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Nov. 21st, 2008

branchandroot: oak against sky (Default)

So, one of the many and varied arguments surrounding acafen and anti-aca is about specialist vocabulary, how exclusive it is, and whether one can actually acquire it by reading Wikipedia, supposing one is interested in acquiring it in the first place.

In general, my own verdict on Wikipedia would be “no”, if only because most of the articles on theory are written by theorists and require the Western Philosophy base kit to understand (kind of like having a box of general Leggos before you get a special purpose pack).

And then, one day, I thought, well, could some of these concepts be explained differently? So that someone unfamiliar with the base kit could still grok it? And I thought, well, why not try? It came out fairly tongue-in-cheek, but it does seem possible to at least offer some place to start for conversational purposes.

So have a few litcrit concepts:

Semiotics: Word mean things, but how? They’re just sounds. Why do we all understand what the other person means by sounds like “table” or “car”, especially when it isn’t referring to any particular or present example? Let’s think about this.

Structuralism: We connect words to things by a set of rules, and those rules can be figured out. The rules are stable standards that can be scientifically mapped (and incidentally you should give us money and respect for doing so).

Post-structuralism: No, actually it’s all about context. We all flail around in a sea of sound and meaning, hooking up the two and unhooking them again as seems warranted by any particular group of people we’re trying to communicate with.

Deconstruction: Every action highlights its opposite. So if you walk south you have to define it as not-north, and therefore north is the most important thing even though you’re going south. So every attempt to connect sound and meaning destroys the meaning at the same time it constructs it. Let us make portmanteaus to describe this and explain at length how neat it is!

In conclusion, go read Ursula LeGuin’s “Bryn Mawr Commencement Address” from 1986. She’s one of the best writers I know at explaining complex ideas from the ground up.

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