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.
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...)
[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: i haven't met one person that feels they are a container
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: i'mt aking a look at this right now
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: we cannot discuss an non-linguistic experience
DrApathy1: because it becomes linguistic the minute we discuss it
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?
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?
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
DrApathy1: what're you laughing at?
Unsumupable: the feeling you get when a cop pulls you over... it's a good example
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: i lost the word
Unsumupable: and indescribable, you'd say?
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
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: i think that's a bunch of bs
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
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.
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'.
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.
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 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.
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?To quote the Big Lebowski (vaguely):
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.
"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.
here's an interesting post from this guy's blog that takes issue with some central chomskian tenets.
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.
"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!?)
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?
ROTTEN WOOD, BAD SOIL
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.
"Be careful, they're out there."
Me not being the grammarphile some are, asked Cristi the other day about the following issue.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.