seb S.

We hope their wide variety of interests - philosophy, poetry, cognitive science, prose, feral children computer science, to name just a few! - will add some spice to everyone's lives.

this blog is on the fire!


vagueness the third

i admit it; i've had vagueness on the brain these last few weeks. to be honest, it's a pretty frustrating condition. Suddenly, everything seems vague - objects, verbs, adjectives, Kilimanjaro, heaps, baldness, redness. and there is, as yet, no theoretical or philosophical explanation. how do any of us ever know what we're talking about?

fuzzy logic seems promising - especially from a computational view - but it still supposes certain unfuzzy boundaries. if we assign a value of "1" to all atoms that are definently a part of Kilimanjaro, and a range of values between "1" and "0" to those that may or may not be, we still beg the question: how do we know where the boundary of "definently" vs. "potentially" part of Kilimanjaro is?

According to McGee & McLaughlin, who have funny names, supervaluation theory attempts to lay out a set of acceptable models "such that a sentence is determinately true if and only if it is true in each member of the collection." (I don't know what, exactly, a model is, either, but bear with me...) They cite Kit Fine (1975), who came up with constraints that a model has to meet to count as acceptable: these include classificatory and penumbral constraints. (i can't say i know exactly what these are, either.)

one thing i do know is that these constraints are dumb. "classificatory constraints are external: they require a correct classification of extralinguistic objects." how conveeeenient. for a model to evaluate whether "that object is red" is true, it has to first correctly identify whether the object is red. OUTSIDE of language.

and how is that accomplished? i'm glad you asked: "Roughly (the details are elusive), our usage of 'red' will... [consist] of things linguistically competent and visually acute speakers, observing the things under good viewing conditions, would classify as 'red'..." so... uh.... whether something is 'red' extralinguistically is based on how SPEAKERS would CLASSIFY an object. in language.

i'm starting to formulate my own theory, because i've been reading Convention with vagueness on the brain as well, but this post is too long already. stay tuned!


usage of the week-ing it up

cristi here, blogging it up in connecticut, and tracking invented usages to keep you, the reader, up to date and talking it up real cool-like.

today we'll be talking about 'blanking it up.' as with most new usages, the form of this one isn't new, but the application is.
eat it up
take it up
snap it up
mess it up
have been around for years, but new usages like
tent it up (usually refering to camping)
blogging it up
talking it up
laugh it up
smoke it up (usually refering to marijuana)
seem emergent. a google search returned 334 hits for "tenting it up," and 1050 hits for "blogging it up," many of them in phrases like "blogging it up motown style," "blogging it up here," or "blogging it up in [location]"

in the more traditional usages i've mentioned, 'it' usually stands for an object, so that one can say 'eat up all the turkey' or 'took his bag up.' in the newer usage, this is impossible - 'it' is not an object at all.

this usage - the addition of 'it up' to an existing verb - is hard to describe. it doesn't seem metaphorical in any way. it doesn't seem logical to say that these actions go 'up' in any sense of the word. it's my guess that a few uses came into favor in a cool community (maybe the ones having to do with gang life? who knows.), and the status of those usages lapped over into the phrasing itself.

the interesting thing is that the phrase is productive even though it isn't 'meaningful' in the strict sense. '-ing it up' doesn't add meaning - it just seems to add attitude and mark a certain speaking style. i'm just thinking it up out loud.

get your language now, 'cause we're using it up here at invented usage.


vagueness part deux

Timothy Williamson, clearly the most exciting guy in the world, wrote a whole book called 'Vagueness' about some of the topics in my last post. His opening chapter is about the classical history of sorities problems - logical puzzles like the baldness problem i presented last post.

the general format of sorities problems is a series of questions, in which one begins with a clear case: "is this pile of 10,000 grains of corn a heap?" to which anyone would answer "yes." Then the questioner slowly works down: "if i remove one grain, is it still a heap?"; "yes". "If I remove one grain at a time, and no one grain should make a difference to the status of the object, is one grain a heap?" based on the logic of premises and conclusions, the answerer (usually a stoic) is left in the absurd position of having to answer that one or even zero grains are, in fact, a heap. The question has always been: is there a sharp cut off determining when something is no longer a heap? is there a certain number of grains required to make a heap?

I, possibly a skeptic, tried this line of questioning on a computer science major (dave, i think you know who you are). at first i thought i had failed utterly, because no matter how low the numbers got, he still considered it a heap. "alright, dave, what if there are no grains? is it still a heap?" dave: "yes, [laughter] it's just an empty heap."

but i found it hard to argue that he was wrong to hypothesize an empty heap. it was certainly an elegant way to buck a sorites problem. and it reminded us here at I.U. of a post scott wrote over the summer.

even with a c.s. major, pointing to an empty place on the ground and asking "is this a heap?" is unlikely to elicit a 'yes' response. but it's NOT hard to say that yes, after i've removed grain after grain, the empty spot left is a type of heap - namely, an empty one.

so, what's the difference? why are 5 grains sometimes a heap and sometimes not? as with most topics on this blog, we return to context. we are only inclined to call something a heap when salient that it is a heap - as opposed to anything else.

the same contextual issues are important in other circumstances - suppose i have 10,000 grains but they are spread out, for instance. suppose a heap is naturally formed by wind piling grains against a wall? is it a heap?

the neat thing about language is that we can match it effectively to these vaguenesses. i hesitate to say 'vaguenesses in the world', because vagueness isn't in the world - it's in the application of totalized terms like 'heap' to a world that isn't built out of totalized concepts. but language allows us to work around these gaps when we need to and say "it used to be a heap", "it's an empty heap"; "it's a group of grains, but not a heap".


on vagueness

it's that time of year again, when all philosophy of language students' minds must turn to fanciful musings about their final papers. Will we write anything original? Will we write anything original the night of december 5, when we stay up at the sci-li all night in a panic?

to ensure that this doesn't happen, i'm going to attempt some pre-write blogging on my chosen topic, one near and dear to all our hearts: vagueness.

Gareth Evans' now famous essay "can there be vague objects?" begins,
It is sometimes said that the world might itself be vague. Rather than vagueness being a deficiency in our mode of describing the world, it would then be a necessary feature of any true description of it.

