Thumb

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Thumb

*With apologies to J. Mascis

I was thinking about the Tom Robbins bit I used in class yesterday. I was thinking about Aristotle’s definition of definition.

For Aristotle, a definition was a proposition where the subject and predicate were completely interchangeable. Otherwise, the predicate is merely a property. Given Protagoras’ sophistic point of view, or the supposedly new postmodern one— definition is impossible. Examined under the light of speech-act theory, definition is similarly impossible. The act of speaking or writing is used to create an action— or at the very least, an effect. If an utterance isn’t novel— different in some degree from the state which proceeds it— there really isn’t a point to saying anything at all.

From the sophistic point of view humans are forever changing. Hence, an utterance that may be linguistically identical to another is perceived by a subject always becoming different hearing it the second time. We always become older, more experienced and bring a different context to bear upon extracting meaning. A rhetorical approach to definition is not to propose that an utterance is identical to another— but to control context as much as possible. Such control, from the postmodern point of view, is impossible— because repetition itself changes meaning.

While it may sound like I have my thumb up my ass here, I couldn’t stop thinking about the way Tom Robbins shifts the definition of “thumb” by the definitions he offers of other body parts which the thumb is not. It is not a brain— the fragile center of thought. It is not a navel— the scarred center of being. It is an organ of mobility, of movement.

I was thinking about blogs. I was thinking about the frequency with which many early bloggers screamed “I am not my blog.” I was thinking about how so many people would like to define blogging as a popularity contest, or a public rather than private thing— a blog is not a navel. I was thinking how people would like to define the blogosphere as a platform for ethical development, of intelligent discourse and thought— but alas, I cannot think of blogs as brains either. Too many of them are absent of the criteria of deep reflection connected with that mass of goo.

I begin to think that the blog is a thumb. An appendage, stuck out with the hopes of getting a ride. Sometimes, you stand on the corner navel-gazing. Sometimes you reflect on something you’re thinking about. But a blog is neither a navel nor a brain. A blog is a thumb.

But of course, any definition such as this is impossible, because definition itself is impossible. A writer is left with only endless predicates of properties, spinning toward definitions that they hope will be accepted without too much thought on the subject.

** Blame Stavros for my hitchhiking on this particular bit.

2 Comments

I have no more made this thumb than this thumb has made me ~ montaigne

Yes, blogs are mostly 'thumbed-down' brains. And the thumb also gestures insult or praise in that sort of blogrolling club. And not to forget all the Jack Horners, who thumb for the ride, and enjoy displaying their digital booty at the same time.