You’re not in Kansas anymore

I’m not sure why, but my first response to things is to argue.

I started thinking about patterns that we communicate with, complicated this morning by getting up to read some of The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts by Umberto Eco. The early diagrams in the book seem to be a sort of process model of cognition. I hate process modeling. I suppose I want to believe that people are unique, and irreducible to some predefined process. But linguistic models, even in their flawed state, do make more sense than most of the alternatives. I seem to want to argue with everything though.

Why is that? Is it because my yellow brick road abruptly ended a while back? I never got to the castle, never met the wizard, though I did encounter a wicked witch along the way. I never got my heart, didn’t find my brain, and can’t click my heels three times and go back to California. I just keep digging and arguing, digging and arguing, until I feel buried. It gets pretty deep in here. Be sure to wipe your feet on the way out.

Many variants of postmodernism reduce everything to a sort of language game. It’s all play, really, not humorless pronouncements that there is no truth. Paralyzed by postmodernism? I think not, postmodernism revels in the flux that modern life has become. Backing out of this particularly obfuscating report, I find that the philosophy behind it is one of those new-agey things, focusing, which attempts to insert a new form of knowledge, body knowledge into the equation. Uh, it sounds just like meditation. The really funny thing about it was that while I was reading that page, Drew Carey was on the TV. He answered the suggestion that he “listen to his body” in this way:

If I listened to my body, I’d always be eating pizza and watching porno tapes.

Sorry, no sale on this particular flavor of spirituality. Metaphysical stuff seems to be the end result of almost any attempt at coherent philosophy; it’s hard to believe in the invisible man, especially when they tell me he lives inside me. What if my invisible man gets in an argument with yours? I clicked my mouse to get the hell out of there, especially when I found that the “genius” behind the site was also involved with process theory in writing, the school of thought I love to hate so much.

Why? Because it results in stuff like the Auto Winer. I suppose that I could be reduced in this way as well, as could most of the blogs I read. They follow patterns. We all do. It’s a sort of comfort zone that we lapse into. People develop habits. Habits aren’t people. While useful, the analysis of patterns doesn’t mean that there is nothing underneath. Quite the opposite, really. This is why it always gets back to metaphysics, no matter how hard you try.

Ultimately, this means that we can’t know for sure. It always gets back to figuring out what works. Seems to me, that is what the “Postmodern Condition” is all about. It’s Keats’s Negative Capability all over again:

When man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without an irritable reaching after fact & reason

Does this constitute paralysis? I don’t think so.

However, that “irritable reaching” is what most of us do, including me. That’s why I argue, and play the language game I guess. Personally, I think it beats doing nothing but sitting around eating pizza and watching pornos. It’s funny to me how linguistic theory always seems to end up in contradictory, Zen-like pronouncements too. Eco posits that there are “open” and “closed” texts, texts that invite and shape interpretation, and texts that are closed to alternative explanations. He uses Superman comics as an example of a closed text.

But distinctions like this are impossible to prove conclusively, and Eco admits this. So why try? In order to dig deeper into the heart of language. I suspect that it would be more productive to think of the functioning of these texts as broad and narrow. But he doesn’t do that. He merely insists that though the text is largely “closed” it is still open. How Zen is that? It gets downright confusing when you try to figure out how things work.

I keep clicking my heels, but I’m still in Arkansas, and Dorothy is nowhere to be seen.