He's right, and it's a promising idea, but I'd like to point out that what is never said is that language is what allows us to talk about objects as though they were not vague.

he then introduces logical operators meaning 'definitely' and 'indefinently' and concludes that they always lead to contradiction. and then the essay ends. very abruptly. it's only a page! turning the page over, we find an essay by David Lewis in which he defends Evans and uses the word 'precisifications' many times. well done, Lewis.

but Lewis, too, addresses a simple dichotomy in the way philosophers think of vaguness: there are those who believe that objects are vague, and there are those who believe that descriptions are vague. in either case, vagueness is a fault which, if we are to be logical, we must remedy by precisifying our concepts before using them in formulas.

over my next few posts (and maybe that paper?) i'd like to argue that vagueness is not a weakness of language or the world, but a necessary, interesting, and productive part of the connection between the two. and arguments about vagueness might provide a way to bootstrap up into a debate about the nature of properties of objects and whether or not logic bows to language.

until next time, consider this classic(al) sorites problem, which led to original formulations of vaguness:
is a man with one hair on his head bald? (yes?)
is a man with two hairs on his head bald? (yes?)
can we reasonably make a distinction between his being bald or not bald on the basis of the addition of any single hair? (no.)
then by this reasoning, we can continue adding one hair at a time until you must admit that a man is not bald even if he has 20,000 hairs on his head. (doh!)


hypothesis confirmed!

i don't know how i feel about empiricism, but this is pretty interesting anyway:

think back to my last post, bodily function poems. Last night, not two days after that post was written, I went to the restroom in New Dorm, and lo and behold, underneath the "if you sprinkle when you tinkle..." sign (which is printed in a childish, light-blue font), was a very serious looking black and white sign that read:
Please be considerate and keep the bathroom, shower, sink area clean.

Clean up messes that you are responsible for - whether it be toilet paper or bodily fluids.

I can't tell you how proud i was.

In this sign, we are addressed as responsible adults, and as such, we no longer "tinkle," but instead, "cause messes," which may or may not involve "bodily fluids."

There is fine print on the sign directing "you" to contact "facilities management" or "C.A.s" "if the toilets are clogged" or "for further complaints or information."

Perhaps it has become clear to the writers of the signs that we are no longer hapless children who inadvertently "tinkle" and forget to clean up after ourselves. Maybe we are finally to be held responsible for repeated infractions.

and the sign is much more authoritorian in another way: there is a threat of being inconsiderate if we don't follow the sign. in an anonymous situation, these methods: gentle, humorous suggestion, and appeals to responsibility and consideration might be the only course of action. at least, i can't see a middle ground. we would never rhyme about "bodily fluids" or write prose about "poo".

scott tells me the new sign also hangs in the men's restroom, where it will likely be peed on.


more on those god damn poetry readings

Was taking a look over at the Contemporary Poetry Review in an article about John Ashbery:
One problem presented by the semi-professional need for poets to deliver recitations of their poems is that it must be assumed that they are the best interpreters, if not necessarily the most gifted performers, of their own works. One might delight in the thought of James Earl Jones intoning oneÂ’s poem from the podium to awed audiences, but it is usually a whinier, less assured voice that the audience finally encounters. It is unfortunate that the aural revelation of a poem is often one of foggy meandering and droning rather than the warm illumination that should be expected. One finds in scratchy old recordings of Pound reading from the Cantos a tidier (or at the least quite amusing) understanding of some of the last centuryÂ’s most imposing and sometimes nearly incomprehensible poems. Even an otherwise undemanding poem by a poet today will be muddled up in the reading. The poet very often recites with a slight trailing up at the end of the otherwise randomly broken line, in a pompous, breathy seriousness that hardly befits the slightness of the poetry itself.
Hell yes. Well put says I. Seriously what is with the monotone poet voice? One even encounters it in College workshops, where poets (some of them even talented) deliver their poems like they were reciting from the phone book. I guess it's an image thing. Emo, maybe?
They come to witness greatness, fame, and finally, the clarification, elucidation of the poems, the revelation from the oracle.
This is what I've been telling people for awhile now. The mark of a good reader is the ability to elucidate what's being read. To have the voice ride across the piece of literature, highlighting with ARTICULATION and INTONATION the gradients of meanincontaineded within the work.

Michael Harper, a well known poet and professor here at Brown is the best reader I've heard yet. When he reads one has the feeling of "getting it" a feeling not to often felt at your average poetry reading. If you haven't had the chance to listen to him, there's a short video of a reading he gave at UC Berkeley. By short I mean an hour. In class he tends to drag on for long tracts of time telling tales of the glory days with Sterling Brown, Robert Hayden and Brooks. Apparently he had some disagreements with ol' Allen Ginsberg about something. Should try to find out that was. Office hours?


bodily-function poems

consider the following rhymes, to be found taped inside the doors of various bathroom stalls:
If it's yellow, let it mellow
if it's brown, flush it down. (Summer Camp Classic)

if you sprinkle
when you tinkle
please be neat
and wipe the seat!
(printed sign, girls restroom, New Dorm B, Brown University)

don't be rude,
flush your poo.
-The Managment
(handwritten in friends' suite in Grad Center tower C, Brown University)

I, for one, cannot imagine signs of equivalent explicitness written in prose:
If you urinate on the toilet seat, please clean up after yourself.

Please remember to flush the toilet after defecating in it.

Gross!!, right? No one would post, or stand for, such a sign.

I haven't developed a working hypothesis about this yet, but i'd like to start by examining the differences between the acceptable and unnaceptable signage above.

The most obvious of these is rhyme. Simple rhymed couplets in folksy meter seem to be standard fare. (slant-rhyme: poo and rude, is fine.)

The words used for bodily functions in the poems are of a different level of diction from my prose examples. 'poo' and 'tinkle' are not the same words as 'urinate' and 'defecate'. i'd characterize them as the words used between parents and children, who must often discuss such matters tastefully.

Who can say what words we use for bodily functions when we are alone in bathroom stalls? they are probably not 'poo' and 'tinkle', but when communication (from an authority?) takes place in the stall, it is couched in terms that are distinctly 'cute'.

And a definition of that terms is wanted. perhaps it is unoffensive, parental, endearing, even distancing? is there an implication in these signs that the management would rather not have to discuss these tender subjects? are signs on dorm kitchen doors also rhyming and cutesy, or is it only 'poo' and 'tinkling' that call for this mode of communication? these are questions for further research.


Wag the Poet

About a week ago, Cristi and I went downtown to a posh little cafe called Tazza to hear some poets on the faculty here at Brown read. It was a fundraiser for hurricane Katrina, or more aptly for those effected by the horrendous 'cane.

Now, I've tried to go to several of these readings. There was one several weeks ago, which due to my own ineptness at reading signs, I showed up mostly too late for. Just in time to hear this guy read some political poem about the situation in Iraq (*yawn*). The poem wasn't bad, necessarily, it's just not my style to indulge politics with poetry. The two, to me, have always seemed at odds. Politics is the doggerel of the masses. This is, of course, perhaps overstating it too much, but the discourse of politics--especially these days, and on these college campuses where "liberal-minded" students are flopping around proclaiming their hatred of Bush every time someone even thinks to say the word "government"--is self perpetuating. The very discussion of politics, supreme court nominees, taxes, war etc. just plays into the system of corruption that no one wants but everyone claims those who disagree with them are for. Poetry, and more generally all art, should be above these base arguments. Leave it for the pundits. Chris Matthews can write the Ballad of John Kerry. The real problems are more deeply rooted than the national political tit-for-tat. A piece of art that wears its political agenda on its sleeve can only become part of that discourse, a ball punted around by those trapped up in the dead end rhetoric of the national politic. The concern of art is the greater philosophical and metaphysical concerns of our time, the "politics" of it (if you want to call it that) will handle themselves.

