17.064 nesting

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Sat Jun 07 2003 - 02:43:21 EDT

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                    Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 64.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

             Date: Fri, 06 Jun 2003 06:53:17 +0100
             From: Wendell Piez <wapiez@mulberrytech.com>
             Subject: Re: 17.046 nesting

    Willard and HUMANIST:

    At 12:52 PM 6/1/2003, Jan Christoph Meister wrote:
    >Anyway 2: Gerard Genette's defines this type of structure as
    >a case of 'metalepsis'.

    Thanks for this reference: I wasn't aware Genette had identified it this way.

    > As far as I know Marie-Laure Ryan was the
    >first to address this particular variant of the aesthetic problem of
    >embedding from a computational perspective, interpreting it in terms
    >of infinite recursion as it occurs in a badly written program (the
    >proverbial 'loop' - but let me quickly read Patricia Galloway's
    >article which probably already discusses the problem from the
    >same angle.)

    Yes, at ACH/ALLC in Georgia (USA) last week, we were privileged to hear
    Marie-Laure Ryan speak to this. It was marvelous. Not least because of a
    fortuitous warning her machine imposed on the proceeding, just as she was
    about to demonstrate a recursive program (or what would prove to be a
    mock-up of one): low battery, plug the machine in or data may be lost....
    the Trickster phenomenon. (Anyone interested in following *this* reference
    can look at www.tricksterbook.com, and yes it is relevant to this entire

    As it happens, I myself have used the term "metaleptic" in a more
    restricted context, namely the design of markup languages. A markup
    language is metaleptic when the tags seek to reflect or elicit some feature
    or aspect of the text marked up. So, for example, the typography and
    organization of a complex text such as Robert Burton's *Anatomy of
    Melancholy* (which has a rather large and elaborately nested structure)
    can't be represented directly by a plain text transcription, but must be
    represented by markup. The typography represents something about the text,
    and the markup must represent that representation, or at any rate
    re-express it to convey what it represents. A distinction I draw between
    different markup applications' needs to be "proleptic" (looking forward to
    future processing) and "metaleptic" (looking backward to an extant,
    authoritative source of some kind) allows one to avoid many design
    pitfalls, by better isolating requirements and guiding the designer in
    dealing with inevitable tradeoffs. (Note that *both* these are
    "descriptive" strategies in distinction to a "procedural" strategy, in
    which the implied semantics of the language are not generally descriptive,
    but are rather more tightly tied to its processing.)

    Of course, it hasn't escaped me that perhaps in this sense (and
    particularly in light of Ryan's discussion), "proleptic" technologies are
    rather a special type of "metaleptic" technologies, and that all markup
    languages are metaleptic in a more general way (as representing
    representations), as indeed are all languages for computers from Assembler
    on up. Prolepsis is merely the special case in which the representation
    that is represented hasn't occurred yet, such as when one designs a
    language as input for a process that has not yet been built.

    You can imagine that I am intrigued and gratified to find two threads of my
    interest in all this to interweave in this way. (Anyone interested in that
    reference can find my papers on this topic at

    >And Wendell: what exactly is it that interests you in the phenomenon?

    Well, this particular question came up because I'm thinking about tracing
    the origins of what markup practitioners in the Humanities have called,
    since the seminal paper by Renear et al. "What is Text, Really?" (1990),
    the OHCO (Ordered Hierarchy of Content Objects). It occurred to me that
    nested narratives are the original and perhaps pre-eminent examples of such
    ordering, even (especially) when such orderings are sometimes breached by
    the invasion of one narrative thread by another. How these nestings appear
    in oral and pre-literate traditions, and how deep they can get, would
    apparently bear on the issue of how "natural" they are. (Or possibly less
    tendentiously, how characteristic of narrative generally, as opposed to
    being a characteristic of works in print particularly.)

    On the other hand, it is also apparent that the issue itself has more
    levels than I expected.


    Wendell Piez mailto:wapiez@mulberrytech.com
    Mulberry Technologies, Inc. http://www.mulberrytech.com
    17 West Jefferson Street Direct Phone: 301/315-9635
    Suite 207 Phone: 301/315-9631
    Rockville, MD 20850 Fax: 301/315-8285
        Mulberry Technologies: A Consultancy Specializing in SGML and XML

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