9.686 language & the medium

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Wed, 3 Apr 1996 21:33:18 -0500 (EST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 686.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)
Information at http://www.princeton.edu/~mccarty/humanist/

[1] From: "Gary W. Shawver" <gshawver@epas.utoronto.ca> (32)
Subject: Re: 9.674 what happens to the figurative?

In BMMR J. O'Donnell noted:
>Most readers have accepted Augustine's assertion that the literal
>sense is prior to the allegorical, but the most unsettling thing
>about the book is the way it really suggests the exact opposite:
>that figurative use of language is natural, and the desire to take
>figurative language literally is a disordered interpretation
>conditioned by seeing texts on a page, where irony and metaphor can
>leak away.

Not sure I agree with this (or even understand precisely what is being
said). To accept the naturalness of a way of interpreting language is not
to establish its priority. In order for figurative language to work, one
must first have in mind its literal interpretation. Nor do I think that
the instantiation of language upon a physical medium evokes a more literal
interpretation (than what?). If anything, irony and metaphor multiply upon
the physical page.

>Read with that optic, the <i>De Doctrina Christiana</i>
>is a landmark in the history of the naturalization of the written
>word as a bearer of culture. The ease with which we understand
>even the parts we disagree with is a sign of its success, and its
>ability to mislead.

Willard wrote:
>In what direction do the electronic representations of text push us?

Speaking only for electronic texts, I would say that the SOFTWARE presently
used to analyse such texts (ironically enough) pushes the interpreter
towards LITERAL interpretation. The base unit of any TASP is the character
string (not the word), it takes a great deal of mark up to get the TASP to
recognize the abstract word or lemma, well below the level of the
figurative. So while analysis of figurative language may be possible with
the insubstantial e-text, the primitive nature of TASPs pushes one to an
analysis of individual word forms and to a littera[l] interpretation.

Gary W. Shawver, University of Toronto
E-Mail: gshawver@epas.utoronto.ca
WWW: http://www.epas.utoronto.ca:8080/~gshawver/gshawver.html