This distracts me from the point I had wished to make: Poetry readings are very boring. Sitting in the back of the room listening to the poets recite there work, I was struck by how unmoving the whole event was. This frightened me. After all, studying poetry for four years in college has basically made it my milieu (for better or worse). I should be enjoying these types of things. I should be aspiring to read in front of audiences at trendy cafes, lecture halls and bus stops. But after a rash of attending these readings, I can't see why anyone would want to come hear me.

Wag the poet. The poems are wagging the poets. The poet stands before an audience, sidles up to the microphone, opens her book of poems and begins to recite. Hello! Recitation is not reading. Not even close. I like poems an awful lot. Most people do, I've found, despite the fact that most people spend .01% of their time on it. So why get up there, and just... PRESENT... the poem(s). Poetry reading is, at its root, an act of storytelling. This was of course sustained by the nature of the poems being read by wandering bards and minstrels. They were narrative poems. They were stories. Now, though, with most poetry experiencing the postmodern hangover, the poems do not tell stories themselves. This isn't bad. Far from it. But why not use the reading as an opportunity to deliver those anecdotes (stories) which contextualize the more abstract poetry of our times, and sell the idea that they are worth listening to (and not as daunting as they appear to be).

There are the slam poets. I hate slam poetry. So I'm not going to discuss it. Watch Def Poetry Jam and tell me what you think. That's a discussion I'd like to have.

... A poetry reading should be a gathering of friends, a time to unwind and listen. It should not be a time to sit in a room feigning rapt attention before an edifice of words that is for the most part delivered unemphatically and with supreme arrogance. I'd like to conclude with a quotation which I think sums up the "attitude" I witness at these readings:
"Peter Ackroyd's biography of Eliot claims that the first reviews [of The Waste Land] in England were "variously baffled and respectful"-- partly because of the notes and references, which left some critics mystified enough that they couldn't come out and say they didn't like the poem for fear their ignorance of his learned and sophisticated methods would be discovered."
Everyone, let's stop pretending we understand and start asking to be helped along. We'll all be the better for it.


our philosophy of language homework

well, we've come head-to-head with the enemy. an upper-level philosophy course purportedly all about language that has, so far, been all about truth, and i'd like to share and ridicule a "logical" "proof."

this is a real answer from our first problem set. the comments in brackets were not on our homework.

6) Given the definition of truth: For any proposition x, x is true iff [if and only if] (for some p)(x = the proposition that p and p). Does this definition entail the proposition "The proposition that John is bald is true iff John is bald."? Yes!

1. By the definition of truth provided, the proposition that John is bald is true iff (for some p)(the proposition that John is bald = the proposition that p and p).
[The proposition that p is a concept, keep in mind, and 'p' is a statement about the real world. a fact, if you will. from outside language. but i shouldn't have written it in quotes just there, because that makes it a sentence, which is different from either a fact or a proposition.]
2. By Assumption, the proposition that John is bald = the proposition that q and q.
[we all konw what they say about assumption...]
3. By Assumption, the proposition that John is bald is a true proposition of language L.
[oh ho! yeah, this seems like a good place to start.]
4. It follows from the given Equivalence Principle that if the proposition that John is bald = the proposition that q, then John is bald iff q.
[if the propositions are the same, then the facts in the world are the same. ?]
5. By 2, 4, and logic, John is bald iff q.
[don't ask me what logic is.]
6. By 2, 5, and logic, John is bald.
[don't ask me what logic is.[did i just state the same proposition twice?]]
7. By 1 and 6, and the Rule of Existential Instantiation, John is bald.
[honestly, i've forgotten what the REI is already, but it was very handy for situations like this, where we needed to be able to get from the proposition that John is bald to the fact that John is bald via our previous assumptions both implicit and explicit... clearly, if 'john is bald' is true, then john is bald. don't quote that.]
8. By 2 and 7, if the proposition that John is bald is a true sentence of L, then John is bald. (conditional proof).

there's a second argument to this proof, but we don't know if it's necessary or not... just to give you some idea, though, it begins with "1. By assumption, John is bald."

i'm so glad language is actually illogical. all this common sense makes my head hurt.


use this word now.


You WILL use the following word in conversation: HAUSTED. ['hawsted]

What is hausted? Far be it from us at Invented Usage to define our terms. Allow us to teach language as we were taught it: by example.

"I'm so hausted after that great night of sleep I just had."
"It's imperative that you haust yourself, you have a big test tomorrow."
"I'm in a very hausty mood this morning."
"He was full of haust, and ate a hearty breakfast."
"Before this hike I was hausted, but now..."
"We must carefully haust our national resources."
"She had to be sedated due to extreme haustion."
"We sprung, haustedly, into action."

Unfortunately, we here at Invented Usage are EXHAUSTED, so we're going to bed. But use the word. Or suffer the dire consequences.

Haunt your local haunts with Haust Posters, coming soon.


Can Poetry Matter?

Recently, I've been picking through Dana Gioia's book Can Poetry Matter? which seems, thus far, to be a worthwile read if you have the time and interest. In the title essay, Gioia more or less comes down hard on contemporary poets for hiding in the academy. He laments the lost times of poetic bohemia when poets were out amongst the people.

Honestly, I have a little trouble buying this. Poets (writers in general, pretty much) have always been of the academy. Eliot, Creeley, Cummings, Ashbery et al. are Harvard chums (Creeley dropped out though.) Poets of the time period Gioia is dealing with, seem to me, to have always been a part of the academy.

It is true, though, that the Creative Writing boon has shaped the nature and practice of contemporary poetry. It could not have done otherwise. I'm less quick to indict this as a bad thing. If anything I see it as a chance to open up a populace to the idea of reading poetry. This is, of course, the central problem. Poetry just isn't vital to people. Who now can afford time to it? Can this ever change?

Lit mags though. He hits them pretty soundly. Currently, I'm editing the poetry section of Clerestory, which is Brown University literary magazine (more or less). I'm pretty daunted by the possibility of having to select undeserving poems for publication. The magazine simply demands a certain number of poems, which must be filled. There are, of course, several excellent even awesome submissions, but generally... Pretty weak.

Speaking of Clerestory and poems. This poem of mine appeared in the most recent edition:
Zapruder Film

Your death transpired
just as I had imagined it.

Except, of course,
for pink explosion.

