ads without products

Archive for May 5th, 2011

aristotle on aggregation

leave a comment »

From Aristotle’s Poetics: 

It is, moreover, evident from what has been said, that it is not the function of the poet to relate what has happened, but what may happen – what is possible according to the law of probability or necessity. The poet and the historian differ not by writing in verse or in prose. The work of Herodotus might be put into verse, and it would still be a species of history, with meter no less than without it. The true difference is that one relates what has happened, the other what may happen. Poetry, therefore, is a more philosophical and a higher thing than history: for poetry tends to express the universal, history the particular. By the universal I mean how a person of a certain type on occasion speak or act, according to the law of probability or necessity; and it is this universality at which poetry aims in the names she attaches to the personages.

Implicit in the construction of the fictional character is the notion of probability, estimation, aggregation. This becomes explicit, or at least more explicit, at certain moments of literary history, for instance the 18th-century when the novel as a form veers away from both factual reportage on “real people” (even if they’re fake) and fantasy. Characters at that point (as with Aristotle) become particular instantiations or condensation of a presumed group….

I’ve been reading Catherine Gallagher’s fantastic “The Rise of Fictionality” in Franco Moretti’s compilation The Novel – pretty much everything I’m saying here comes from that save, I guess, for the word “aggregation.” The essay is on the emergence of fictionality as a concept during the 18th Century, and the way that it takes a more complex shape than we generally have thought. (In short, rather than simply distinguishing itself from factuality, it further has to distinguish itself from fantasy as well… In doing so, it relies upon / informs the development of a new model of truth, one that moves toward verisimilitude and probability rather than the simple and literal. And the entire operation hinges on a different notion of character. As Gallagher writes, “novels are about nobody in particular. That is, proper names do not take specific individuals as their referents, and hence none of the specific assertions made about them can be verified or falsified.”

Written by adswithoutproducts

May 5, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Posted in aggregate, fiction

they suck your blood

leave a comment »

For anyone still unaware of how bad things can be and generally are in the US with health care, SEK nails it here.

Written by adswithoutproducts

May 5, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Posted in america

apocalyptic overreach

with 20 comments

See, here’s the sort of thing that I worry about w/r/t the influence of the theorists and pseud0-theorists and their turn to apocalypticism. From the blog of a sometimes AwP commenter:

This wishful thinking wards off the sinking feeling of doom, not the fear of something happening, but the knowledge that nothing will. For doom is not felt but known. It is what the characters in Sartre’s No Exit feel when they realize that they aren’t waiting to go to Hell, they’re already there. It’s George Orwell when he says “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.” It’s 54 percent of Americans thinking – knowing – their children will live more miserably than they do.

You should go read the whole piece for the context, which has to do with “our” inability to conceive of change, but I hope that you can see the problem. Made me laugh out loud the first time I hit that last line… An America in which 54 percent think – or even know in italics- that things will be to some degree worse for their kids (harder to find work? harder to attend university? harder to afford a house?) is a worried country, but it ain’t exactly Sartre’s Hell or Orwell’s Airstrip One. Obviously, if you give yourself over to ridiculous hyperbole, if you apocalypticize what is a bad but certainly a long way from interminably and unalterably fucked, you’re going to find it hard to conceive of paths forward politically.

Why this reflex then, the overselling? It smells of grad seminar overreach, trying to render the significant but mostly mundane ills of society in gaudy technicolor out of fear that the reader – or more probably the writer himself – would get to bored dealing with the world as it really is. One more quote from the piece:

American politicians toy dramatically with apocalypse, a government shutdown or a reached debt ceiling threatens the end but is always narrowly averted.

Apocalypse, huh? Well, perhaps the writer wasn’t yet politically conscious back then, but we’ve made it through that sort of thing before. Led to some nasty political results, but a long, long way from the end of the world.

Written by adswithoutproducts

May 5, 2011 at 10:31 am

Posted in catastrophe