17.105 nesting

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Fri Jun 20 2003 - 04:19:12 EDT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 105.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

             Date: Fri, 20 Jun 2003 09:06:34 +0100
             From: Wendell Piez <wapiez@mulberrytech.com>
             Subject: Re: 17.078 nesting


    I wish I could do justice to the questions you raise.

    At 02:12 AM 6/11/2003, you wrote:
    >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.

    I'm not quite ready to concede that a somewhat 'looser' sense to these
    terms isn't perfectly legitimate. As a classicist (poor though I may be as
    such), I am very conscious that in some sense these words have been
    somewhat 'metaphorical' for most of their long histories. I plead also that
    we've barely *started* to talk about the way markup languages signify (as
    indeed they apparently do, so differently yet so intertangled with our more
    ordinary significations) ... and that some terminology is, perforce,
    necessary. To whatever extent my (mis)use of the terms may accidentally
    correspond, or fail to, with more advanced sciences with which I'm not
    familiar, is a risk that would seem to come with the territory.

    I concede that this may only muddy the waters when it comes to a strictly
    "narratological" study of markup, in which suddenly the real import of the
    terms is thrown into question. Yet this only gives us occasion, if we do it
    right, to examine what we actually mean by these terms -- "far-fetching"
    was Putnam's English-language gloss on Quintillian's 'transumptio' or
    'metalepsis' -- rather than simply reify what we take them to represent
    into hard categories.

    (And incidentally -- keep reading -- it happens I did not draw the terms
    originally from narratological theory, with which I am acquainted only to
    the extent that I know it's there ... which certainly accounts for some of
    the confusion.)

    Of course, this does leave the more important task of "exploit[ing] the
    analytical potential of the theoretical and conceptual import to its full
    extent". But I'm glad to see I don't have to do that by myself....

    > > 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.

    Mm, perhaps I'm not clear about the nature of the markup I'm trying to
    describe. Take TEI for example. There are parts of TEI that might indeed be
    seen as "iconic" or perhaps "mimetic" in this way; there are others that
    are more-or-less confessedly interpretive of the matter they mark up.
    (<emph> comes to mind as an example, which is described in the guidelines
    as for "words or phrases which are stressed or emphasized for linguistic or
    rhetorical effect" -- the judgement of whether a given word or phrase
    actually falls into this category being left to the encoder.) Yet they are
    (perhaps naively) taken to imply that they mirror or reflect that matter
    transparently. Their signification is thus, in a strange way, layered ...
    they constitute a narrative of a narrative of the text. (I am not the first
    to point this out: cf. Sperberg-McQueen, "markup encodes a theory of the

    >Metalepsis in the sense of the narratological
    >definition amounts to a calculated conflation of the representational
    >(sign/signified or tag/text marked up) with an assumedly (!) natural
    >underlying ontological dichotomy

    Exactly: just what happens in markup languages, I believe.

    >'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.

    I concede that this may be the trend, without finding that it makes the
    phenomenon any less interesting to think about (however awkwardly). The
    term "analepsis" ("pulling up", "taking back" -- I see, "restoring") is an
    interesting one, which I'll think about.

    As for why "proleptic" I wanted to distinguish "descriptive" markup (that
    seems to attempt to be representational in some way) from merely
    "prospective" applications of markup that have a more fixed semantic
    binding to some kind of processing (and hence that are more "procedural")
    -- and yet that are more fully formalized (typically they are described by
    a metalanguage such as a DTD, against which instances can be validated)
    than ad-hoc markup schemes, which perhaps only verge on a consistent
    representation. Again, a term for a representation of a representation
    seemed appropriate.

    >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.

    Ah, well this may be closer to the rub. Understand, I am not alluding to
    this discourse -- in fact was quite unaware of it at the time of writing.
    Rather, the allusion, to the extent there is one, is to the work of John
    Hollander (cf. "The Figure of Echo") and Harold Bloom (in various places)
    -- neither of whom could ever be justly accused of being pomo. (And they
    were deploying the terms some years ago now.)

    Also, I don't think it's necessary to suppose that either SGML or TEI
    alluded to any such tradition for us to inquire as to what gestures towards
    representation are actually made by markup languages. Indeed, the whole
    point of my 2001 paper "Beyond the 'Descriptive vs. Procedural'
    Distinction", in which these ideas are explored, is that the descriptive
    vs. procedural distinction has tended to mask an equally fundamental
    distinction between different kinds of representation, all in markup that
    takes a "descriptive" approach to its design. So you find that many markup
    languages in use actually mix proleptic with metaleptic motives, without
    directly facing the design challenges that are raised thereby (albeit
    sometimes finessing them very nicely).

    >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.

    I'm glad you think so. Signification and representation do turn out to be
    more problematic than engineers would like....

    Thanks for taking the time to write!


    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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