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Essential concepts of decoding stylistic analysis and types of foregrounding
Decoding stylistics investigates the same levels as linguastylistics - phonetic, graphical, lexical, and grammatical. The basic difference is that it studies expressive means provided by each level not as isolated
devices that demonstrate some stylistic function but as a part of the general pattern discernible on the background of relatively lengthy segments of the text, from a paragraph to the level of the whole work. The underlying idea implies that stylistic analysis can only be valid when it takes into account the overall concept and aesthetic system of the author reflected in his writing.
Ideas, events, characters, emotions and an author's attitudes are all encoded in the text through language. The reader is expected to perceive and decipher these things by reading and interpreting the text. Decoding stylistics is actually the reader's stylistics that is engaged in recreating the author's vision of the world with the help of concrete text elements and their interaction throughout the text.
A systematic and elaborate presentation of decoding stylistics as a branch of general stylistics can be found in the book of Prof. Arnold Стилистика современного английского языка. (Стилистика декодирования) so here we shall limit ourselves to the description of its most general principles and concepts.
One of the fundamental concepts of decoding stylistics is foregrounding. The notion itself was suggested by the scholars of the Prague linguistic circle that was founded in 1926 and existed until early 50s. Among its members were some of the most outstanding linguists of the 20th century, such as N. S. Trubetskoy, S. O. Kartsevsky, R. Jacobson, V. Matezius, B.Trnka, J.Vachek, V. Skalichka and others (20). The Prague circle represented a trend of structural linguistics and developed a number of ideas and notions that made a valuable contribution into modern linguistic theory, for example, phonology and the theory of oppositions, the theory of functional sentence perspective, the notions of norm and codification, functional styles and dialectology, etc.
The Prague school introduced into linguistics a functional approach to language. Their central thesis postulated that language is not a rigorous petrified structure but a dynamic functional system. In other words language is a system of means of expression that serve a definite purpose in communication. Their views exerted profound influence on stylistic research in areas of functional styles study, the norm and its variations in the national language, as well as the study of poetic language, i. e. the language of literature. It was for this latter sphere that the notion of foregrounding was formulated.
Prof. Arnold has highlighted various treatments of the term by different authors in her book on decoding stylistics but the essence of the concept consists in the following. Foregrounding means a specific role that some language items play in a certain context when the reader's attention cannot but be drawn to them. In a literary text such items become stylistically marked features that build up its stylistic function.
Descriptive, statistical, distributional and other kinds of linguistic analysis show that there are certain modes of language use and arrangement to achieve the effect of foregrounding. It may be based on various types of deviation or redundancy or unexpected combination of language units, etc. Arnold points out that sometimes the effect of foregrounding can be achieved in a peculiar way by the very absence of any expressive or distinctive features precisely because they are expected in certain types of texts, e. g. the absence of rhythmical arrangement in verse.
However decoding stylistics laid down a few principal methods that ensure the effect of foregrounding in a literary text. Among them we can name convergence of expressive means, irradiation, defeated expectancy, coupling, semantic fields, semi-marked structures.
Convergence as the term implies denotes a combination or accumulation of stylistic devices promoting the same idea, emotion or motive. Stylistic function is not the property and purpose of expressive means of the language as such. Any type of expressive means will make sense stylistically when treated as a part of a bigger unit, the context, or the whole text. It means that there is no immediate dependence between a certain stylistic device and a definite stylistic function.
A stylistic device is not attached to this or that stylistic effect. Therefore a hyperbole, for instance, may provide any number of effects: tragic, comical, pathetic or grotesque. Inversion may give the narration a highly elevated tone or an ironic ring of parody.
This "chameleon" quality of a stylistic device enables the author to apply different devices for the same purpose. The use of more than one type of expressive means in close succession is a powerful technique to support the idea that carries paramount importance in the author's view. Such redundancy ensures the delivery of the message to the reader.
An extract from E. Waugh's novel "Decline and Fall" demonstrates convergence of expressive means used to create an effect of the glamorous appearance of a very colorful lady character who symbolizes the high style of living, beauty and grandeur.
