An irregular ezine by Paul Smedberg

Everything I need to know I learned in graduate semiotics seminars

Semiotics is the self-defined roof of the ivory tower.

I've flipped open two semiotics texts at random and transcribed the first sentence my eye lit upon in each:

o thought in itself, then, no feeling in itself, contains any others, but is absolutely simple and unanalyzable; and to say that it is composed of other thoughts and feelings, is like saying that a movement upon a straight line is composed of the two movements of which it is the resultant; that is to say, it is a metaphor, or fiction, parallel to the truth.

–Charles S. Peirce in "Some Consequences of Four Incapacities" 

  theory of codes should rather be concerned to state to what degree the superelevation of connotation can be made possible; how much its overlapping of senses may produce a maze-like network of intertwined sign-functions; and either this maze-like situation can constitute the object of a semiotic structural description, or it produces a sort of topological knot that a theory of codes can define but cannot structurally reproduce by means of a finite model.
–Umberto Eco in A Theory of Semiotics

wo unfunny "jokes", that is, statements without apparent humor in the form of a joke:

Knock knock.
Who's there?
Glasses who?

What's the difference between a lightbulb and a butler?
A lightbulb has a filament.

nregistered domain names:

An unclosed parenthesis
in musical form.

The title of this article is, of course, a reference to "Everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten" which properly, as a book title, should be capitalized like this: "Everything I Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten" When titling a book in English, one generally capitalizes like German sentences. (Although the titles of articles like this don't necessarily require such capitalization.) In German all Nouns are capitalized, and, lucky Germans, they can make up new words on the fly by shoving together a bunch of words. The rough equivalent of creating Newwordmadeoflotsofsmallerwords. (Which, as I write, my automatic spellchecker is underlining in a zigzaggy red, which has now also been applied to the word "zigzaggy" too.) 

A lot of internet sites must also use the Germanic wordtogethershove in their domain names, because spaces aren't allowed, so French Paper Company becomes (I went back and stuck a new paragraph break in front of the last sentence, not because it's a new thought, but rather, because the previous paragraph was going on and on and was becoming threatening. I've learned after years of writing junk mail and other forms of poetry that you have to keep your paragraphs short. Sometimes form is more important than content, but here I go on, a bit overlong, I guess, ending up with a long paragraph made up of long sentences having effectively started a new thought, albeit a parenthetical one, just one sentence into this paragraph, and how ironic that I'm blathering on, in the first person, about short paragraphs, while at the same time making this one longer and longer. Well, that's the point isn't in? That's the joke, which is the intersection of two incompatible lines of thought like this joke I recently thought of, and am about to relate to you just after the ":" : I never really realized how important thumbs were until I saw my dog trying, over and over, to fold a paper airplane. 

So, in that joke, or should I say "joke" in order to cover the possibility that some (possibly all) might not find the "joke" funny, but at least they (which for me includes you) realize that it should be a joke, but by putting quotations around the term you note that the "joke" might not be a successful joke, but rather an unfunny statement made in the "joke" form. Or should I say Jokeform. Or should I say, which would, in essence, become another "joke". And by shovingtogetherwords, I, in a writerly way, refer back to an earlier observation, but, if you've been counting, we are still inside a parenthetical statement, albeit one that goes across the previous paragraph break. So my reference, and this reference to my reference, break out of this specific parenthetical remark - to take into account the larger view, the meta-view, of this ordered stream of letters, punctuation, and spaces. [Where "ordered" may be too strong a word.] 

Well, there I've gone and left the thought that began "So, in that joke, . . ." unfinished. In the words of many a cartoon character just after taking a frightful spill: "I meant to do that," which, to our auto-ironic ear means just the opposite. 

In essence, well, maybe not in essence, but in "kind of essence" this article is self aware. At this moment, I know somebody is going to read this -- specifically you, (by definition you are reading this, of few things am I as sure) but also, more generally, you and the others who read this. And you know that I've written this. That is unless I the writer am writing in the first person of a character. (Rest assured, this I is me.) 

I am writing these words in what is "now" for me, but you are reading it in what is "later" for me, and "now" for you. Of course I may re-read this, providing myself with a feedback loop. (And, in fact, I've reread this many times, and just inserted this sentence in one of the last rounds of editing.) But, anyway, the text stream is self-reflexive in multiple and complex ways. Now, how 'bout another layer of self reference? (How do you like my use of "bout" in the previous sentence, chummily breaking into my first bit of spoken-like wording/spelling?) Here's the one more layer of self-reference (without a "bout"): The mental form this text generates in the reader's mind has an overarching shovedalltogethernesshood. If you're reading at full normal reading speed all of this sounds (in the mind's ear) like babbling, and if you're slowing down occasionally to try to figure out if I'm actually making sense, or merely spouting some pseudo-academic nonsense, or both, you're achieving the same effect, on a larger scale, of rereading words like "shovedalltogethernesshood" and breaking them down into shoved-all-together-ness-hood, said technique, which would help make German more readable -- the use of hyphens -- but I digress, which is something of an understatement.

These paragraph breaks don't necessarily make sense, but I don't know where else to put them. (Well, this last break makes sense, sort of.) This paragraph, the shortest in the entire article, is much closer to my ideal target length.

See, this is fractal writing in the sense that at any given point the self-reference of an individual sentence mirrors the overall self-reference of the entire piece. Perhaps this text is a fractal "joke", because here the content is always about itself. So as you read, there is a (seemingly) never-ending stream of reference to what was above. There is no content other than self-similar self-reference. This article begins with observations about the article's own title, which itself was a reference. Perhaps you could look at this piece as a sloppy sort of content fugue on the idea of fugued content. 

I propose that you see this piece you're now reading as a new genre of writing: Writing about writing about writing . . . . Like critics criticizing critics, or members of the press reporting-on or interviewing each other. This genre is not as important as detective fiction or sonnets, but it is a distinct if inbred genre of writing all its own. 

In considering this as an example of a new genre, you're leaping up another level, no longer thinking about words, sentences and paragraphs; but whole categories of writing. And that's the big picture - a pulling back unsteadily from the minutiae of capitalization, through words, sentences and paragraphs to the grand over-arching categorization of genre. And like the song says: "You may think that this is the end.

"Well it is!") 

From the Rectilinear Water series, number 3-6


[Bracket Bracket] is constructed and deconstructed by Paul Smedberg.
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Copyright 1999 Paul Smedberg