Posts Tagged ‘fiction’

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[*]Lem (once again) reads me when I him

August 29, 2011

Stanislaw Lem, author of Imaginary Magnitudes, source of the “eruntics” portion of this blog’s title, also wrote The Futurological Congress, which I am currently in the middle of. Here is a passage, from pretty late in the game. (If you’ve read any Lem, though, you know it’s impossible to be spoiled, so don’t worry.)

“[…] without a couple of good, stiff shots I couldn’t be a futurologian today!”

“A futurologist?”

“That word means something different now. A futurologist makes profutes, prognoses, prophecies, while I deal exclusively with theory. This is a completely new field, unknown in our day. You might call it divination through linguistic derivation. Morphological forecasting! Projective etymology!”

“Never heard of it. How does it work?”

To tell the truth, I had asked more out of politeness than curiosity, but he didn’t seem to notice. Meanwhile the waiters brought our soup and, with it, a bottle of Chablis, vintage 1997. A good year.

“Linguistic futurology investigates the future through the transformational possibilities of language,” Trottelreiner explained.

“I don’t understand.”

“A man can only control what he comprehends, and comprehend only what he is able to put into words. The inexpressible therefore is unknowable. By examining future stages in the evolution of language we come to learn what discoveries, changes and social revolutions the language will be capable, some day, of reflecting.”

“Amazing. How exactly is this done?”

“Our research is conducted with the aid of the very largest computers, for man by himself could never keep track of all the variations. By variations of course I mean the syntagmatic-paradigmatic permutations of the language, but quantized…”

“Professor, please!”

“Forgive me. The Chablis is excellent, by the way. A few examples ought to make the matter clear. Give me a word, any word.”

“Myself.”

“Myself? H’m. Myself. All right. I’m not a computer, you understand, so this will have to be simple. Very well then–myself. My, self, mine, mind. Mynd. Thy mind–thynd. Like ego, theego. And we makes wego. Do you see?”

“I don’t see a thing.”

“But it’s perfectly obvious! We’re speaking, first, of the possibility of the merging of the mynd with the thynd, in other words the fusion of two psychic entities. Secondly, the wego. Most interesting. A collective consciousness. Produced perhaps by the multiple dissocation of the personality, a mygraine. Another word, please.”

[…]”But these words have no meaning!”

“At the moment, no, but they will. Or, rather, they may eventually acquire meaning, provided [they] catch on. The word ‘robot’ meant nothing in the fifteenth century, and yet if they had had futurolinguists then, they could have easily envisioned automata.”

A little deterministic, yes, but god I like that this is a thing. Wish I’d found this book when I was taking that cyberpunk class, I could write a million papers for it right now.

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To begin:

June 25, 2010

There is, within the confines of my mens, an abstraction of the world by which I percieve it– the world, that is. Since there is no way to actually process the physical world into meaningful semantic categories of analysis without abstracting, I abstract. It is the first step of removal. There are ways to undo this process– language, especially referential language, is a way of externalizing that inner world in which “I,” or my first-level abstraction of myself, reside, by turning these thoughts into physical actions of my body which can code and then be decoded by other people back into their own abstraction of the physical world. However, since there is an inherent and inalienable gap between my first-level abstraction and the physical world, there is no way of ever knowing that the signifiers and signs I choose to use in my physical actualization of my abstraction will be construed to signify the exact same set of conditions and categories when some listener percieves and decodes the physical language into their own idea of the world.

This, my darlings, is the semantic gap. It is a yawning chasm which has long woken me up at night, shaken me from myself in terror. It is also the gap that some choose to stare into, in hopes of seeing beyond; the notion is that it is possible, and indeed preferable, to encounter the truth of the world without mistaking that truth for the abstraction we use to represent it.