The door opened and from the cushions within emerged a tall young man in a clinging dove-gray coat. After him, like the first breath of spring in the Champs-Elysee came Mrs. Beste-Chetwynde - two lizard-skin feet, silk legs, chinchilla body, a tight little black hat, pinned with platinum
and diamonds, and the high invariable voice that may be heard in any Ritz Hotel from New York to Budapest.
Inversion used in both sentences (...from the cushion within emerged a tall man; ...like the first breath of spring came Mrs. Beste-Chetwynde) at once sets an elevated tone of the passage.
The simile that brings about a sensory image of awakening nature together with the allusion to Paris - the symbol of the world's capita! of pleasures - sustains this impression: like the first breath of spring in the Champs-Ely see. A few other allusions to the world capitals and their best hotels - New York, Budapest, any Ritz Hotel all symbolize the wealthy way of life of the lady who belongs to the international jet-set distinguished from the rest of the world by her money, beauty and aristocratic descent.
The use of metonymy creates the cinematographic effect of shots and fragments of the picture as perceived by the gazing crowd and suggests the details usually blown up in fashionable newspaper columns on high society life: two lizard-skin feet, silk legs, chichilla body, a tight little black hat... the invariable voice.
The choice of words associated with high-quality life style: exotic materials, expensive clothes and jewelry creates a semantic field that enhances the impression still further (lizard, silk, chinchilla, platinum and diamonds). A special contribution to the high-flown style of description is made by the careful choice of words that belong to the literary bookish stratum: emerge, cushions, dove, invariable.
Even the name of the character - Mrs. Beste-Chetwynde - is a device in itself, it's the so-called speaking name, a variety of antonomasia. Not only its implication (best) but also the structure symbolizes the
lady's high social standing because hyphenated names in Britain testify to the noble ancestry. So the total effect of extravagant and glamour is achieved by the concentrated use of at least eight types of expressive means within one paragraph.
Defeated expectancy is a principle considered by some linguists (Ja-cobson, Riffaterre) as the basic principle of a stylistic function. Its use is not limited to some definite level or type of devices. The essence of the notion is connected with the process of decoding by the reader of the literary text.
The linear organization of the text mentally prepares the reader for the consequential and logical development of ideas and unfolding of the events. The normal arrangement of the text both in form and content is based on its predictability which means that the appearance of any element in the text is prepared by the preceding arrangement and choice of elements, e.g. the subject of the sentence will normally be followed by the predicate, you can supply parts of certain set phrases or collocation after you see the first element, etc.
An example from Oscar Wilde's play "The Importance of Being Earnest" perfectly illustrates how predictability of the structure plays a joke on the speaker who cannot extricate himself from the grip of the syntactical composition:
Miss Fairfax, ever since I met you I have admired you more than any girl... I have met... since I met you. (Wilde)
The speaker is compelled to unravel the structure almost against his will, and the pauses show he is caught in the trap of the structure unable either to stop or say anything new. The clash between the
perfectly rounded phrase and empty content creates a humorous effect and shows at the same time how powerful are the inherent laws of syntagmatic arrangement.
Without predictability there would be no coherence and no decoding. At the same time stylistically distinctive features are often based on the deviation from the norm and predictability. An appearance of an unpredictable element may upset the process of decoding. Even though not completely unpredictable a stylistic device is still a low expectancy element and it is sure to catch the reader's eye. The decoding process meets an obstacle, which is given the full force of the reader's attention. Such concentration on this specific feature enables the author to effect his purpose.
Defeated expectancy may come up on any level of the language. It may be an unusual word against the background of otherwise lexically homogeneous text.
It may be an author's coinage with an unusual suffix; it may be a case of semantic incongruity or grammatical transposition. Among devices that are based on this principle we can name pun, zeugma, paradox, oxymoron, irony, anti-climax, etc.
Defeated expectancy is particularly effective when the preceding narration has a high degree of orderly organized elements that create a maximum degree of predictability and logical arrangement of the contextual linguistic material.
Paradox is a fine example of defeated expectancy. The following example demonstrates how paradox works in such highly predictable cases as proverbs and phraseology. Everybody knows the proverb Marriages are made in Heaven.
Oscar Wilde, a renowned master of paradox, introduces an unexpected element and the phrase acquires an inverted implication Divorces are made in Heaven. The unexpected ironic connotation is enhanced by the fact that the substitute is actually the antonym of the original element. The reader is forced to make an effort at interpreting the new maxim so that it would make sense.