That was a surprise.
Yep. And then this little gem (which I loved) from Brian Stefan (who is apparently a graduate student here).
Mail Art

an introduction
to language


you could say i'm trying
too hard
and be right
you could
fuck a horse


male art


shackleton, the explorer
died at forty-seven
in antarctica
while you read this


usage of the next week

Consider the sign posted next to the elevator in the science library:
Handicapped Restroom Located on Level B.

First of all, (to once again quote the Big Lebowski), dude, "Handicapped" is not the preferred nomenclature. It's "differently abled," please.

But really, is
Differently Abled Restroom Located on Level B.

any better?

Why is it we feel we can't address differently-abled people themselves on signage? We'd never see
Restroom for Differently Abled Students Located on Level B.

Maybe that's in poor taste.

So we go on, ignoring the fact that the restroom is handicapped on the sign. And we all understand it anyway.


Manatees of Approval

Cristi approves of Vogue. The magazine, not the Madonna song (although the first issue I read had Madonna on the cover). Vogue doesn’t just endorse spending a lot of money on clothes, it champions a whole lifestyle that acknowledges the need to create an identity. Why exclude clothing as an ‘external’ or ‘false’ representation of the personality rather than view it as an opportunity for creative self-expression? Aren’t we always re-presenting ourselves? Also, Vogue is the only thing that keeps me sane on airplanes.

Scott disapproves of poets who are down on our modern times. Let’s get with the program! Modern times are here to stay. There’s been a lot of discussion in my poetry related courses of the disappearance of a local identity. Maybe we’re getting a little more global, but maybe what we lose in a traditional sense of locality we make up for with our ability to create our own space out of the digital and technological access afforded us. Take this blog as case in point. Without global distribution, we would certainly have fewer than our current 20 or so dedicated readers.

Cristi disapproves of truth conditions. See all her previous posts. For real. Language and logic shouldn’t mix.

Scott and Cristi both approve of Spamalot and New York City. You would think that such a massive space would cause you to dilute over it and feel small and insignificant, but we found that to not be the case. Our need for familiarity and personal connections drove us to fondnesses for street corners and subway stations and to view the kindness of otherwise random faces as truly significant.
Also, there are Scientologists in the subway stations, masquerading as qualified testers of stress. So watch out, otherwise you’ll be eschewing psychology and reading L. Ron Hubbard Vociferously. (Scott approves of the ‘cif’ in vociferous.)
Also, Spamalot rocked our socks off. A rollicking romp of a good time, it earned every one of those Tony Awards by us.

Scott approves of George Oppen’s “Of Being Numerous”. Just checked out from the Rock, it is marvelous.

Cristi disapproves of departments renumbering all their courses, cutting their offerings, and only having the good ones as graduate seminars. This means you, MCM department.

Scott and Cristi approve of people who leave comments, even if we don’t agree with them ;).

Scott disapproves of Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper. Seriously, What were they thinking? But he vigorously approves of Charles in Charge. Honorable mention to Punky Brewster and the episode where her friend gets trapped in a refrigerator.

Cristi approves of wireless internet, her laptop, a nice cool breeze, and posting from the main green.


usage of the week

well, we're back from our fabulous new york weekend trip, and the big apple brought to our attention an invented usage!

at all the metro-card vending machines, when you opt to pay by debit card, a message appears on the screen:
Please dip ATM card.

What!? "dip"? we were shocked! crazy new yorkers, we muttered...

but it makes a lot of sense, if you think about it. after all, what is to "dip" but to put something into something else and then remove it quickly? what more convenient phrasing could the metropolitan transit authority have come up with? "please insert card, and remove it quickly"? "

also, any phrase of the form "please ____ ATM card" probably has a pretty obvious meaning... give them your money.

thank you, come again.


That's what i'm talkin' about!

In a certain informal speech style (the same one that uses 'like' frequently?), speakers often use tags like "you know" and "i mean," perhaps to check that the listener is following.

Consider Scott's recent observation: after any sentence, it is possible to meaningfully insert the phrase "you know what i'm trying to say." For example, "i think you're great. you know what i'm trying to say" or "the sky is blue... you know what i'm trying to say" or even "the taste of mango... you know what i'm trying to say?"

and this is the vagueness and power of language. we don't say things in the interest of logic or truth; we speak so that people will know what we're trying to say. each word or phrase is a stand-in for all the things we know we can never describe.

articulation is a personal favorite example. it is impossible to describe the condition of the tongue in real time, because as we speak, it moves, and we can never catch up with it. so we generalize to statements like: "every time i laugh, the base of my tongue hurts." here we've used language to simplify our experience into cause and effect (or at least correlated events) that recurr in patterns. if my statement isn't true EVERY time i laugh, or the pain is a little different each time, it's ok because you know basically what i'm trying to say.


well it's been... awhile.

So, it's been some time. Right now Cristi and I are back in Providence and in the midst of settling in and getting our rooms in order. There's been a lack of updating. This will change.

Stayed tuned. More updates to follow. Classes start next week!


long live the king

sorry for the recent lack of posting, but we're getting ready to head back to school...

and because of that, a lot of my recent laptop and linguistics time has been spent on mmy Semantics final from last semester, so i thought i'd share some puzzles from that.

Bertrand Russell posed this simple and now-famous problem to truth-conditional semantics: what is the truth value of the sentence "The King of France is bald"? is it false in the same way as "the Queen of England is bald"?

Russell argues that the use of definite descriptions such as 'the king of france' actually asserts the existence of the king, so that someone who says "the king of france is bald" is actually saying "there is a king of france, there is only one king of france, and that individual is bald," and if any of these three assertions is false, the entire sentence is false.

people have proposed three-place truth conditions to handle sentences like this, with T, F, and N (not determine, or something), but their truth tables got more complicated...

then Strawson came along and answered Russell on his own king-of-france turf, arguing that the existence of the king of france is presupposed by the sentence, and that the sentence itself cannot be evaluated as true or false - only statements made with contexts to go with them can be true or false.

anyway, i don't know if any conclusions have been reached on this, but it's an interesting puzzle, and my grade depends on it.


ahwosg book club pt 3

i went ahead and finished 'a heartbreaking work of staggering genius' last weekend, and am sparing scott the trouble of doing the same.

i had hope for this thing until the bitter end. all the terribleness of it could have been redeemed by one really powerful, yes, heartbreaking, scene. but as the book wore on, i began to have less and less idea of what that might be, and it became clearer that dave eggers didn't know either.

he sets it up to be a book about redemption. he makes his main character (himself, i guess) unlikable, self-absorbed, and full of doubt, but promises (or, i anticipated) that he would learn something valuable, would change, grow, learn something about writing, at least!.

