17.078 nesting

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Wed Jun 11 2003 - 02:12:00 EDT

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                    Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 78.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

             Date: Wed, 11 Jun 2003 07:08:56 +0100
             From: Jan Christoph Meister <jan-c-meister@uni-hamburg.de>
             Subject: Re: 17.046 nesting - terminology



    your analysis of markup in terms of the underlying concept of
    representation is very interesting - as is this entire thread!
    However, the narratologist in me finds it difficult to accept the
    proposed adaptation of what, after all, is a well defined terminology
    in his particular field of research. Don't get me wrong: I am not advocating a
    purist approach for the sake of purism. My concern is rather that the
    somewhat metaphorical use of concepts such as 'metalepsis',
    'prolepsis' etc. in the description the non-narrative phenomenon of
    textual markup (or does markup indeed constitute a kind of narrative?
    One might wish to explore that idea as well) does not exploit the
    analytical potential of the theoretical and conceptual import to its
    full extent.

    Metalepsis is certainly a very important and intriguing phenomenon in
    narratives. Current aesthetic production thrives on it, and so does
    literary criticism; the reason why 'La metalepse aujour d'hui' was the
    topic of an international narratological conference held in Paris in
    November 2002 in which Marie-Laure Ryan, Gerard Genette and other
    narratologists (including yours truly) discussed it from various
    angles. (For details see www.narratology.net/archive) . In our present day
    and age cultural artefacts prove to be obsessed with this age-old self
    reflective twist in representational technique. Like always, it comes
    in different qualities. I just saw 'Matrix Reloaded' - mentioned as
    one current example in Ryan's talk - and found it to be a
    dissapointingly puerile and illogical attempt at something which we
    know from Don Quichotte, or Tristram Shandy, or ... well, see
    Kaufman's/Jonze's recent 'Adapation' or their previous 'Being John
    Malkovitch' for an intelligent and ironically self-conscious version
    of metalepsis and embedding in contemporary film narrative.

    Back to our debate: you state that

    > A markup language is metaleptic when the tags seek to reflect or
    > elicit some feature or aspect of the text marked up.

    In terms of representational logic I would rather call this an
    'iconic' mode of markup and not a 'metaleptic' one. As Marie-Laure
    aptly demonstrated it is important to understand that metalepsis is
    MORE than just an iconic form of representation falling into the
    onomatopoetic vein. Metalepsis in the sense of the narratological
    definition amounts to a calculated conflation of the representational dichotomy
    (sign/signified or tag/text marked up) with an assumedly (!) natural
    underlying ontological dichotomy: namely that of narrator/narratee; or
    in our case, of meta-text/text. Note that when we call something
    'metaleptic' the prefix 'meta' in compounds such as 'meta-text' needs to
    be understood as an existential and ontological qualifier, and not
    just as an innocent qualifier in terms of the origin of speech acts as in
    discourse theory.

    This ontological problematic - which in itself should not be misread
    for an empirical fact: it is merely a consequence of turning the idea
    of representation which we accept as 'natural' in our particular
    cultural context on itself - is at best implicit in the two related
    cases of representational anomaly discussed in narratology, namely
    prolepsis (the narratorial flash-forward) and analepsis (flash-back).
    This too has consequences for your suggestion to use the former
    narratological term in order to characterize different types of markup,

    > "proleptic" (looking forward to future processing) and "metaleptic"
    > (looking backward to an extant, authoritative source of some kind)

    I understand where you're coming from and what it is that you try to
    capture here, but I suspect that this use (or is it indeed another tongue
    in cheek
    'adaptation'?) of terminology downplays the actual philosophical
    problem. 'Proleptic' might still be OK - on the other hand, why not simply
    call it
    'anticipatory'? But the proposed use of 'metaleptic' is definitely
    problematic since what
    you want to highlight is mainly the legitimizing gesture embedded in this
    type of markup, and not the idea of a presumed 'ontological divide' being
    transgressed. Your argument that

    >"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)

    seems to confirm this.

    As so often the problem actually seems to be rooted in our
    understanding of what a language is. I would hold that as long as we
    talk about 'language' in the sense of 'conventionalised system of
    symbolic representation' neither markup languages nor first order
    languages in general are inherently 'metaleptic' - viz Cassirer for
    the opposing mythical concept of signification which by contrast is
    based on an entirely different and in fact decidedly 'metaleptic'
    notion of 'sign' in which the sign IS the signified. In other words,
    as long as we remain aware that in markup, as in any other language or
    symbolic system, we are by necessity (!) representing representations
    (an awareness which any Platonian worth his or her money should
    uphold) there simply is no possibility for anything becoming
    existentially 'metaleptic' - because the realm of the 'meta', that
    higher-order ontological dimension, will be correctly identified as an
    illusion or an aesthetic artefact. The whole idea of 'metalepsis' is
    about suspending, of cancelling this Platonian insight into the nature
    of representation. There's nothing in TEI or SGML that leads me to
    believe that this discourse is being alluded to, and hence I am
    somewhat reluctant to go pomo on this.

    But then again this is perhaps exactly what we should do in order to
    understand markup better. In other words, as a narratologist I may
    find your retooling of narratological terminology problematic, but as
    a computing humanist I find it extremely instructive nevertheless -
    the reason being that this approach ultimately raises the profoundly
    philosophical question whether the current notion of textual markup
    with its heavy emphasis on technological doability and standardization
    is not based on an unduly simplistic and materialist concept of
    signification and representation. And that would surely be a question
    worth to be debated in the HC community.



    Jan Christoph Meister
    Forschergruppe Narratologie
    Universitt Hamburg

    NarrNet - the Information hub for Narratologists:
    My site: www.rrz.uni-hamburg.de/JC.Meister
    Mail: jan-c-meister@uni-hamburg.de
    Office: +49 - 40 - 42838 4994
    Cell: +49 - 0172 40 865 41

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