Coupling is another technique that helps in decoding the message implied in a literary work. While convergence and defeated expectancy both focus the reader's attention on the particularly significant parts of the text coupling deals with the arrangement of textual elements that provide the unity and cohesion of the whole structure. The notion of coupling was introduced by S. Levin in his work "Linguistic Structures in Poetry" in 1962 (40).
Coupling is more than many other devices connected with the level of the text. This method of text analysis helps us to decode ideas, their interaction, inner semantic and structural links and ensures compositional integrity.
Coupling is based on the affinity of elements that occupy similar positions throughout the text. Coupling provides cohesion, consistency and unity of the text form and content.
Like defeated expectancy it can be found on any level of the language, so the affinity may be different in nature; it may be phonetic, structural or semantic. Particularly prominent types of affinity are provided by the phonetic expressive means. They are
obviously cases of alliteration, assonance, paranomasia, as well as such prosodic features as rhyme, rhythm and meter.
Syntactical affinity is achieved by all kinds of parallelism and syntactical repetition - anadiplosis, anaphora, framing, chiasmus, epiphora to name but a few.
Semantic coupling is demonstrated by the use of synonyms and antonyms, both direct and contextual, root repetition, paraphrase, sustained metaphor, semantic fields, recurrence of images, connotations or symbols.
The latter can be easily detected in the works of some poets who create their own system of recurrent esthetic symbols for certain ideas, notions and beliefs.
Some of the well-known symbols are seasons (cf. the symbolic meaning of winter in Robert Frost's poetry), trees (the symbolic meaning of a birch tree, a maple in Sergei Yesenin's poetic work, the meaning of a moutain-ash tree for Marina Tsvetaeva), animals (the leopard, hyena, bulls, fish in Ernest Hemingway's works) and so on. These symbols do not only recur in a separate work by these authors but also generally represent the typical imagery of the author's poetic vision.
An illustration of the coupling technique is given below in the passage from John O'Hara's novel Ten North Frederick. The main organizing principle here is contrast.
Lloyd Williams lived in Collieryville, a mining town three or four miles from 10 North Frederick, but separated from the Chapins' home and their life by the accepted differences of money and prestige; the miners' poolroom, and the Gibbsville Club; sickening poverty, and four live-in
servants for a family of four; The Second Thursdays, and the chicken-and-waffle suppers of the English Lutheran Church. Joe Chapin Lloyd Williams were courthouse-corridor friends and fellow Republucans but Joe was a Company man and Lloyd Williams was a Union man who was a Republican because to be anything else in Lantenengo County was futile and foolish. (O'Hara)
The central idea of the passage is to underline the difference between two men who actually represent the class differences between the rich upper class and the lower working class. So the social contrast shown through the details of personal life of the two characters is the message with a generalizing power. This passage shows how coupling can be an effective tool to decode this message.
There is a pronounced affinity of the syntactical structure in both sentences. The first contains a chain of parallel detached clauses connected by and (which is an adversative conjunction here). They contain a number of antitheses. The contrast is enhanced by the use of contextual antonyms that occupy identical positions in the clauses: the miners' poolroom and the Gibbseville Club; sickening poverty and four servants for a family of four, The Second Thursdays and the Church suppers. The same device is used in the second sentence: Joe was a Company man and Lloyd Williams was a Union man. There are a few instances of phonetic affinity, alliteration: four servants for a family of four; courthouse-corridor, friends and fellow Republicans; futile and foolish.
The passage presents an interesting case of semantic coupling through symbols. The details of personal and class difference chosen by the author are all charged with symbolic value. There is a definite connection between them all however diverse they may appear at first sight. They are all grouped so that they symbolize either money and prestige or poverty and social deprivation.
The first group creates the semantic field of wealth and power: money, social prestige, the Gibbsville Club (symbol of wealth, high social standing, belonging to the select society), four live-in servants for a family of four (that only rich people can afford), The Second Thursdays (traditional reception days for people of a certain circle, formal dinner parties for people of high standing), a Company man (a member of a financially and socially influential group, political elite). The second semantic field comprises words denoting and symbolizing poverty and social inferiority: miners' poolroom (a working class kind of leisure), sickening poverty, chicken-and-waffle suppers of, the English Lutheran Church (implying informal gatherings where people cook together and share food), a Union man (a representative of the working class).