but the final major metaphor of the book is the narrator's mother looking down from up above (ooh, heaven?), while he plays on the beach with his brother. and his apologies for trite and silly metaphors earlier in the book can only lead us to believe there are metaphors in the book he thinks are good, great, genius.

and yes, alright, his characters speak to him. but they don't jump off the page, which is what i was tempted to write in that last sentence. and the thing that sets the gimmickry of ahwosg apart from that of, say, david foster wallace, is that eggers never turns the lens around. he never makes the reader speak to him, never comes out with 'the only access you have to these tragedies is what i'm choosing to tell you about it, and you can't trust me!'.

we're left with tragedy after tragedy piled on top of one another in a way the author admits is gratuitous. the characters know they're being used, but is eggers trying to say he used them to make us feel a certain way? is he saying that we actually (in 'real' life) use the tragedies of others in the aftermaths of our own? we don't know. and the characters, and eggers, and his use of them are so boring by the end of the book, that i don't really care anymore.

and, the book's final redemption could have been 'this is powerful because it's labeled 'non-fiction' but really, everything is a fiction because it's presented a certain way by a certain author, and the reader has no choice but to take it for what it's worth...' but in my edition, eggers closes even this reading by including an appendix called 'mistakes we knew we were making.' i read enough of it to find that it was an attempt to display the TRUE non-fiction of the book.

this author, whose characters speak to him only about himself, whose book about his parents' death is so glibly titled, who displays some particular boring side of his boring characters in writing so unappealing he continually apologizes for it, is actually attempting tell you the truth of his story, and is desperate for you to care enough to read it.

(next book club we'll pick something we like... although we tried to do that this time, and look where it's brought us...)


lakoff i guess, and more!!!

Below is a conversation had between Cristi and I regarding a few things that we thought might be fun to share with you all (you know who you are). Read and enjoy. But not too much. That would be bad.

[Excuse some strange formating here, I'm not responsible. The demons in the blogger machine did it. Those assholes.]

Unsumupable: "we are physical beings, bounded and set off from the rest of the world by the surface of our skins... each of us is a container, witha bounding surface and an in-out orientation. we project our own in-out orientation onto other physical objects that are bounded by surfaces."
DrApathy1: pfffppphhh
Unsumupable: lol
DrApathy1: i haven't met one person that feels they are a container
Unsumupable: hahaha
Unsumupable: the visual field is metaphorized as a container, apparently
Unsumupable: 'the ship is COMING INTO view'
DrApathy1: i don't believe you can frame an argument around such a depersonalized sense of self
DrApathy1: any assessment thereafter is rooted in hypotheticalness
DrApathy1: we cannot experience the world any other way than the way we percieve it
Unsumupable: me neither... and the other thing is that they're assuming we worked out these metaphors from some unknown 'experience'... when really, they're only convenient for communication
DrApathy1: absolutely
DrApathy1: i'mt aking a look at this right now
DrApathy1: http://limetree.ksilem.com/archives/000617.html
Unsumupable: and then we're back to language... which is the only way we can perceive the world outside our won expereince
DrApathy1: but the agruement then becomes is "the world" and "the world through language" the same world or different worlds?
Unsumupable: same world. 'the world' is a metaphor built out of language
Unsumupable: just as the body is
DrApathy1: well...
DrApathy1: we cannot discuss an non-linguistic experience
DrApathy1: because it becomes linguistic the minute we discuss it
DrApathy1: however
DrApathy1: i can say that i have a pure experience
Unsumupable: (this essay is really good, btw)
Unsumupable: you can say that you have a pure experience outside of lanugage?
DrApathy1: yues
Unsumupable: i partially agree
DrApathy1: it's just not discussable
Unsumupable: but i think (at least parts of) our perceptions are structured the same way
DrApathy1: yeah, but there's a primary and a secondary experience of that structuring
Unsumupable: like, we really THINK of another person as a whole entity... we totalize mountains and so on, even when we're just looking at them
DrApathy1: and the secondary experience is just as transparent as the notion of our bodies being containers
Unsumupable: what's the secondary experience?
DrApathy1: we can discuss the law, government etc.
Unsumupable: seeing things as totalities?
Unsumupable: yeah
DrApathy1: but when a cop pulls you over
DrApathy1: the feeling you get is structured by law
DrApathy1: but is itself not rooted in language and is instead an experience of language itself
Unsumupable: hahah
DrApathy1: what're you laughing at?
Unsumupable: the feeling you get when a cop pulls you over... it's a good example
DrApathy1: :-P
Unsumupable: :-)
DrApathy1: i think that the secondary experience is as natural as trees
Unsumupable: how is it not rooted in language, though? i mean, the whole power structure of you and the cop is based on the law, which is a set of linguistic relationships.
DrApathy1: it is rooted in language
DrApathy1: but that's not what the experience is
DrApathy1: we can talk about it as rooted and language
DrApathy1: and the power/law relationship
DrApathy1: but when it's on its own operating the world
DrApathy1: that rooting is secondary, and the factual existence of the cop, the feeling etc. is
DrApathy1: fuck
DrApathy1: i lost the word
DrApathy1: actual?
DrApathy1: direct?
Unsumupable: and indescribable, you'd say?
DrApathy1: maybe
DrApathy1: like
DrApathy1: you said
DrApathy1: we see a person as a...
DrApathy1: let me go back
DrApathy1: as a whole entity
DrApathy1: we can discuss their heart, mind, thoughts, etc.
DrApathy1: but when we meet them, what's contained by them is not there
DrApathy1: or as good as not there
DrApathy1: just as the structures that have made their personality, life outlook, possible
DrApathy1: are not there
DrApathy1: they are there, and they're not really
Unsumupable: yeah, i think i've got you
DrApathy1: and the problem i have with the stuff you've quoted to me
DrApathy1: is it bases it's argument on that stuff being there, which it is, but there is a difference between it being there and BEING there
Unsumupable: hm...
DrApathy1: i think there's a problem when this description of the structure of language stops being description and starts being... having agency
Unsumupable: and you believe it does have agency?
Unsumupable: i sure do.
DrApathy1: well the more is better having the agency of make us want more of things
DrApathy1: no
DrApathy1: i think that's a bunch of bs
Unsumupable: brb
DrApathy1: but yes, language itself does have agency (ie. the cop pulling over example)
DrApathy1: i just don't think we can critique it as though that agency were apparent
DrApathy1: !

what the definition of 'is'... is.

i still highly recommend Johnson & Lakoff's 'Metaphors We Live By.' this 'metaphors structure the way we think and act about concepts' is right up mine & scott's alley.

the attempt at an organized heirarchy of metaphors isn't, so much. for example:
The most fundamental values in a culture will be coherent with the metaphorical structure of the most fundamental concepts in the culture.
So, language seems to emerge, in this model, from some 'culture' that speaks through people, and is able to contain values and norms and so on. but they've already backtracked a few times to explain the uses of terms that shouldn't be considered natural totalities, and maybe they'll do that here too.

