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[SEPTEMBER 2005.]

A Royalty Rate on the End of the World

My school's alumni association found me and sends me the glossy magazine unbidden; this month the top story was on global warming. It’s basically as dire as all the others, but delivered with a peppy alumni-magazine spin: “Stanford researchers are learning important things about climate change!” So weird.

 

My Favorite Things

Radiohead are back in the studio, now and then giving the people some blog.

Google tells me there are several searchable Ulysses concordances around the web now, but the copyright djinns seem to have gotten to them (even Language Hat, which links to one of them, is down); the only one I could pull up was this engine for most of Joyce’s works, with To the Lighthouse thrown in as a freebie. It works, though the look and feel is a bit unfortunate and you can’t turn case sensitivity off: I tried “parallax,” which I know appears in Ulysses seven times, and had to give it “Parallax” too. An interesting bit of code would be a Finnegans Wake engine that doesn’t just blindly look for matches, but is smart enough to guess at how the word might get deformed and pull out any hints that seem to appear in the oneiroglot. Maybe I can get a grant this summer. And a pony.

It occurred to me recently that I feel about this book I’m finishing, and the last one that didn’t work out, something like Thomas Sutpen feels about his quest for a dynasty.

...when he realised that there was more in his problem than just lack of time, that the problem contained some super-distillation of this lack: that he was now past sixty and that possibly he could get but one more son, had at best but one more son in his loins, as the old cannon might know when it has just one more shot in its corporeality... just the fact that he had missed that time, though luckily it was just a spotting shot with a light charge, and the old gun, the old barrel and carriage none the worse; only next time there might not be enough powder for both a spotting shot and then a full-sized load;— (Absalom, Absalom! 224)

You may all giggle at the cannon metaphor now. But as the idea of progeniture has not become any less unconscionable to me with age, it seems these books are the closest I will come; I am far from sixty, but the sense of depletion, the draining of reserves as each successive piece of writing fails to garner any recompense, is quite real. At the time of writing Absalom, Absalom! Faulkner had just made some money off Sanctuary, so I don’t know whether this was uppermost in his mind, but I expect it was back there somewhere. It was certainly about to get a lot worse.

Around the time I started this book, I claimed that if I couldn’t sell it I wouldn’t be able to try again. I don’t know if that’s true. But the major blot on the joy of nearing completion is the knowledge that, once it is complete, I will have to become a salesman again.

There's a Unix program called 'agrep' that does approximate text-matching; it's obviously not as good as something designed specifically for Finnegans Wake would be, but I just asked it for near matches on 'Earwicker' and got reasonable results.

Actually, it looks like it exists in some form for OS X and Windows too.

a

 

The Literary Wittgenstein: a footnote

More from the mail bag, re The Lit Witt:

asking a philosophy of language to account for the linguistic practice of fiction is a pretty standard “check” in my opinion. You have to be able to explain reference even when the entities referred to don’t exist, and this has been a stumbling block for many. So I don’t think it’s the ridiculous, non-immanent kind of reading of Wittgenstein that you’re claiming it is. I have no idea about Lacan and capital, however!

I’m all for requiring philosophies of language to account for fiction; after all, fiction is my favorite thing that language does. What mystified me is why people would bother to go back and do this with the Tractatus in particular; it’s a wonderful and weird book and certainly of interest, but I didn’t think anyone still took all of its claims at face value. Later in his career Wittgenstein himself refuted many of them: the idea that propositions might have a single general form, or that logical simples might exist. One of the essays about which I carped claims that, from a Tractarian perspective, fiction lacks cognitive value because you can’t investigate its claims and decompose them into logical simples.

For fictional entities have no depth; in contrast to actual ones, that is to say, they admit of no complete analysis and cannot, therefore, be decomposed in a unique and definite way into their fundamental constituents.

This might be true, but only in the sense that the Wittgenstein who wrote the Tractatus might have said something like it; it’s historical fiction, and not of a very high order, like that part in Within a Budding Grove where the schoolgirls have to write an imaginary letter of congratulation from Sophocles to Racine. It just doesn’t strike me as a very useful way to talk about the logical form of fiction. And that only matters because, as the mail bag reminds us, the larger project is certainly worthwhile.

-actual- entities admit of a complete analysis? which one?! sigh

 

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