The similarity of these elements' positions in this text makes the contrast all the more striking.
A minor case of coupling in the passage above is the use of zeugma in the first sentence when the word separated is simultaneously linked to two different objects home and life in two different meanings - direct and figurative.
5.2.4. Semantic field
Semantic field is a method of decoding stylistics closely connected with coupling. It identifies lexical elements in text segments and the whole work that provide its thematic and compositional cohesion. To reveal this sort of cohesion decoding must carefully observe not only lexical and synonymous repetition but semantic affinity which finds expression in cases of lexico-semantic variants, connotations and associations aroused by a specific use or distribution of lexical units, thematic pertinence of seemingly unrelated words.
This type of analysis shows how cohesion is achieved on a less explicit level sometimes called the vertical context. Lexical elements of this sort are charged with implications and adherent meanings that establish invisible links throughout the text and create a kind of semantic background so that the work is laced with certain kind of imagery.
Lexical ties relevant to this kind of analysis will include synonymous and antonymous relations, morphological derivation, relations of inclusion (various types of hyponymy and entailment), common semes in the denotative or connotative meanings of different words.
If a word manifests semantic links with one or more other words in the text it shows thematic relevance and several links of this sort may be considered a semantic field, an illustration of which was offered in the previous example on coupling. Semantic ties in that example (mostly implicit) are based on the adherent and symbolic connotations (Church meals, Club member, live-in servants, Union man, etc) and create a semantic field specific to the theme and message of this work: the contrast between wealth and poverty, upper class and working class.
In the next example we observe the semantic field of a less complicated nature created by more explicit means.
Joe kept saying he did not want a fortieth birthday party. He said he did not like parties - a palpable untruth - and particularly and especially a large party in honor of his reaching forty...
At first there were going to be forty guests but the invitation list grew larger and the party plans more elaborate, until Arthur said that with so many people they ought to hire an orchestra, and with an orchestra
there would be dancing, and with dancing there ought to be a good-size orchestra. The original small dinner became a dinner dance at the Lantenengo Country Club. Invitations were sent to more than three hundred persons... (O'Hara)
The thematic word of the passage is party. It recurs four times in these four sentences. It is obviously related to such words used as its substitutes as dinner and dinner dance which become contextual synonyms within the frame of the central stylistic device of this piece - the climax.
Semantic relations of inclusion by entailment and hyponymy are represented by such words as birthday (party), (party) in honor, (party) plans, invitation (list), guests, people, persons, orchestra, dancing.
The subtheme of the major theme is the scale of the celebration connected with the importance of the date - the main character reached the age of forty considered an important milestone in a man's life and career. So there is a semantic field around the figure forty - its lexical repetition and morphological derivation (forty - forty-fortieth) and the word large amplified throughout by contextual synonyms, morphological derivatives and relations of entailment (large - larger - more - many - good-size - more-three hundred).
Another type of semantic relationship that contributes to the semantic field analysis is the use of antonyms and contrastive elements associated with the themes in question: large - small, forty - three hundred, small dinner - dinner dance, orchestra - good-sized orchestra, did not like - untruth. The magnitude and importance of the event are further enhanced by the use of synonymous intensifiers particularly and especially.
Semi-marked structures are a variety of defeated expectancy associated with the deviation from the grammatical and lexical norm. It's an extreme case of defeated expectancy much stronger than low expectancy encountered in a paradox or anti-climax, the unpredictable element is used contrary to the norm so it produces a very strong emphatic impact.
In the following lines by G. Baker we observe a semi-marked structure on a grammatical basis:
The stupid heart that will not learn The everywhere of grief.
The word everywhere is not a noun, but an adverb and cannot be used with an article and a preposition, besides grief is an abstract noun that cannot be used as an object with a noun denoting location. However the lines make sense for the poet and the readers who interpret them as the poetic equivalent of the author's overwhelming feeling of sadness and dejection.
