Re: Riddles (was: Lateral Thinking)

From: Damien Broderick (
Date: Mon Jan 01 2001 - 20:00:24 MST

At 05:14 PM 1/01/01 -0800, Jason Joel Thompson wrote:

>> >The riddle itself is a Hofstadterian self-answering riddle.

>> How... disappointingly... inadequate. So much build up, so little pay off.
>> I need to see this alleged lateral wonder unpacked.

>I have to agree, and to be somewhat immodestly frank, I think I might have
>to claim that my response was the better answer.

Jason's response was wonderfully clever, but still left out some key
elements and finessed others. I think I should elaborate a little on why I
felt cheated by Eliezer's and Dale's meta-level `revelation'.

Purported koans of this kind are rather too close for my tastes to that
hoary deadener; `then she woke up, and it had all been a dream!' Well, no
shit. I discussed some of the implications of apparently self-subverting

========= must be asked whether the apparently divergent impulses of
referential, ideological and deconstructive analyses can be brought to a
common focus or shared account. A persuasive synthesis of the most telling
features of these disjoint approaches has been sketched by Christopher
Butler. Like many of the more interesting post-deconstructive discussions
of how we read, his synopsis is regulated by pragmatism:

        "For if the text has multiple implications... and if the interpreter can
also choose amongst structuralist, deconstructionist, Marxist, and liberal
moralist frameworks... then the apparent anarchy of pluralism can at least
be brought into some order, and lose its air of indifferentism, if we ask
that... interpreters should be as clear as possible about the ends for
which they interpret." (ibid., x)
Tellingly, *use* becomes the final arbiter. Yet `use' has application only
within a pre-established context of situation and ends. Language may be
made to turn on itself in search of fissures and aporias, but such
sceptical deconstructive play is inevitably grounded in the fact that
language is a social and socialising tool through which, in large part, we
humans are constituted as persons (`subjects'), and with which we
coordinate our physical and mental activities in the supraindividual
functions of our collectivity.
        Those joint activities in turn may be construed as `texts', but it is
arguable that such texts are written in a metalanguage of higher logical
type not amenable to disruption from levels subordinate to their own. (For
instance, the apparent paradox generated by a sign which states `Disregard
This Sign' vanishes when we see that the shifter particle `this' cannot
meaningfully be applied self-reflexively; it must gesture to a referent of
lower logical type. It makes perfect sense to write `Disregard this sign on
Sundays' if the words are followed by an injunction applying to all other
days, but that is because we see that `this' then refers to the injunction
thus denoted, not to the sign in toto. With the disappearance of the
oppressive sense of paradox, we can register the sign as a witty or parodic
demolition of authoritarian injunction). If so, the best that can be done
is to make pragmatic choices, the terms of which are declared within
superordinate systems.


My pragmatic choice, in the context of Eliezer's alleged meta-riddle, is to
demand: show me the money.

Elsewhere in that book I note:


What is clear is that the sound of one hand clapping - that traditional
aporetic poser for the novice seeking enlightenment - is (hilariously, and
viciously) the ringing you hear when your exasperated sensei whacks you in
the ear. We stop getting slapped, we no longer hear that transcendental
sound, the moment we communicate to the sensei that we have leaped beyond
this necessary cruelty.
        But surely this fable, too, merely assumes a supine, subordinate
relationship: to the sensei's wisdom (which is only doxa passed along from
history), to an arbitrary calculus of the universe, to our hungry desire
for paradox. All frames of discussion are frozen music, the sound of one
hand clapping, stilled. The general paradigm of language-exchanges as a
semiotic calculus, articulated in this book by analogy with the Jakobson
communication circuit, is doubtless deconstructable as will-to-power. Such
desire for totality is always vitiated in advance (deconstruction tries to
convince us, fudging the syntagmatic truth) by the teemingly untestable
fecundity of alternative readings. But in the moment that we see - grasp,
hear, touch, sniff out - this partial truth, we escape the thrall of the
sensei who slaps our poor stinging ears. Then all the hard work remains to
be done anyway.
        We do not embrace either paradox or ordered structure for the zest of it,
though their embrace is zestful, but as a tool. A tool is used for a job. A
job is a practice in our twinned world: the empirical world of the Real,
which is what we bark our shins on however we care to describe it, and the
symbolic world of culture and subjectivity. Knowing that we call upon
paradox to do a job, or try to resolve what appears to be a paradox to get
a job done, emphasises the pragmatic dimension which is always part of any


*deconstructable as will-to-power* - do you hear me, Grasshopper?

Damien Broderick

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