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Wow!!! “Phatic”, “zeugma”, “syllepsis”. Laura obviously spent her time in Ithaca much more productively than I did (too much turpentine sniffing.) And she even does her homework!

“Linguistic power comes not just from the connotative dimension but also from its performativity…performativity is unlimited, dependent upon uptake and context, but those aren’t extraneous exactly – they can be coded in the linguistic production itself…”

I’m not sure I fully understand “performativity”. My point is not that natural language is limited in its potential to describe, express, etc. Obviously rich complex worlds have been built in words. But, in comparison to mathematical language, these worlds are fuzzy (in a good way.) When we say or write anything, I don’t believe the signification can ever be fully known. However, the expression 2+2 = 4 can (perhaps) never be unknown. The former is dynamic and mutable, the latter static and immutable. I am not passing a value judgment on either of these systems. We can of course, as Laura suggested, code in more context, but as we add specificity we simply approach the infinite (Zeno’s paradox).

“While it is true that in English you can say "I love my skates" and "I love my mother," it really only seems to be the case (or is only true of syntactic rules) that the verb "love" doesn't have a declared datatype for its object.”

This is precisely what I think I was trying to say. The concept of a declared (immutable) datatype is foreign to natural language, right? We can use other explicit structures to build a context of meaning, but ultimately any datatype abstraction needs to be subordinate to a dynamic emergence; language needs elbow space. This is what I meant by “semantic expansion”. From a coding perspective Datatypes (classes), in object-oriented programming, are static constructs that enforce encapsulation and contractual communication. In a pure OOP system, everything would be an object, (based on a datatype.) “Love” would be forced to choose its type. Although, through inheritance, the possibility does also exist for “Love” to be of multiple types. Regardless though, some discrete datatype(s)/object binding is required*.

“Arthur Quinn says that ‘the simplest definition of a figure of speech is an intended deviation from ordinary usage,’ an intentional mistake, and that's what your ‘I love my skates, and I love my mother’ (I'm rewriting it to make a point) would be if they appeared in the same sentence. The sentence is a specific kind of mistake…”

A discussion on the notion of “mistake” would make another worthy post (if anyone’s sitting on the sidelines ready to jump in.) I might argue (probably very foolishly) that there are ONLY mistakes in natural language and no mistakes in mathematical language. When I taught painting (prior to selling out) I described painting as a series of near misses. I guess I’m thinking of mistake as deviation from intention. Thus every human gesture is a small (or larger) mistake. Mathematically we can prove this, referring back to Zeno, but that would be damn boring. In math, until something is proven, it remains unproven; there is no figure of speech territory. Coding does offer some mistake territory, as I tried to illustrate with my fuzzy polygon program, based on random number generation.

“Barthes's S/Z is really a program that codes Balzac's short story "Sarrasine." That text demonstrates that the program for generating the story — really the program for generating any natural sentence in all its connotative and performative grandeur — would have to be so much longer than the sentence or story itself, and I'm not sure any of it would ever be generalizable to other sentences or stories, which is why such coding would be a worthless endeavor, as was my attempt to write an XSL transform to write Wordsworth's poem "A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal."

This last point I agree with. Using code as a mimetic or transformative tool is usually more work than it’s worth. However, using code as a primary generative medium offers unique and fresh possibilities, outside of the domains of natural and mathematical languages. Because code has access to the rigid precision of mathematical language and the narrative fuzziness of natural language, it offers (I still think) possibilities for a new (whole brain) integration, especially needed at our esteemed (disciplinary biased) institutions of higher learning.

* Some languages such as Java rely on late binding, allowing objects to be bound to datatypes dynamically at runtime. This approach supports polymorphism, promoting a high level of object abstraction.


  1. I think I get it now, if I’m allowed to read “random number generalization” as one mode of “figure” or “mistake.” A romantic idea: another name for “mistake” could be “individuality” or “soul” — and, sure, “art.” I wasn’t sniffing turpentine, but I was smoking two packs a day, drinking coffee in the Green Dragon, reading Harold Bloom who also describes art (poetry) as a near miss or swerve (“clinamen” is his technical term; if I’ve got that right, then smoke makes things stick in your brain).

  2. “individuality” or “soul” is the big problem. Can it be coded (should it be coded)? There have been some interesting attempts in the visual arts and AI community, specifically Harold Cohen’s work. This type of inquiry usually really pisses off (terrifies) disciplinary purists, which might be the best reason to pursue it.


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