Story of Evolution/Evolution of Stories
Bryn Mawr College
April 11, 2005

Mining the Forum on Orlando I even asking the right questions? And something about this class I've been wondering for a while: why are we using the 2nd half of the semester to discuss gender? I mean, why not someother part of us, some other evolution or brain thing or whatever. What else could I ask these questions about? I have a feelinng, everything--Jessie

Beginning (again) by thinking
"about some other...thing

Orlando: A Biography
Is it about Gender?
Or is it About (Traveling Through) Space?
And/or is it About Time (Travel)?
And/or is it About Exploring the Unconscious?

Salvador Dali, "Melting Clock at Moment of First Explosion"

(From Skynet Blogs)

I (over)heard that was a conversation here last Wednesday,
about whether Middlesex and Herculine Barbin are circular or linear,
and whether academic writing is circular or linear.
(What'd y'all mean by those terms? And how did you answer those questions?)

Such a distinction may (also) describe the differences
between female and male (between Anne's and Paul's?) storytelling styles.
It may also describe a difference between eastern and western cultural modes of thought.
We're reading a book for the Graduate Idea Forum
that talks about such differences not in terms of discipline
(or gender or genre), but geography:

One day...a student from China...said [to Richard Nisbett], "the difference between you and me is that I think the world is a circle, and you think it's a line....The Chinese believe in constant change, but with things always moving back to some prior state. They pay attention to a wide range of events; they search for relationships between things; and they think you can't understand the part without understanding the whole. Westerners live in a simpler, more determinist world; they focus on salient objects or people instead of the larger picture; and they think they can control events because they know the rules that govern the behavior of objects"....Westerners have a strong interest in categorization, which helps them to know what rules to apply to the objects in question, and formal logic pays a role in problem solving. East Asians, in contrast, attend to objects in their broad context. The world seems more complex...and understanding events always requires consideration of a host of factors that operate in relation to one another in no simple, deterministic way....In fact, the person who is too concerned with logic may be considered immature....The collective or interdependent nature of Asian society is consistent with Asians' broad, contextual view of the world....The individualistic or independent nature of Western society seems consisent with the Western focus on particular objects in isolation from their context....

In Theorizing Interdisciplinarity: Metaphor and Metonymy, Synecdoche and Surprise,
Liz McCormack, Paul and I described this difference in terms of
story-telling styles that result from the unique "geography" of the bipartite brain:
the conscious process of categorization/metaphor-making, vs.
the unconscious associations of metonymy, the result of "temporal or spatial contiguity."

The classic demonstration of the difference between the two hinges on the associations evoked when we hear the word "cat." If we think "dog," we are operating metaphorically (the relation is one between categories); if we think "claw," our response is metonymic (the relation is "neighborly"; in this case, between a whole and one of its parts)....the two modes of thinking were reciprocally may well be that scientists, focused on simple and unifying relations that capture key aspects of an object under study, highlight the metaphoric representation of their ideas. Humanists, who think in terms of many variables and complicated relations in illustrative but unique situations, may employ metonymic expressions more frequently. In interdisciplinary conversations, information is continually translated back and forth between the two systems. In the process, the presumptions which underlie the discussion are continuously and productively altered.

From Daniel Chandler, Semiotics for Beginners

We can hear the metonymic workings of the unconscious, paradigmatically, in punning.

Some Perfect Ones:

From a talk in the Emergence Group on Speech Recognition:
"a machine learns to wreck a nice beach"

Your offerings?

What do you get when you drop a piano down a mine shaft?
What do you get when you drop a piano onto a military base?

Why couldn't the pony talk?

What did the string say when the barman refused to serve him
(and he returned, a second time, all frazzled and frayed)?

Why-and-how do those puns work?
What is the logic of their working?

(Remember this figure?)

Some Imperfect Puns:

There once was a tolerant cow who stood for absolutely anything her favorite bull tried to get away with. She reasoned, "To err is human, to forgive, bovine."

A man wanted to buy his wife some anemones, her favorite flower. Unfortunately, all the florist had left were a few stems of the feathery ferns he used for decoration. The husband presented these rather shamefacedly to his wife. "Never mind, darling," she said, "with fronds like these, who needs anemones?"

What's going on here?