for example,
We will continue to use the word 'is' in stating metaphors like MORE IS UP, but the IS should be viewed as a shorthand for some set of experiences on which the metaphor is based and in terms of which we understand it.
i really hope to see more of these kinds of acknowledgements as the book goes on. i mean, it's one thing to link concepts like 'more' and 'up' in a given language or culture, but it would be a whole nother to say that 'is' is itself a metaphor, and i'd like to see that said.

i talked a bit about this over the weekend in this post, when i said that our ability to talk about anything (create coherent nouns, assign potential verbs to subjects and objects) is this type of metaphoricity. i hope that's where J & L are going... there's a chapter upcoming on 'ontological metaphors'.


metaphors we live by

just a quick post to give a shout out to my boyz, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson.

i just picked up their co-authored book, "metaphors we live by," and i'm really enjoying it. its basic premise is that all language (in a pretty general sense - they also include thought and action) is founded on metaphors that can be studied in "ordinary" speech. how do we choose which verbs and prepositions to attach to abstract concepts? why is happy described as 'up' and sad 'down'? why do we 'spend' time and 'attack' arguments? big questions, interesting answers!

posts with more content are up-coming.


chomp, ski.

in 'language and thought,' chomsky writes,

The basic assumption that there is a common store of thoughts surely can be denied; in fact, it had been plausibly denied a century ealier by critics of the theory of ideas who argued that it is a mistake to interpret the expression "John has a thought" (desire, intention, etc.) on the analogy of "John has a diamond." In the former case... the expression means only "John thinks" (desires, etc.), and provides no grounds for positing "thoughts" to which John stands in a relation. To say that people have similar thoughts is to say that they think alike, perhaps so much alike that we even say they have the same thought, as we say that two people live in the same place. But from this we cannot move to saying that there are thoughts that they share, or a store of such thoughts. Philosophers have been misled by the 'surface grammar' of a 'systematically misleading expression.'... Argument is required to show that thoughts are entities that are 'possessed,' as diamonds are. How solid the argument is may be questioned, in my opinion.

hold the phone, noam! i mean, i agree that there isn't a mind full of thoughts the way there's a mine full of diamonds. but the use of the phrase "john has a thought" doesn't imply that at all, and it certainly doesn't mean exactly the same thing as 'john thinks'.

our ability to say 'john has a thought' indicates only our potential ability to imagine thoughts as objects capable of being possessed. to argue about the actual existence of those thoughts, or even the assertion that 'thoughts' exist based on the sentence is to miss the point.

semantics assumes that each element in a sentence should have similar contributions to the meaning. meaning that in 'john has a thought', and 'john has a diamond,' diamonds and thoughts should contribute the same type of meaning to the sentence - in this case, they are objects that john can posses. and i love semantics, but this is why it has to change. 'john has a' does NOT mean the same thing in each of these sentences.

the sentence isn't a puzzle with pieces missing. what goes in the object position changes the entire sentence, changes the meaning of the verb, changes the meaning of the subject, changes the context, the reason for speaking, and so on.

no one has ever seen a thought; they don't exist in the physical world. but they're important to talk about. and the concept is built up from our talking about it. our ability to conceive of them as objects, or even of 'think' as a verb is a matter of convenience. the use of 'thought' in the language shouldn't be mistaken for an assumption that it exists, but only as a useful way of categorizing a phenomenon that we NEED to discuss.


charlie and technology

After the mixed reports i heard about Charlie and the Chocolate Factoy, i was skeptical. but tim burton's unique and structured take on this now-classic story makes its terror darker and its humor more sugary.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is now a tale about just that: a boy and technology. every moral is built from the characters' adherence to various technologies, both actual (television, manufacturing) and metaphorical (family, money, success). caution! spoilers follow.

the opening shots of the film are cgi machines producing thousands of wonka bars, five of which are wrapped with golden tickets. the machines exist in a dark space, operating seemingly by themselves, but it is Willy Wonka who adds the tickets, the spark, the magic.

willy wonka is the ghost in the machine - he controls and is surrounded by the most fanciful of all technologies. unfortunately, he is so caught up in them as to be totally detached from social interaction and the normal workings of human contact. he's a bit rude and a bit creepy.

when one of the brats sees oompa-loompas whipping a cow to make whipped cream, she says "but that doesn't make sense." and willy (in invented usage fashion!) rolls over this objection; children and candy makers shouldn't get caught up in the gears of logic.

the world is not all bleak for this film. in opposition to technology stands the family. charlie's father lost his assembly line job to a machine, and the family lives in a slanty shanty cut off from the rest of the industrialized town. wonka's own family history is a clearly painful subject - his dentist father had him strapped into headgear from an early age, and this rigorous adherence to dental science kept young willy nearly tortured, as he was barred from eating any candy at all.

and charlie chooses family. the choice between joining willy wonka in his ultimate technology, the great glass elevator, and being able to stay with his family is no choice at all.

only when the family no longer stands outside and excluded from technology is the conflict of the movie resolved. charlie's dad learns to work with technology and gets a better job repairing the machine that replaced him. and the entire house is moved from the periphery of town, to the center of the factory. and this is the triumph of the film: that technology, while dangerous and dehumanizing, can function with and within a strong family system. and perhaps that system is another technology that isn't so bad as it seemed.


more poetry stuff, you language lovers you

Oh no. Not again. Read and look into the conservative heart of poetry.

from An Interview with Joan Houlihan in Doug Holder's Blog
DH: You have written a number of essays lamenting about the lack of accessibility in poetry today. Do you think this is a major problem?

JH: Oh yes. It’s a scary trend from my point of view. I like eclecticism in poetry. But the whole school that started the “Deconstruction” and the “Language” poets in the 70’s, has evolved into a favorite mode of younger poets. I find it moving away from what I find valuable about poetry: meaning, humanity, and enlarging your sense of being in the world. There seems to be a huge intolerance from the “post-avant” community. It’s almost fanaticism. It has a political ethic to it. I’ve been called right wing because I don’t believe in that kind of poetry.

DH: In another essay you characterize the new avant-garde as the “new senility” trend in poetry.

JH: A lot of my essays have humor. This is tinged with some humor of course. To be honest, a lot of members of that school were upset with my use of the words dementia and senility. The major offense for these people was around me calling them on their lack of a “there,” there. A lot of people went after me in a strange way. The people at “Fence” magazine were quite incensed. I don’t attack poets, but I do attack poems. There is a distinction. They attacked me personally. They literally called me an idiot. Anyone who put my name in Google two years ago would come up with: “Joan Houlihan is an idiot.” I started to think this was a scary movement in poetry.
To quote the Big Lebowski (vaguely):

"No Joan, you're not an idiot. You're just wrong."