Lexical deviation from the norm usually means breaking the laws of semantic compatibility and lexical valency. Arnold considers semi-marked structures as a part of tropes based on the unexpected or unpredictable relations established between objects and phenomena by the author.
If you had to predict what elements would combine well with such words and expressions as to try one's best to..., to like ... or what epithets you would choose for words like father or movement you would hardly come up with such incompatible combinations that we observe in the following sentences:
She ... tried her best to spoilthe party. (Erdrich)
Montezuma and Archuleta had recently started a mock-seriousseparatisi movement, seeking to join New Mexico. (Michener)
Would you believe it, that unnatural fatherwouldn't stump up. (Waugh)
He likedthe uglylittle college... (Waugh)
Such combination of lexical units in our normal everyday speech is rare. However in spite of their apparent incongruity semi-marked structures of both types are widely used in literary texts that are full of sophisticated correlations which help to read sense into most unpredictable combinations of lexical units.
This chapter contains but a brief outline of decoding stylistics and its basic principles and notions. As has been mentioned above more detailed and extensive description of decoding analysis and its correlation with the traditional stylistic methods and notions can be found in the works of such Russian and foreign authors as M. Rif-faterre, G. Leech, S. Levin, P. Guiraud, L, Dolezel, I. V. Arnold. Yu. M. Lotman, Yu. S. Stepanov and others.
The role and purpose of this trend in stylistics was appropriately summed up by I.V.Arnold in her book on decoding stylistics: "Modern styUstics in not so much interested in the identification of separate devices as in discovering the common mechanism of tropes and their effect." (4, p. 155).
Now, using the achievements of the 20th century linguistics, scholars try to answer the question how styUstic function works rather than what effect it produces.
1. What is implied in the separation of the author's stylistics from the reader's? How do the processes of encoding and decoding differ?
2. Comment on the factors that may prevent the reader from adequately decoding the author's imagery and message?
3. Speak on the origin and importance of the notion foregrounding
for stylistic analysis.
4. There is a convergence of expressive means in the passage below. Try to identify separate devices that contribute to the poetic description of a beautiful young girl: types of repetition, metaphor, sustained metaphor, catachresis, aUiteration,
, inversion, coupling, semantic field:
On her face was that tender look of sleep, which a nodding flower has when it is full out. Like a mysterious early flower, she was full out, like a snowdrop which spreads its three white wings in a flight into the waking sleep of its brief blossoming. The waking sleep of her full-opened virginity, entranced like a snowdrop in the sunshine, was upon her. (Lawrence)
The basic principle in the next passage (that describes how only one of the two relatives became the sole heir to the old man's money) is that of contrast and the method of convergence ensures the ample interpretation of the author's intention. Explain the intention and find the devices that deliver it.
From the start Philbrick was the apple of the old chap's eye, while he couldn't stick Miss Grade at any price.
Philbrick could spout Shakespeare and Hamletand things by the yard before Grade could read "The cat sat on the mat". When he was eight he had a sonnet printed in the local paper. After that Grade wasn't in it anywhere. She lived with the servants like Cinderella. (Waugh)
5. How is the effect of defeated expectancy achieved in the examples below? What are the specific devices employed in each case?
Celestine finally turned on the bench and put her hand over Dot's. - Honey, she said, would it kill you to say 'yes'?
- Yes, said Dot. (Erdrich)
St. Valentine's Day, I remembered, anniversary for lovers and massacre. (Shaw)
- It's little stinkers like you, he said, who turn decent masters savage. - Do you think that's so very complimentary?
- I think it's one of the most complimentary things I ever heard said about a master, said Beste-Chetwynde. (Waugh)
I think that, if anything, sports are rather worse than concerts, said Mr. Prendergast. They at least happen indoors. (Waugh)
...the Indian burial mound this town is named for contain the things that each Indian used in their lives. People have found stone grinders, hunting arrows and jewelry of colored bones. So I think it's no use. Even buried, our things survive. (Erdrich)
- Would this be of any use? Asked Philbrick, producing an enormous service revolver. Only take care, it's loaded.
- The very thing, said the Doctor. Only fire into the ground, mind. We must do everything we can to avoid an accident. Do you always carry that about with you?
