1 mar. 2011

Aphorism

I came up with this aphorism in the car yesterday. "All driving is drunk driving." I have no idea what this means, even. So anyone who thinks that the author's intentions determine the meaning of an utterance--I have disproved you that easily.

17 comentarios:

Vance Maverick dijo...

It's not difficult to interpret, of course, but that's not to say that the interpretation lines up with anything you were thinking. I was thinking thoughts like it today while cycling through downtown San Francisco -- but I didn't manage to encapsulate them in this, or any other aphorism.

Jonathan dijo...

I could interpret it according to my own thought processes, of course, but your interpretation is as good as mine. Like someone who said: "All interpretations are valid, except for the author's."

Vance Maverick dijo...

I offer, for what it's worth: everybody thinks of driving in terms of a baseline of correct, rational, artificial-intelligence-like perfect competence, but in fact we are all making mistakes all the time, which are only not fatal by the grace of.

Jonathan dijo...

That's very good. It's like saying all love is irrational, even the seemingly rational kind. We think it's rational to push around hundreds of pounds of metal when sober, even though we might be slightly tired, distracted, emotionally impaired, our vision clouded by sun or fog, the road slick by ice. We might be technically below the legal limit of blood-alchohol, but the driving is still "drunk" in the more profound sense, just like all love is "blind."

In this context, the very expert, alert driving we aspire to is the exception, not the norm.

The phrase came to me, however, before I could explain it, with your help. It is not the result of my intentions. In fact, Vance can explain it much better than the person who came up with the phrase.

Vance Maverick dijo...

It was the DUInde.

Joseph Hutchison dijo...

The wheels fell off your logic on this one. All kinds of odd thoughts pop into my head every day—as they do into everyone's heads, I assume. But part of being an author is the ability, and the desire, to know when a thought is vapid and when it is the product of unconscious intention—a kind of parapraxis. The vapid thoughts we try not to inflict on readers; those charged with intention we hang onto, we strive to find contexts in which their meanings can emerge—maybe we post them on our blogs and call them aphorisms. You haven't disproved the connection between intention and meaning: you've confirmed it!

Vance Maverick dijo...

Joseph, the choice you offer -- "when a thought is vapid and when it is the product of unconscious intention" -- presumes that these are opposites. You're begging the question, though: how is it that some non-vapidity doesn't seem to be the result of intention?

Jonathan dijo...

Can "intention" even be unconscious? That's not how I understand the word. I associate it with conscious plans, designs, purposes. Obviously my aphorism came from somewhere, but it had as good a chance of being vapid as not. What I meant is that I did not start with a thought like Vance's interpretation and work forward to the aphorism. Rather, the aphorism appeared to me out of nowhere. I didn't even know what it meant at first.

So the idea that the meaning of an utterance is that of the author's intended meaning cannot be sustained.

Vance Maverick dijo...

Right -- and note that this doesn't entail mysticism. Even assuming your brain was responsible for that remark doesn't mean you have an authoritative interpretation. I'm not hostile to the idea that it was dictated to you by spirits -- but it's not necessary to make this point, that not all texts can, even in principle, be tagged with an original interpretation.

Joseph Hutchison dijo...
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Joseph Hutchison dijo...

Now let's be serious. Jonathan, you are a writer. Presumably you do not let anything go into print that you do not consider consistent with your authoritative intent. You may expression may prove to be faulty; your language may carry other implications that you are unaware of—what I would call your unconscious intent. (Devotees of Nabokov's "Viennese witchdoctor" will be happy to tell you about them.) Without intent, there would be no such thing as misreading. But in your Arcade comments on Lawrence Venuti's review of Apocryphal Lorca, you write: "I can't help thinking that I have been misread to some degree." I guess you have to give up that notion. After all, your interpretation has no more provenance than his—right?

Come on. This is just silly.

Jonathan dijo...

I am dead serious. I appreciate your comment because it allows me to clarify what I am thinking here.

It's a funny kind of intention that works after the fact. In other words, suppose I come up with a series of aphorisms, publishing them as a book, and then I intend their meaning by making sure they are all consistent with how I want to represent myself as an author. That's different from intending the meaning of the aphorisms as I write them.

It's true I intentionally censor myself to exclude aphorisms I don't like, but does that mean that the aphorisms were each the result of some prior intention? I was there when I came up with that phrase, and I can assure you I didn't intend anything by it.

I agree that critical prose like my book on Lorca is different. There I did work with more intentionality. I never try to mean anything in a poem or aphorism. Words just come to me.

Joseph Hutchison dijo...

"Words just come to me"

Me, too! And they mean something. They are messages. From where? I call it the unconscious; Spicer thought they came from Mars. There's always the muse. But you seem to be saying that these irruptions are accidents of brain activity. I simply don't believe it.

And I don't think you can have it both ways. Either texts attempt to embody intention or they don't—no matter what kind of texts they are. For me, it's the only reason to read them. Otherwise one might just settle down with the latest absurdity copied from The New York Times by Kenny Goldsmith. Or some anthology of random phrases sieved from the Internet by creeping bots. If intention doesn't matter in writing, the (for me) nothing does.

Jonathan dijo...

I'll let you have the last word on that, then. Thanks for your thoughtful comments on my thoughtless aphorism.

Andrew Shields dijo...

To get back to the aphorism itself: I am constantly amazed by how few accidents actually happen, given how drunkenly drivers drive all the time even when they are not drunk. People have little or no respect for how dangerous driving is! They should all take the idea that "all driving is drunk driving" seriously (although if they took it really seriously, it would mean they would never drive at all).

Jonathan dijo...

Right, it's already one of the most inherently risky things to do, yet people add on all kinds of extra risks: tiredness, cellphones, drinks, aggressiveness.

Andrew Shields dijo...

... fighting children in the back seat. :-)