...linguistic presumptions: puns demonstrate the inherent instability of the meanings of words, and so challenge the conventional understanding of language as a structure of relationships in which each word is identified by its difference from others. The distinction between words isn't at all that clear; the "category" that each occupies is very porous.

(In other words, they make linguists very nervous!)
See, for example, Catherine Bates. "The Point of Puns." Modern Philology 96, 14 (May 1999). 421f:
pun's perfidious status as an aberrant element within the linguistic structure....Puns play with meaning....they give the wrong names to the wrong things--and they disturb the proper flow of confusing sense and sound...normal rules governing etymology and lexicography are temporarily suspended while speculation and fancy roam free.... puns...subvert the one-to-one relation between signifier and signified...fracture the sign....the word can mean two or more things. It is because it ambiguates meaning that the pun disturbs the system of communication by which meaning is conveyed....the interpretative process...ultimately restores priority to the serious business of making sense, to showing what a pun finally means....a freak coincidence...becomes a causal and motivated presented as lexically appropriate...Once limited to a certain point, the pun becomes masterable and pleasurable.

"Linguists, arise! We have nothing but our *!"

Jonathan Culler, in On Puns: The Foundation of Letters (1987, pp. 1-16), suggests that
Etymologies...give us respectable puns, endowing pun-like effects with the authority of science....Etymologies show us what puns might be if taken seriously: illustrations of the inherent instability of language and the power of uncodified linguistic relations to produce meaning....etymologies, like puns,...are instances of speakers intervening in language, articulating relations....intently or playfully working to reveal the structures of affect meaning by generating new connections....

Punning frequently seems...a structural, connecting offer the mind a sense and an experience of an order that it does not master or comprehend....we are urged to conceive an order.....Insofar as this is the goal or achievement of art, the pun seems an exemplary agent.... Not surprisingly, in both the realm of puns--relations between signs in a language at a particular moment--and the realm of etymology--relations between signs from different periods--there is no dearth of people anxious to control relations, to enforce a...formal resemblance to establish connections of meaning ....

For example, from Catherine Conybeare, "Scientia" and "Cultura": The Origins and Development of the Words (April 10, 2003):
in Latin... "cultura" refers to "tilling or cultivating the land," and by extension, through the fifth century C.E., to the application of cultivation: to our minds, our faculties, our acquaintances, even to "cultivating" a memorial (by picking the lichen out of it!?). Closely related to the Latin term "cultus" (worship, as of a God), "cultura" is, paradoxically, an insistently agricultural metaphor, since "culture" is today thought to be "what farmers don't have time for," a higher, "more worthy" work than manual labor of any sort.

"Culture," "cultus" and "colonize" are derived from "colo," which means "to live in." Etymologically, we "live in" ("colo") a place, "cultivate" it for extended use, establish "cultura" there; with increased leisure and money we adorn ourselves and our wives [sic] and develop generic "cultural" practices such as worship ("cultus"). In its origins, the word "culture" has a huge semantic range, out of which, in our present use of the term, we select a very small set. For instance, when we speak...of the "culture of science," we are referencing what thinkers do, not the unconscious work of laborers.

My own contribution, from Science as Story: Re-reading the Fairy Tale:
Footnote on how a fact becomes an act:
a recuperation of "fact" from the O.E.D., where (in the first four instances) it means "act" (from L. fact-um, thing done; was adopted as "feat"). It's fact as act that I want to highlight, fact as action which most interests me: fact as praxis, pusher, mover, provocateur....

a fact, I'll go so far as to provocatively claim, is that which has the power to cause action. It's not just any one of an infinite number of stories, but only the story with the punch (perhaps it's the punch that fiction lacks?)

What I want to look @ today is the particular "punch"
Virginia Woolf's fiction packs: the possibility that the
metonymic (=punning, playfully contextual, unconscious) and
metaphoric (=etymological, deterministic, conscious) styles
represent two fundamentally different experiences of time--

(Cf. Jessica: Like there are the eons that Mayr and Dennet and Grobstein dealt with,
and then there is the real time that Dalke and Barbin and (even) Eugenides live in.

--and Orlando is Woolf's attempt to adjudicate between them.

