Ursula Le Guin, “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction” in Dancing At The Edge of the World.
Rick Searle of the ever excellent Utopia or Dystopia (go, subscribe!) wrote a comment to my previous post, and I found my reply getting too long to justify it merely being a comment, so I am placing it here instead. The text of the comment is as follows:
I am curious as to your thoughts on this:
Yesterday, in honor of the centenary of Alan Turing’s birth, an orchestra in Europe performed a piece of music that had been entirely created by an AI:
They actually live streamed the performance and I took the chance to listen to it. I am not a great classical music fan, but the piece seemed haunting and beautiful, and the more I reflected on it- a little creepy.
Here was this beautiful piece of art produced by an algorithm completely empty of any emotional life that was nevertheless able to have an emotional effect on me.
It struck me that the one of the questions we have to address when creating these things is not what will the world be like if we create machines that are like humans, but what will the world be like the intelligent machines we create are not like humans at all, and at the same time better, potentially incredibly better, than humans in those very things that we have up to now used to define ourselves? Read More
Are we seeing a theme emerge? A lot of thinking about figurative language lately. William Empson writes, in The Structure of Complex Words, of metaphor as the sudden perception of an objective relation:
It is clear that we may do this before we can explain it [...] Original pieces of thinking have, I suppose, nearly always been started on metaphor, and so far from being peculiarly “emotive” and indulgent of folly, a metaphor is often a loophole for common sense.
We have all read of engineers and scientists, as well as poets and artists having this sudden perception of an objective relation, of a connection that appears to have always been so. If we ask this type of language and thought a question, if we ask “what is metaphor… for?” where does this lead us? This may require expansion, so when do we employ metaphor, and to what end? True, all language contains metaphorical elements, or shows itself to be a sedimented cross-section of previous ages’ figurative language, petrified into varying degrees of literalism. Read More
How close does the “history of ideas” approach come to data-mining as the study and criticism of literature? I was rereading Christopher Tilmouth’s Passion’s Triumph Over Reason, and I began thinking about this. I met the author a few years back, in his Cambridge room in a turret of Peterhouse, when I was planning on undertaking a PhD (on the poetry of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester) there. We discussed the various approaches that are common now, and while he is not necessarily a party to the more theory-laden schools of thought, he certainly was familiar with their content and understood their attraction to many. I was there to talk to him about the possibility of taking a more formal approach to literature (which is in keeping with my techno-functionalist interests in philosophy!), one which did not make the text merely a conduit to discuss a particular theory of discourse, one which, incidentally might be anachronistic. At the same time, however, I felt that there was something about the historical scholarship approach to poetry that didn’t resonate for me. Read More
I wonder if by reading scare stories in free newspapers, tabloids, and in the more gutter-y type of website, there is a cumulative effect on our imaginations. The above scene from Amelie made me think about this, as it is remarkable that she can imagine someone coming into her house, and for this to be a source of comfort. Of course, it is a fantasy of hers, but what is truly remarkable is that when there is a stirring of the beads that she is not ricocheted out of the dream into a nightmare. She does not jump out of her skin (as I know I would). Read More
Homeric allegoresis had come into existence as a defense of Homer against philosophy.
E.R. Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, p.205
This is still true, for few modern students of literature allow themselves to be simply readers; there is the fear which I below called the unliterary, which leads us into the temptation to read literature as a key to something else. This can be sociology, politics, psychology, etc. via the poem or book or painting or film. Those who are literary readers can be either aesthetic or antiaesthetic. An old fashioned (indeed, regarded as antediluvian by most) example of the former would be Harold Bloom, and the boa-deconstructionists of Deconstruction and Criticism (Geoffrey Hartmann, Paul de Man, J. Hillis Miller) are occasionally the latter. Most often they are allegorists manqué, and their allegory seeks to elucidate their god of the textual gaps. Read More
For myself, I split the reading of literature into two broad groups, namely the literary and the unliterary. The unliterary reader approaches a piece of fiction, or a poem, the way they would if it were any other text. They are epistemic and systematic, and so we can perceive the impact a book (etc.) has on them almost immediately, since their experience of it is not mediated by other concerns beyond “what does this tell me”. The literary reader’s experience is reflected, however, and so a text can fruitfully be read and reread. It is in this sense, like Montaigne in his tower, reading his 5,000 book library over and over, a little at a time, that such literary readers may be considered gnostic. It is the continued experience of the text that defines them, because they are an element of a community of interpreters. This goes for all readers of texts, including films, comics, magazine articles, etc. If you have at any stage debated the merits of a particular text, or suggested “what if they had casted X rather than Y”, or played some variation of “name your top 5 villains of all time, and say why”, then you are a member of this interpretive community. You are a literary reader. Read More