This first-level abstraction doesn’t always cause the big problems, though. We then further abstract the first model, which is our understanding of the physical world as it exists in categories and events, into a second model, which is our story of ourselves. Our second-level abstraction is the way we categorize for analysis more complex things, like emotions and philosophies and dreams and imaginations and free will as it pertains to events in the world. It is drawing connections between categories, drawing causal links and formulae to help us understand what is ultimately too massive and unorganized to otherwise be comprehended; our whole idea of the world as it exists is too big, so we sort the piles of “things that are grass” and “things that are me” and “events of breathing” and “events of falling” into “things that are objects” and “things that are events” and “things that I like.” That last one is excessively complex, because it requires both a conception of “I,” which is some prototypical me-ness sublimated from a series of events and things that I’ve observed in the world, and it also requires a conception of “liking,” which is some prototypical emotion sublimated from a series of events and things that I’ve observed in the world.

Let me back up one step: people are not people. People are a series of events and things.

Let me back up one more step: I’m on this road trip, see.

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On Squibhood and human scientists

June 1, 2010

Midterm for Syntax 2

I am enamored with the idea of squibs. This is not simply because of the name, I swear– though it does conjure rather interesting mental images. But I am enamored with the idea of academic writing that is witty, fun, chatty, smart, grounded in data, and not driven by some presupposed thesis. I love the idea of a scientific essay that comes with a punchline.

What I’ve posted is not exactly a squib. It’s not very good, for one thing– I skipped some data, didn’t quantify or formalize it very well, and got a little too caught up in the style to focus on the science.

It also has an extended conceit, in the manner of lyric poetry. I’ll be the first to admit that syntax homework and poetry should probably not be mixed when we’re getting graded on it.

But what about when we’re not?

What I propose is a new kind of squib: one in which the science is part of a narrative about our personal scientific processes, a story about ourselves. As any good linguist will tell you, we don’t come with an “off-switch.” We don’t ever stop thinking, angsting, flailing, arguing, observing, analyzing. Not when we’re asleep, not when we’re on a hot date, not when we’re out drinking with our buddies. The midterm I’ve posted is fictional, but not excessively so; and why can’t this be a new form, a new way to write, a new way to incorporate our science and our humanity so that it better reflects what we actually do with our time? Our best work doesn’t happen in a library cubicle with noise-canceling headphones, it happens in that hipster cafe with half a beer in front of us, it happens with screaming fights waking up the dozing actors on the next couch over, it happens on impulsive drives to Monterey and it happens in the tattoo parlor and the bedroom and the roof of the science building and the cave under the library. Why not write about that? Why not aim to please as well as edify, to teach and delight our readers?

My attempt was a failed one, this is sure in my mind. But it won’t be the last one, most especially now that I’ve had a few weeks and some feedback to help suss out where I’m trying to go with this. I’d be interested to hear what other linguists (or any kind of scientists) have to say about this, though.

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Chronotope: nothing to do with Star Trek

February 3, 2010

He just has… so much to say about 1001 Nights. Also can I just say I love the word chronotope? I’ve been overusing it like crazy.

Also also, this contains some strong language. Because I cannot contain my glee when Bakhtin comes up. Ignore it, please.

Read the rest of this entry ?

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Three Links, all somewhat creatively inclined

March 29, 2009

Firstly! I’ve seen a number of blogs/articles about knitted grafitti, but this one has the best pictures I’ve yet seen on the internets. Entire trees are cozied! I absolutely want to do this.

Relatedly! It’s kind of old news, but I just love looking at the dramatically-lit pictures of this crocheted coral reef.

And lastly (and unrelatedly)! I’ve just finished reading a story (fragment? very long excerpt?) called Brains Pt. 1: What is a Valedictorian by Tony Tulathimutte. I have no idea how I found this writer’s webpage, but his prose style is absolutely lovely, very clean and slick and high-brow without feeling uncomfortable or vacuous. The story linked is a pretty simple one, and very elegantly told. I’d very much like to be able to write like that someday.

Actually, you know what, I lied. Twice. First lie is that the above is not the last link, and the second lie is that I do know how I found Mr. Tulathimutte: it was through the links page of the site of artist Justine Lai. Ms. Lai’s Big Art Project, Join or Die, consists of paintings of the artist having sex with all the U.S. presidents in chronological order. It’s a lovely style and a very intriguing concept, especially when viewed within the context of the statement she provides on the site.