Orlando had gone a little too far from the present moment....the most successful practitioners of the art of life...somehow contrive to synchronise the sixty or seventy different times which beat simultaneously in every normal human system so that when eleven strikes, all the rest chime in unison, and the present is neither a violent disruption nor completely forgotten in the past....Indeed it is a difficult business--this time-keeping; nothing more quickly disorders it than contact with any of the arts....(306)

But time, unfortunately though it makes animals and vegetables bloom and fade with amazing punctuality has no such simple effect upon the mind of man. The mind of man, moreover, works with equal strangeness upon the body of time. An hour, once it lodges in the queer element of the human spirit, may be stretched to fifty or a hundred times its clock length; on the other hand, an hour may be accurately represented on the timepiece of the mind by one second. This extraordinary discrepancy between time on the clock and time in the mind is less known than it should be and deserves fuller investigation.... (98).

For if there are (at a venture) seventy-six different times all ticking in the mind at once, how many different people are there not--Heaven help us--all having lodgement at one time or another in the human spirit....these selves of which we are built up, one on top of another, as plates are piled on a waiter's hand, have attachments elsewhere, sympathies, little constitutions and rights of their own....Orlando...had a great variety of selves to call upon, far more than we have been able to find room for....(308-309)

I take as my point of departure for this suggestion that
Orlando is as much about negotiating "time" as traveling across "genders"
from the description here, two months ago, of story telling without..."time."

As Anne Dalke's friend/fellow (time) traveler said,
Before one worries about "continuity" and "catastrophism"
one first has to worry about stasis versus change

..."stasis" reflects a non-narrative story-telling style:
things are the way they are, because they are
part of a larger fixed and unchanging pattern,
usually reflecting a plan or intention
whose origins itself are not (easily) accessible to human beings

.... ...change (=historicity) is a narrative story-telling style,
i.e. it presumes that one accounts for the ways things are
in the present based on what happened in the past.

This style has several variants:
Catastrophism... Uniformitarianism...Evolutionism....

What was special about Darwin...
Raised issues not only about past but about future
(predictability? progress? purpose/meaning?).

At the "time," the possibility of a "non-narrative story-telling style"
(much less the notion of "stories outside of time")
made NO sense to me.

I'd learned from Jonathan Culler,
Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction, 85-86), that

Essentially...a plot requires a transformation. There must be an initial situation, a change ...and a resolution that marks the change as significant....there must be an end relating back to the beginning...that indicates what has happened to the desire that led to the events the story narrates....Plot is a way of shaping events to make them into a genuine story.

If time is a measure of change (and stories accounts of such change), then...
what could a non-narrative story, a story not-in-time, look like?

In an (as usual valiant/as often misguided) attempt to
"make sense" of this non-sense-ical notion,
I time-traveled back to

Symposium: A Matter of Time,
where I found, in "The Philosophy of Time," by Cheryl Chen,
Two Opposing "Pictures" about the Nature of Time:

1) The Conventional View
"In daily life we divide time into three parts: past, present, and future. The grammatical structure of language revolves around this fundamental distinction. Reality is associated with the present moment. The past we think of having slipped out of existence, whereas the future is even more shadowy, its details still unformed. In this simple picture, the "now" of our conscious awareness glides steadily onward, transforming events that were once in the unformed future into the concrete but fleeting reality of the present, and thence relegating them to the fixed past." --Paul Davies, "That Mysterious Flow"

2) The "Block Universe" View
"Physicists prefer to think of time as laid out in its entirety - a timescape, analogous to a landscape - with all past and future events located there together ... Completely absent from this description of nature is anything that singles out a privileged special moment as the present or any process that would systematically turn future events into the present, then past, events. In short, the time of the physicist does not pass or flow." --Paul Davies, "That Mysterious Flow"

The debate between the conventional view and the block universe view (Cheryl said)
is actually the combination of two debates in the philosophy of time:

1) Presentism vs. Eternalism
Presentism: only things in the present exist.
Eternalism: things in the past (e.g., dinosaurs) and future (e.g., human outposts on Mars) exist too.

2) The A-Theory vs. the B-Theory
The A-Theory: Time passes. The present moment has a special status.
The B-Theory: Time doesn't pass or flow. No moment in time has any special status.

I dug a little deeper, back to Katherine Rowe, "Science, Culture and Time" (10/9/02), which drew on Michael Serres' essay of that title,
theorizing the ways in which we are all both archiac and futuristic @ once, and his questioning a reductive linear understanding of time....Most useful is Serres' account of reading texts as occupying several historical periods @ once. His notion of "layered temporalities" set in a complicated moment of apprehension... challenges the idea of the uniqueness of any particular era....Time is the way we measure...distance....

