Thursday, September 08, 2005

Who said that literary theorists can't be logical!

Not that anybody said that.

Maverick Philosopher Bill Vallicella will like this:

Whereas the two pairs of opposites in Lévi-Strauss's homology are of the same kind, Greimas puts into place two kinds of opposed semes (the 'seme' being the minimal unit of sense): contradictories and contraries. Contradictories (A v. not-A) are created when one seme (or -- in logic -- one proposition) negates the other, so that they cannot both be true and they cannot both be false. They are mutually exclusive and exhaustive (e.g. 'white' v. 'non-white'). Contraries, on the other hand (A v. B), are mutually exclusive but not exhaustive (e.g. 'white' v. 'black'). They cannot both be true, though they might both be false (Copi 1961, pp. 142-3). (Rimmon-Kenan, 12)

I've taken this from page 12 of Narrative Fiction: Contemporary Poetics (London and New York: Methuen & Co. Ldt., 1983), by Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan. For those who have an interest in this sort of thing, Routledge has a new edition (2002) available.

The "Copi'' referred to is Irving M. Copi's Introduction to Logic, which is now (since 2004) available in edition number twelve! Take a look at the lovely Möbius strip on its cover. For more on Möbius strips, see Wikipedia.

Speaking of which, I once knew a woman, Wendy Bracewell, who wanted to perform a Möbius strip. Her father was the Stanford physicist Ronald N. Bracewell, famous for his work in radio astronomy, from whom she must have inherited an interest in things 'scientific.' Be that as it may, she was working on a striptease technique for removing her clothes from inside out in a way that would leave her fully clothed when finished. I didn't know much mathematics, but I told her that I was greatly interested in her artistic work and would be happy to help.

I expected that we could both learn a lot from failures in her technique.

Sadly, nothing came of that, but at 'Heliopolis' in the shadow of one of her father's radio telescopes, we did construct an earthen oven for baking bread.

Which reminds me of toast. And of my beautiful wife.

But for those of you still interested in Wendy, she has eyes "the color of green pond scum" (in her own words) and lectures on the Balkans at University College London in the School of Slavonic and East European Studies.

Here's a sample of her writing, which . . . if not quite fiction . . . has something of literary quality to it and delves somewhat into those binary oppositions in the oriental vs. occidental logic that postmodern literary critics love to deplore.

Wendy, by the way, dismisses Edward Said with a shrug.


At 8:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeff! Can it be that you never saw the brief but startling stage career of Lala Oulippo and her non-Euclidean lingerie? You can do a lot with elasticated underwear...
xxx Wendy

At 5:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That shrug bothers me. is it Moibian too? are we supposed to imagine a supplicant East Coast literary critic dismissed from the regal presence of the West Coast scientist's daughter? such a gesture would surely reaffirm rather than refute the basic premise of Orientalism, as solidly as Johnson's celebrated stone-kicking action dislodged Berkeley's theory of perception.

At 9:04 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, it sounds as though you haven't read Wendy's paper. If you had, you likely wouldn't characterize her gesture in the way that you have.

Moreover, I don't see anyting "regal" about a shrug. It seems to me to transcend class, cultures, and even civilizations.

So, why label the shrug orientalizing?

If Said's theory greatly oversimplifies a complex range of interpretations crossing the borders of neighboring, interpenetrating civilizations -- and, arguably, it does -- then Said's view deserves a shrug.


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