Wednesday, 17 August 2005

All My Vintage Peeps! or Knapp and Some Knappy Conjectures I promised to dish about Literary Interest and have so far failed to follow through. But I have a reason: Despite being a straightforward read free of jargon and impressive citations, Knapp's book bedevils those who desire summary. The prose consists of tight argumentative knots which defy citational logic. (Though maybe not that way.) Especially interesting is the manner in which his prose enacts his argument about authorized implicature (about which more momentarily). Let me walk you through his argument: An author intends "readers to imagine that certain things were the case; that is, he intended his readers to imagine certain states of affair." Furthermore, an author also intends "those imagined states of affairs to to be connected to each other in ways that would sustain certain logical inferences from one to the other." Were this author Milton--the subject of the first chapter--he would have "intended his reader to imagine states of affair whose interconnections would be tight enough, for example, to sustain an inference from Eve's speaking to Eve's having a mouth; or from Adam's standing to Adam's being in contact with the ground" (9). Knapp's rhetorical strategy here is almost Darwinian in its cunning. Darwin opens The Origin with a discussion of selective breeding--a commonplace of human society since we've settled down--because he knows that if he builds on common sense he's locked his readers down. Knapp works in the same vein: first he convinces you that if Eve speaks she has a mouth, then throws a viscious left and sends you reeling: What happens if the rest of the work doesn't logically follow in the same way Eve's speaking entails her having a mouth? Since the world the author wanted to create cannot meet the Eve's-speech-to-Eve's-mouth standard of logical implication, Knapp wonders whether the author's foisted his authorial responsibility onto his readers. "[A] critic is empowered to imagine additional states of affairs that will enhance the coherence of the world projected by the author," Knapp argues, "even if the states of affairs thus added are utterly foreign to the author's intentions" (25). The sign to the left says it all. How can the coherence of an author's imagined world rely on the work of critics who would would "enhance the coherence of the world projected by the author even if the states of affairs thus added are utterly foreign to the author's intentions." That makes no sense. Or so it seems. According to Knapp, an author invests in his work as coherent a world as he can muster because he knows his readers will speculate on its value. Is Knapp introducing an economic metaphor into his formulation? He is. Only it's not his. It belongs to Keats and Boccaccio. Knapp is no Keats. Knapp is no Boccaccio. If you sense the imminent arrival of an argument akin to the Darwinian argument alluded to above, you've more insight into Knappy Knappian thought than I. Tomorrow I'll continue working through his argument for you. In the meantime I'd be...
On Names, or How Acephalous Lost His Head Searching Technorati to see whether Arts & Letters Daily's recent link to Morris Dickstein's contribution to the Theory's Empire Event had sparked conversation, I stumbled upon Joseph Duemer's account of a recent workshop he chaired on "blogging basics." (Among the ten blogs he recommends his students tour are The Valve, Bemisha Swing and Cliopatria.) Around the same time, I received an email from Mark Kaplan in which he asked me whether the name of this humble blog came from the cultic société secrète organized by Georges Bataille called Acéphale. While I would cherish the cultural capital naming a blog after a Surrealist splinter group would net, I confessed that Bataille had nothing to do with the christening of this blog. (Nor did I harbor monstrous intentions or know anything about vampyroteuthis infernalis.) As I composed my reply to Mark I kept thinking about Duemer's workship, the end of which involved the participants "going to Blogger and creating an account and weblog of their own." The question "What would these workshoppers name their blogs?" circled through my head as I explained the origins of Acephalous to Mark. Would they unintentionally infringe on Adam Kotsko's trademarked dry wit? Would they unwittingly imitate John Holbo and Belle Waring's dead-pan mastery of the obvious? Would they venture down the respectable trails blazed by Amardeep Singh and Michael Berube? Or would they engage in gentle self-mockery like Miriam Burstein or vicious self-deprecation like Yours Truly? Vicious self-deprecation. That is what I said. As I explained to Mark, there are levels to my self-deprecation. The first marches alongside Acephalous up there at the top of the page, informing potential readers of the possibility that I'm one of the "Acephalous people" some "modern travellers still pretend to find in America." That quotation from Emphraim Chambers' Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences should have satisfied even the most ardent self-deprecators. But I wanted more. So I installed a double-super-secret self-deprecatory mechanism deep in the bowels of my dissertation. On page 38 the bold can discover the following account of how Herbert Spencer nuanced Jean-Baptiste Lamarck's account of cephalopod evolution: Adaptation allows the animal to survive long enough for the force of progress to work on it, and adaptation depends on what Lamarck called sentiment intérieur, the ability to adapt, reflexively if not consciously, to environmental vagaries. In a revision of his last major work, The Principles of Ethics (1897), Spencer nuanced Lamarck’s statements on the subkingdom Mollusca. Lamarck, it will be remembered, considers the entire subkingdom to belong to the animaux sensibles or “sensitive animals.” [snip] [Spencer] divides Mollusca into the “cephalopods,” the higher mollusks, and what Lamarck had called “acephala,” the “head-less” or lower mollusks. I have chosen to focus on the subkingdom Mollusca because the division between its orders is so stark: some have heads and are non-adaptive, others have heads and are adaptive. To be a headless mollusk is to remain beholden to the whims of the force of progress. For Lamarck, Chambers, and Spencer,...

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