- Only when I'm wearing my diamonds, said Philbrick. (Waugh)
When we visited Athens, we saw the Apocalypse. (Maleska)
Texans, quite apart from being tall and lean, turned out to be short and stout, hospitable, stingy to a degree, generous to a fault, even-tempered, cantankerous, doleful, and happy as the day is long. (Atkinson)
6. Explain how the principle of coupling can be used in analyzing the following passages. What types of coupling can you identify here?
Feeding animals while men and women starve, he said bitterly. It was a topic; a topic dry, scentless and colourless as a pressed flower; a topic on which in the school debating society one had despaired of finding anything new to say. (Waugh)
You asked me what I had going this time. What I have going is wine. With the way the world's drinking these days, being in wine is like having a license to steal. (Shaw)
7. In many cases coupling relies a lot on semantic fields analysis. Show how these principles interact in the following passage.
The truth is that motor-cars offer a very happy illustration of the metaphysical distinction between 'being' and 'becoming'. Some cars, mere vehicles, with no purpose above bare locomotion, mechanical drudges... have definite 'being' just as much as their occupants. They are bought all screwed up and numbered and painted,
and there they stay through various declensions of ownership, brightened now and then with a lick of paint... but still maintaining their essential identity to the scrap heap.
Not so the realcars, that become masters of men; those vital creations of metal who exist solely for their own propulsion through space, for whom their drivers are as important as the stenographer to a stockbroker. These are in perpetual flux; a vortex of combining and disintegrating units, like the confluence of traffic where many roads meet. (Waugh)
8. Workings in groups of two or three try to define the themes of the following text with a description of a thunderstorm. Let each group arrange the vocabulary of the passage into semantically related fields, for example: storm sounds, shapes, colors, supernatural forces, etc.
We... looked out the mucking hole to where a tower of lightning stood. It was a broad round shaft like a great radiant auger, boring into cloud and mud at once. Burning. Transparent. And inside this cylinder of white-purple light swam shoals of creatures we could never have imagined. Shapes filmy and iridescent and veined like dragonfly wings erranded between the earth and heavens. They were moving to a music we couldn't hear, the thunder blotting it out for us. Or maybe the cannonade of thunder was music for them, but measure that we couldn't understand.
We didn't know what they were.
They were storm angels. Or maybe they were natural creatures whose natural element was storm, as the sea is natural to the squid and shark. We couldn't make out their whole shapes. Were they mermaids or tigers? Were they clothed in shining linen or in flashing armor? We saw what we thought we saw, whatever they were, whatever they were in process of becoming.
This tower of energies went away then, and there was another thrust of lightning just outside the wall. It was a less impressive display, just an ordinary lightning stroke, but it lifted the three of us thrashing in midair for a long moment, then dropped us breathless and sightless on the damp ground. (Chappell)
9. Comment on the type of deviation in the following semi-marked structures.
Did you ever see a dream walking? (Cheever)
Man in the day or wind at night
Laid the crops low, broke the grape's joy. (Thomas)
I think cards are divine, particularly the kings. Such naughtyold faces! (Waugh)
The Maker's white coat and black visage had disappeared from the street doorway. Reinhart got a premonition of doom when he saw the color combination with which they had been replaced: policeman's midnight blue and Slavic-red face, but the pace helped keep his upper lip stiff. (Berger)
Ask Pamela; she's so brave and manly. (Waugh)
II was Granny whom she came to detest with all her soul... her Yvette really hated, with that pure, sheer hatred which is almost a joy. (Lawrence)
...everyone who spoke, it seemed, was but biding his time to shout the old village street refrain which had haunted him all his life, "Nigger! - Nigger! - White Nigger!" (Dunbar-Nelson)
To hear him speak French, if you didn't try to understand what he was saying, was as good as attending "Phedre": he seemed a cloud that had divorced a textbook of geometry to marry Guillaume Apollinaire... (Jar-rell)
10. Read the story by Paul Jennings and try to apply some of the principles of decoding to find out the real meaning and the implications of what the author encoded. Comment on the author's use of such devices as sustained metaphor, allegory, allusions, irony and phonographical means. Can you find instances of semi-marked structures, defeated expectancy, convergence and other means of foregrounding. Speak about the theme and the message of this story.
