Random neuron firing, lame philosophy, literary pontificating, movies, sex, clothes & other femme stuff

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

I lied. From time to time I will, to tell the truth, post things I thought to myself many years ago, as well as things I'm thinking about now. Hey, I would've posted then, but there weren't any blogs, so I didn't even have a chance.

Like post what?

Well the "Ideas" file begins on July 18, 1988 with the heading "Vague Notes." You can pretty much tell I was working on my dissertation at the time. You can also tell it had something to do with epistemology and narrative. If epistemology and narrative theory aren't your cup of tea, you should probably skip this. I promise I'll post one about panty fetishism and metonymy soon.

Let's talk about the epistemology of narrative. It can be approached in at least two ways. First, how we come to know a story is ultimately an epistemological concern and from this arises phenomenological criticism--in what does the novel inhere, the words, the "meanings" of the words, the plot, the story? etc. Second, as much as "plots" involve "actions", "actions" stem from characters' decisions based on their knowledge and information. One can look at narratives as transfers of information among characters. Most novels have a protagonist and many plots center around how the protagonist comes to learn something, what he or she must undergo.

Two things need to be explored: (1) theory of logical inference and (2) what knowing something is. I guess they're really the same thing.

It seems to me that knowing something on the most fundamental level is being able to say it. Cf. exams. But this isn't always true. Cf. bullshit.

Bullshit is the art of implying knowledge, stating things from which one can logically conclude a lot of knowledge or not--the question is open, the conclusion unforced. The appropriate language has been successfully invoked.

Examining someone is testing their knowledge. Presumably the oral examination is the most thorough, because the examiner can focus a line of questioning and weed out the bullshit.

A: Of course, in a work such as Lord Jim which argues the subjectivity of human experience . . .

B: What do you mean, LJ argues the subjectivity of human experience?

A: Um

Either the student has read LJ and has made the connection between the text and the statement "LJ argues the subjectivity of human experience" or he hasn't made the connection because he got the statement from somewhere other than his own logical inference and perhaps he hasn't even read LJ. He doesn't have "actual" knowledge of the text and therefore can only make inferences from his "textual" knowledge of it. Probably all he knows is the one sentence about it.

Of course, he might know the novel quite well and just not know how the sentence can logically be derived from it. That's what criticism is all about--teaching rules of transformation, transforming texts into (usually, in the case of narrative) shorter texts. So the examiner points out that the student doesn't really know the meaning of the statement even if he knows the words and what they individually mean.

OK. So reading is the activity of understanding the implications of what? words? sentences? Well, surely sentences. Isn't it Frege or somebody who said that the sentence is the smallest logical unit of meaning? Or unit of logical meaning? As Valéry said, you register your understanding of something by being able to paraphrase it, putting it in other words.

And characters in narratives are also always trying to understand implications of events, thereby reading them, getting their meaning. How do they demonstrate their understanding? Well, the author perhaps tells us it, or they do, or they act in a way such that we infer their understanding according to principles of inference (such as Freudian principles of inference).

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