How can some of these poets not take it seriously when your critique of their poems completely questions their agency as poet/author?

JH in a comment on Ron Sillman's blog from April 25, 2005:
Have you really read my essays? They are often pages long, which means they say more than the two quotes you (falsely) attribute to me. You are summarizing, I guess, using your capsule summary as a way to dismiss me. In fact, I spent quite a bit of time analyzing some lines from a poem in Slope magazine by someone named Christina Mengert in one of my later essays (and was, by the way, criticized for taking it "out of context" just as Silliman has done here, and as all critics do routinely).
I've italicized what I believe to be the funniest part here in light of the actual subject of some her essays (see comments on my previous post). I guess she would prefer we reorder the words of her essays to demonstrate how they don't mean anything in the first place??? I'm sorry that she's been subject to the lynch mob, but when you're as invective as she chooses to be then you've got to expect it.

chomsky on this!

while i haven't read enough chomsky myself to write anything worthwhile (yet!), his theories have formed the underpinning of linguistics and the philosophy of language for decades now, and it's clear that they'd have to be addressed as part of a larger project of reform in the way we study language.

here's an interesting post from this guy's blog that takes issue with some central chomskian tenets.

interesting stuff!


a short post for a short day

While here at work, I took a surf through the internet and rode it until I hit the island of this blog:


I haven't had much of a chance to examine it yet, but it looks like a pretty decent resource for poetry related blogging. There was some interesting discussion of Ms. Houlihan in the archives and some comments from the JH herself.

So. Seek and you shall find.

I shall return again soon, with more fun and adventure. How do people enjoy the shorter (more frequent) posts? What says you about reading poetry here? Speak and be heard.

Yes, we aim to please.


a theory for the moment

"There is no subtext... The enunciative domain is identical with its own surface. Each statement occupies in it a place that belongs to it alone. The description of a statement does not consist therefore in rediscovering the unsaid whose place it occupies; nor how one can reduce it to a silent, common text; but on the contrary in discovering what special place it occupies, what ramifications of the system of formations make it possible to map its localization, how it is isolated in the general dispersion of statements.'" Michel Foucault, from The Archaeology of Knowledge

"By a slow movement whose necessity is hardly perceptible, everything that for at least some twenty centuries tended toward and finally succeeded in being gathered under the name of language is beginning to let itself be transferred to, or at least summarized under, the name of writing. By a hardly perceptible necessity, it seems as though the concept of writing – no longer indicating a particular, derivative, auxiliary form of language in general (whether understood as communication, relation, expression, signification, constitution of meaning or thought, etc.) no longer designating the exterior surface, the insubstantial double of a major signifier, the signifier of the signifier – is beginning to go beyond the extension of language. In all senses of the word, writing thus comprehends language." Jacques Derrida, from Of Grammatology

"The Author, when believed in, is always conceived of as the past of his own book: book and author stand automatically on a single line divided into a before and an after. The Author is though to nourish the book, which is to say that he exists before it, thinks, suffers, lives for it, is in the same relation of antecedence to his work as a father to his child. In complete contrast, the modern scriptor is born simultaneously with the text, is in no way equpped with a being preceding or exceeding the writing... The fact is (or, it follows) that writing can no longer designate an operation fo recording, notation, representation, 'depiction'... rather, it designates exactly what linguists, referring to Oxford philosophy, call a performative, a rare verbal form (exclusively given in the first person and in the present tense) in which the enunciation has no other content (contains no other proposition) than the act by which it is uttered - something like the I declare of kings..." Roland Barthes, from The Death of The Author

"Technologically possible manipulations determine what in fact can become a discourse... To the student Rilke, whose physics teacher had his students reconstruct and experiment with a phonograph that he had acquired as soon as the machine was on the market, the registered sounds opened 'as it were, a new and infinitely delicate point in the texture of reality.' The fact that a purely empirical phonetics (in rigorous distinction to phonology) suddenly became possible led to storing real phenomena according to technical standards rather than to regulating them according to educational norms." Friedrich A. Kittler, from Discourse Networks 1800/1900

"Truth" can only be a surface. And only through such a veil which thus falls over it could "truth" become truth, profound, indecent, desirable. But should that veil be suspended, or even fall a bit differently, there would no longer be any truth, only "truth" — written in quotation marks." Jacques Derrida, from Spurs

"The analysis of statements operates therefore without reference to a cogito. It does not pose the question of the speaking subject, who reveals or who conceals himself in what he says, who, in speaking, exercises his constraints of which he is only dimly aware. In fact, it is situated at the level of the 'it is said' - and we must not understand by this a sort of communal opinion, a collective representation that is imposed on every individual; we must not understand by it a great, anonymous voice that must, of necessity, speak through the discourses of everyone; but we must understand by it the totality of things said, the relations, the regularities, and the transformations that may be obersved in them, the domain of which certain figures, certain intersections indicate the unique place of a speaking subject and may be given the name of auntor. 'Anyone who speaks', but what he says is not said from anywhere. It is necessarily caught up in the play of an exteriority." Michel Foucault, from The Archaeology of Knowledge

"The right of the subject to represent himself is the narrator's choice. In exploration of the self in the representational wasteland that results in the pervasiveness of agent-less vessels is a blank slate. We hold the book up and we ask it, what does it say to us, the reader, as we navigate the plateaus of expression, the deep valleys of words spilling in to lakes and rivers of utterance. It is unknowable." - Pifflich Von Buren, from The Expression of the Word

"All that remains is the Object as a strange attractor. The subject is no longer a strange attractor. We know the subject too well; the subject knows himself too well. it is the Object that is exciting, because the Object is my vanishing point. The Object is what theory can be for reality: not a reflection but a challenge, and a strange attractor. This, potentially, is the way to go in search of otherness." Jean Baudrillard, from The Object as Strange Attractor, in The Transparency of Evil

(Bonus: which of these quotes is not like the others!?)

a poem for the moment (again...)

As some of you may remember, I've posted poems of interest here before. I've even posted some of my own (strange little dudes they are). Well I offer a new poem for your consideration and consumption. My first intermediate poetry composition class at Brown was taught by Christina Mengert, an accomplished young poet currently pursuing a PhD at DU. Her poetry has been brutalized by our dear old friend Joan Houlihan in her Boston Comment column. We asked her about the article and she was good natured and informed us that the poem which Joan so haphazardly attempts to invalidate was actually incomplete. It was one part of a much longer poem the rest of which the magazine--for whatever reason--decided not to publish. I think the whole poem exists somewhere out there in the WWW.

All that aside, at the end of the year she gave a reading of her manuscript "Stranger Is A Bird" with Gale Nelson [I think] (another instructor I've had) and the usually humorous Keith Waldrop. I enjoyed it, but one poem specifically made an impression and I've wanted to see it again since then. Today, I decided to do a search on Technorati, and lo' and behold: What do I find?

