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Self-Referentiality, Endlessness, and the Library of Babel

dfishervan's picture

            Prior to our classes this week, I was in the process of writing a blog post on self-referentiality and endlessness however, I found myself struggling to convey my thoughts so I scrapped the post. However, since endlessness dominated both classes this week, I thought I would return to the fragment of the post I started writing last week: In our discussion section last Thursday, we returned to the issue of self-referentiality in storytelling. In doing so, we mentioned a difference between “Generosity” and “Adaptation,” two stories which utilize self-referentiality, in that “Generosity” concludes by noting that “we cannot end with ourselves” whereas “Adaptation” is obsessed with the individual and ends still focusing on the self. I actually would make the argument that the film’s use of self-referentiality actually caused it to not end focusing on the self. Self-referentiality is a cyclical process which inherently cannot end. The snake can’t finish eating itself. It reminds us that the world is bigger than just the central story we are reading and as it encourages you to think beyond the characters themselves and beyond yourself, it makes you wonder how far beyond the characters you should and can think. It forces us to question boundaries and acknowledge the limitlessness that exists. To see an example of the endlessness of self-referentiality, try and make a conclusion about the phrase "this sentence is false." If the sentence is indeed incorrect, than the sentence is also true since it is truthfully admitting that it is false. If the sentence is true, well than it cannot be false as it says it is. One can go back and forth, in an endless loop, trying to come to some conclusion with that self-referencing, paradoxical sentence.

In self-referencing stories, it is difficult to identify who the story teller is because story telling is not confined to one person. In “Adaptation,” you have Susan as an initial story teller, then you have Charlie telling her story (as well as his own), then you have director and screen writer. I think for that reason, the story can’t end with Charlie just like Susan’s story on orchids didn’t end when she penned the last page. We have so many story tellers commenting on this story and in the future, there will be more who will revive and add to some part of this story. The story doesn’t end with these characters since there is someone beyond these characters commenting on these characters within the text of the story and then there is you, reading all of this. Am I making any sense? 

If you're interested in reading more about self-referentiality and literature, I found this really interesting article which uses self-referentiality to distinguish literature from science:  muse.jhu.edu/journals/philosophy_and_literature/v020/20.2miller.html

As I was finishing this post which I scrapped last week, I started thinking about what happens when one gives up telling a story. Personally, I now feel foolish for not having persevered with this post and posting it last Sunday since I think it would have related to a major theme for this week’s class. Despite the fact that I didn’t post this post earlier, the class still ended up talking about endlessness anyway though (albeit, in a different context). This outcome made me return to the Library of Babel and realize how damaging it’s existence can be to our motivation and work ethic. If all of the possible stories (such as ones about endlessness) already exist, does it matter if one gives up writing a story? 

 

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