Thursday, March 03, 2005


Yesterday on Crooked Timber, an account of an exchange between Richard Rorty and Scott Soames, with special emphasis on the topic of vagueness. This is very interesting. I suppose I notice it, and remark on it here, because of my ongoing binge of reading Samuel R. Delany - a good deal of this debate sounds like it could be taking place on Lux on Iaputus in 2112 as readily as today. This debate is full of what looks suspiciously like Modular Calculus: "whether and how language gets in touch with the world" says Rorty, not to mention the question of what is a heap? That is: say you have something that is not a heap of sand. If you add one grain of sand to it - you do not have a heap of sand. Add another grain of sand to that still-not-a-heap-of-sand, and you will still not have a heap of sand. So - if n grains of sand (goes the argument) is not a heap of sand - then n+1 grains of sand is not a heap of sand. So - when do you get a heap of sand? This question is at the core [there is some irony in saying that) of the philosophy of vagueness - and of course, Delany's "metalogics". It's all about boundaries - when does a not-heap of sand become a heap of sand? When does few become many? When does white become not-white, or the Taj Mahal not the Taj Mahal?

I wish I had a better idea what philosophers in particular Delany was drawing on in books like Trouble on Triton. He writes about these kinds of things - boundaries of concepts and correspondence between models and reality - quite a bit, both in the novels and in his nonfiction. But since he is a novelists, primarily, not a philosopher - he writes about the things from the perspective of a ficteur, and an amateur philosopher. And, in practice, one does not get the references and footnotes and the like one would get if one were reading Rorty or Soames.

I'm certainly curious to find out. It is an odd feeling - there is undoubtedly more to this than I can see, but the philosophy of vagueness really looks like what Delany was writing 25 years ago. I wish I knew more about the philosophical underpinnings of what he wrote - how his fiction corresponded to the philosophers. It's also very interesting, in itself - Trouble on Triton is an interesting book, very much about the vagueness of boundaries between concepts - a world where almost everything is turned into a set of probabilities, where almost everything is seen, somehow, as both much more quantifiable than we see things, and fuzzier - the boundaries between things (genders, races, pleasure/pain, etc - all the old hierarchies made so much of by structuralists and post-structuralists) are vague, blurry. What makes a woman becomes as vexed a question as what makes a heap. I think I can talk, fairly intelligently, about Delany - but moving past him to these similar discussions, in contemporary philosophy, drops me completely out of the conversation.

Which itself, in a sense, is related. Certainly the questions of correspondence are relevant - correspondence to reality, but also, the correspondences between a fiction, a literary (or paraliterary) text and philosophical texts... A question Delany's work (fiction and non-fiction) has explored repeatedly.... And - where does my ability to speak, with some authority, on a novel turn into an inability to speak, with authority, on philosophy?

There may be a metablogging post somewhere in the shadows around here. What am I trying to do with this blog? I know I'm doing it badly - but even if I weren't - what would I be doing? The answer, in fact, I think is this - I am trying, simply, to point to things that catch my eye. The point of this post, say, is certainly not to defend or challenge or really add anything to the Rorty/Soames debate - it might be, somehow, to comment on some of Delany's themes - and certainly, the Delany connection is what I am most interested in here. No - the point of this post is to say, goddamn - this stuff is interesting. I am going to have to look up some of this stuff and read it. This Vagueness stuff looks very interesting... So there you have it. Whatever it is.

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