Christina Mengert

A line. A long line. A long account of a line.
Not being one for graduated response I severed
My right arm and shoved it northward. A long
Account of an arm as a line. Maybe you think
The truth is ridiculous and nothing ever grows there.
You may be right, but yesterday roots shot
Out of my right stump like the branches
They would become. A long line. And what that
Proves is the northernmost star is never always
Northernmost, and yesterday's distraction is today's
Perfect artifact. Listen: a longish account of the earth
In my shoulder. Throwing water on it
I never thought this would petrify. Never thought
The leaf itself would become a star, passing for its
Permanent dying impression. A vein then, in response.
A vein as a line thrust up as if to reach.

Bravo! What a poem.


they're out there

My great grandmother used to say that apparently. Although I was too young then to remember her now, my parents often pass it along when I leave the house.

"Be careful, they're out there."

Me not being the grammarphile some are, asked Cristi the other day about the following issue.

Me: Cristi, you who are knowledgable about this sort of thing, is it incorrect to write/say "The author is responsible for the work they have created".

Cristi: Yes and no. No and yes.

I know this is pretty much common knowledge to all you GRAMMARFANS out there (you know who you are), and in all honesty I was well aware of the answer myself. I just didn't want to believe it. The technical answer is that: Yes, it is wrong.

But why? Well, your English teacher says that there is a disagreement in singular/pluralness of "the author" and "they". They, of course, refers to more than one person. The author, in turn, refers to one person. The author.

"They" is plural, I suppose. However, I don't think that it's as cut and dry as we might like to believe.

We Americans love a good conspiracy. Don't we now? In fact, Europeans seem to be down with conspiracies too, but that's Europe for you.

Me: Who killed JFK?

You: THEY did.

Now just who the hell is they? They is anyone and no one. They is the uncountable persons or peoples behind the JFK assassination.

In this case they does not function in the typical 3rd person plural way. Instead it's more of a 3rd person uncertain count pronoun. When one says "They did." They refer to that which they do not know. If they were named then they would be known. Additionally, it is possible to assume that one person could be behind the killing. However, the speaker cannot obviously say that for certain.

If one said "One did." One would seemingly know the number of possible conspirators.

Moving backwards. This seems to apply to the sentence "The author is responsible for the work they have created." The sentence is broad referring to all possible authors and all possible works. But only one individual author and work is considered by the sentence at the same time. Thus the sentence takes on sort of hybrid singular/plural meaning. Or at least, that's the intent.

One could of course use he or she instead of "they". But this has problems all of it's own. What about hermaphrodites? Are they not responsible for the works they have created? Should we say "he and/or she"? Now it's even gawkier. "They" saves of the trouble of even involving gender, saves us the trouble of watching ourselves from writing gender normative pieces.

So let's cut the bologna. They works, and the people that use it are out there.

blogging like we've never blogged before

while continuing to read a heartbreaking work of staggering genius, i encountered that phrasing that has become so familiar as to be almost meaningless: "I slept like i hadn't slept in years."

consider the ambiguity: is the narrator sleeping in the manner of a person who has not slept in years - voracious for sleep? tired beyond belief? or is he sleeping in a way in which he hasn't slept in years - in the comfort of his hometown, tucked in by old friends?

this usage is all over the place. 'she's a maniac, maniac, on the floor, and she's dancing like she's never danced before,' 'i'm gonna love you like nobody's loved you.' i think the double readings come from two different understandings of 'like,' which is slippery, as we've discussed before. it either indicates a comparison between two manners of doing the action, or it indicates a manner of doing the action as if it had not been done before.

but, usually, the two readings are very similar, and we don't even consider the semantic meaning of the phrase - we read it as a whole, and understand the extremeness of action it conveys. in almost every case where the ambiguity appears, it doesn't matter at all.

ahwosg bookclub pt. 2

Well, we're back from our week's hiatus, and some of you (who know who you are) reminded us that we haven't fulfilled our promise to continue with our reading of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

So the book club invites you to rejoin us in chapter 6 of A Heartbreaking Work.

c: the most interesting thing that's happened so far is the main character's interview to be on the Real World. but even that wasn't SO interesting. this character - the interviewer - wasn't very believable from the beginning, so i wasn't too surprised when things get all meta and she starts talking about how she's just a plot device that allows the main character to talk about his history.

s: yeah, it all seemed very unessessary from the get go. it was so clear that eggers created the interviewer to lead him along to include all these character portraits that, i guess, wouldn't have fit anywhere else. when the mask is pulled off and everything get's meta it hits the reader with a *yawn*. why make the motivations of the author so bare? the idea of having the interview i like, but why break it down? it just ends up being a huge disappointment. like the wallet story in chapter... 3? i had NO IDEA that those mexicans hadn't stole is wallet...

c: a lot of the devices are unsurprising... or used unsurprisingly. also, every time i find myself critiquing this book (which i guess is a lot), i stop and think, 'well, maybe that's the point.' i'd like to talk about that. so, he's revealing that his characters are invented by an author with an agenda. so what? i'm not really enjoying this book, because i keep waiting for it to get to THE POINT. Should a book even have a POINT to make? or just be pleasurable to read?

s: maybe that's part of the problem. the whole idea of subjectivity. the whole notion of the book and its characters representing the different motivations, thoughts, opinions of the author is old hat. we know this. maybe not everyone does though? i mean, i'd like to know what made this book so popular in the first place. maybe this view of the novel, literature, isn't common and thus seems (on the whole) new. it reads mostly like an author afraid to sell out in writing something...

c: interesting. i mean, that's a legitimate fear, one that i think every author (and every person who makes choices!) always has. i guess i'm curious about how he's overcome this. i mean, there's no way the fact that he decides to write the book can be the surprise ending! from the minute we start reading, we know he's written it. i feel like the whole plot of the book is going to be his coming to write the book... and right now, at least, i don't find that very exciting.

s: yeah, it seems he's afraid of fakery (isn't this a theme of the book at large) and compensates for it by calling himself on his own fakery, which as a gimmick (at least to me) comes off as the height of fakery. why does the real world interview have to be used... ironically(?) ? there's not really much in the way of a plot here, which might have something to do with its not being very exciting. don't forget though, he apologized for this in the opening, i mean weren't we supposed to have stopped reading by now? ultimately the book seems to be demonstrating that despite any forewarning, the author is ultimately wholely responsible for the work he has created.

c: but i don't feel comfortable holding him responsible for every possible reaction to that work. maybe THIS is the point... that whatever we think about the book, it's what he's chosen to write? that's still a pretty lame reason to use all this tragedy... which also seems to be what he's afraid of. but even if he's apologized for it, and we can thus wonder if that's the point, it still doesn't seem worth it to me.