Red-blooded 3/4 rose
There was once an article in the Observerby Dr Bronowski in which he said that mathematics ought to be taught as a language. At the time I had fantasies of passages like this:
"It is time (the Government)2 up to the situation.
the country , , _
On > 1 issue---, and unless they treat the Opposition as-
in hammering out a bipartisan policy they will not get to √(our troubles). All the omens . 2 trouble in the Middle East..." *
* Crib for art students, beatniks, peasants: (The Government)2: the government squared. > 1:more than one. =: equals.
√(our troubles): the root of our troubles. . 2: point to recurring.
But of course that wasn't the idea at all. Years ago I got off the mathematics train at Quadratic Equations - a neat, airy little station with trellis, ivy, roses, a sunlit platform. There was just a hint of weirdness now and then - stationmaster made clicking noises in his throat, there was an occasional far-off harmonious humming in the sky, strange bells rang; one knew the frontier was not far away,
Where the line crosses into the vast country of Incomprehensibility, the jagged peaks of the Calculus Mountains standing up, a day's journey over its illimitable plains.
The train thundered off into those no doubt exhilarating spaces, but without me. I sniffed the mountainy air a little, then I crossed the line by the footbridge and went back in a fusty suburban train to my home town. Contemptible Ignorance. This train had no engine; it was simply a train of carriages rolling gently down through the warm orchards of Amnesia Hill.
The only language we speak in that town is, well, language (we're not madabout it like those people at Oxford; we know the world is infinite and real, language is about it, it isn't it). But we have got typewriters, and they introduce mathematics into language in their own way.
Even without those figures on the top row, 1 to 9 (all you need) there is something statisticalabout the typewriter as it sits there. It contains instantaneously the entire alphabet, the awful pregnant potentiality of everything. I am certain most readers of this article will have read somewhere or other a reference to the odds against a monkey's sitting at a typewriter and writing Hamlet.
For some reason philosophical writers about chance, design and purpose are led irresistibly to this analogy. Nobody ever suggests the monkey's
writing Hamletwith a pen, as Shakespeare did. With a pen a monkey would get distracted, draw funny faces, found a school of poetry of its own. There's something about having the whole alphabet in front of it, on a machine, that goads the monkey to go on, for millionsof years (but surely the evolution would be quicker?), persevering after heartbreaking setbacks; think of getting the whole of King Learright until it came to the lines over the dead body of Cornelia, which would come out:
Thou'It come no more Never, never, never, never, ever or, on mytypewriter - Necer, neved, lever, nexelm vrevney.
The typewriter knows very well how to mix language and mathematics, the resources between Aand Z and 1 and 9, in its own sly way. Mine likes to put 3/4 instead of the letter p. How brilliantly this introduces a nuance, a frissonof chance and doubt into many words that begin so well with this confident, explosive consonant! How often is one disappointed by a watery 3/4 ale ale! How often does some much-publicized meeting of statesmen result in the signing of something that the typists of both sides know is just a 3/4 act! How many 3/4 apists one knows! How many people praised for their courage are not so much plucky as just 3/4 lucky.
Most of all, is not the most common form of social occasion to-day the cocktail 3/4 arty? One always goes expecting a real party, but nine times out of ten turns out to be а 3/4 arty; all the people there have some sort of connection with the '3/4' arts such as advertising, films, news 3/4 apers - although there is often a real 3/4 ainter or two. After a few 3/4 ink gins one of the 3/4 ainters makes a 3/4 ass at one of those strange silent girls, with long hair and sullen 3/4 outing lips, that one always sees at 3/4 arties (doubtless he thinks she will be 3/4 liable). There may be
some V. I., 1/4 (on my typewriter the capital 3/4 is a 1/4) " as the chief guest - an M. 1/4, or a fashionable 3/4 reacher (nothing so grand as the 1/4 rime Minister, of course. Guests like that are only at real parties, given by Top 1/4eople); but at a 3/4 arty it is always difficult to get the interesting guest to himself, to 3I4 in him down in an argument, because of the 3/4 rattle going on all round.
Of course this isn't mathematical language in Dr Bronowski's sense. But you've got to admit it's figurative.
* That's mathematics for you. I have an obscure feeling it should be either 9/16 or
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