How about this exhibit at the Boston Museum of Science. There are so many cool things there, but this really mundane exhibit has captured my imagination. Basically, you have two tables divided by a curtain. On each table there is a set of blocks identical to one another (though it looks like some of them had been lost or stolen). The tables face each other and are divided by a curtain. One person sits on each side of the curtain.

Follow me so far?

... I just lost the entire post from below here, so... sigh. I'll try to recreate it.

On one side, a person constructs something out of the blocks given. After doing so, he or she gives directions to the other on how to erect a similar construction. The curtain is then pulled, and the similarity and differences between the two constructions is revealed.

Isn't this a great metaphor for writing/speaking? On one side sits the author/speaker, and on the other the reader listener. Each brings to the table all the blocks that they have been given over their entire life. The author/speaker then builds their construction, and gives directions (the text) to the reader/listener who attempts to reconstruct what has been given. The only catch is, the curtain is never pulled, one can never know whether their construction is the same as the author/speaker's.

My thinking about all this isn't anywhere near complete, so you'll have to bear with me. I'll probably come to this again. I really like this as a metaphor though, because there is no distinction to be made between writing and speaking. Though in the exhibit the directions are given orally, they could just as easily be given on a sheet of paper. Is there any real difference between the two?

Another factor I've been considering is that of intent. In the context of literature, I believe that we view the author as having complete intent/agency over the text. In less official writing/speaking though, we assume that the author will err in their directions. These less official mediums I take to be things like email, journals, letters, conversation, academic essays, etc. In these we assume that the author/speaker will sometimes say what they don't. That their ability to relate the construction through the text will not always be complete. How many times has someone said something to you that you didn't take the correct way, or something that they later admit is 'not what they meant'. Text as a relation of the internal is not flawless.

To me, this is what makes a website like Engrish so funny. The humor's foundation is the official-ness of the signs that the website shows. In that official context, the lack of intent over the myriad meanings of what has been writing becomes apparent. Of course, the site wouldn't be funny if it were just a collection of typos. The errors on the signs have to make the text add up to something in reader's mind that is clearly what was not intended by the sign. A simple typo does not (usually) preclude the reader from deciphering the text. There's no humor in it unless it creates the possibility of a further unintended reading.

A pun allows to constructions from the same set of words without a typo...

I'm running out steam here, after typing this twice, but I think I got most of what I originally wrote. At this point, I turn to Cristi. What says you? What, for that matter, does anyone say who is reading this?

1 comment:

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