There is a socially accepted measure of time: the clock. Time is a lens for judging epistemological value: how areas of intellectual work decide what is valuable as knowledge....Science uses time as a convenience, as a historical explanation. It presumes that time is a location parameter, operates with the metaphor of time as space, "with an address," assumes that all of time can be laid out, and particular times specified on that manifold. But all you have is the present, creating the future by drawing on what has been previous; time is not a place, but the reality of change....

In a talk on
Timing The Conscious and the Unconscious,
Paul offered a way of understanding these
two "sorts" of time as



Is it perhaps the processes underlying "consciousness"
--the ability to backdate--which give rise to "block model" of time?
Does it follow that past (and future) exist outside the story?
What DOES "time" look like/mean unconsciously?
A continuous unstable present?

One "thing" "unconscious time"/"the block universe" might well "sound" like
is the fiction of writers like Virginia Woolf
(and her ilk--James Joyce, William Faulkner, Toni Morrison),
well-known for their representation of "stream of consciousness."

From Biological Consciousness and the Experience of the Transcendent: William James and American Functional Psychology:
James...advocated...a cognitive psychology of consciousness. His most enduring metaphor became the stream of thought. But ideas never exist in isolation; what colors thoughts and gives continuity to the pulsating stream is the thought's feeling-tone. Here was his doctrine of relations. Just as objects can be experienced, so too can the relations between them. Thus, he said, any legitimate scientific psychology must account for both the stream of thought and feeling.

From Getting It Less Wrong, The Brain's Way: Science, Pragmatism, and Multiplism: James drew from this perspective several implications...For example (p21), "if you follow the pragmatic method, you cannot look on any such word [eg. "God", "Matter", "Reason", "the Absolute", "Energy"] as closing your quest. You must bring out of each word its practical cash-value, set it at work within the stream of your experience. It appears less as a solution, then, than as a program for more work, and more particularly as an indication of the ways in which existing realities may be changed."

here is james' story from his lectures on pragmatism: "ideas (which themselves are bit parts of our experience) become true just in so far as they help us to get into satisfactory relation with other parts of our experience...any idea upon which we can ride, so to speak; any idea that will carry us prosperously from any one part of experience to any other part, linking things satisfactorily, working securely, simplifying, saving labor; is true for just so much, true in so far forth, true instramentally..." in other words if an idea has a function, if it "is not sterile," if "it affords such COMFORT," and it "performs a concrete function," THEN it is a idea is 'true' so long as to believe it is profitable to our lives....the true is the name of whatever proves itself to be good in the way of belief, and good, too, for definite, assignable reasons." (Lec.II: What Pragmatism Means. Dover Publications, inc. New York p.17-32)

In the terms given above, we might rather say that
Woolf was attempting, in Orlando, to represent the "pool of the unconscious,"

From the Watercolors of Sharon Burgmayer

...offering, interspersed with the systematic ordering/"streaming" of consciousness,
the (appearance) of the "swirling" pool of the unconscious:

...the shadow...had deepened now, at the back of brain (which is the part furthest from sight) into a pool where things dwell in darkness so deep that what they are we scarcely know....her mind became like a forest in which things moved; lights and shadows changed, and one thing became another....she forgot the time... (Orlando, 323)

...It was a most bewildering and whirligig state of mind to be in.... (158)

"what a phantasmagoria the mind is and meeting-place of dissemblables" (176)

...mounting up the spiral stairway into his brain--which was a roomy one...began that riot and confusion of the passions and emotions which every good biographer detests (16)

Orlando's riotous unconscious is filled with a disordered assembly of metonymic associations:

...the most extreme and extravagant twined and twisted in his mind. He called her a melon, a pineapple, an olive tree, an emerald, and a fox in the snow all in the space of three seconds; he did not know whether he had heard her, tasted her, seen her, or all three together....all his match his senses and were mostly taken from things he had liked the taste of as a boy. (37).

...he would try to tell her-- and splashing among a thousand images which had gone as stale as the women who inspired them--what she was like. Snow, cream, marble, cherries, alabaster, golden wire? None of these. She was like a fox, or an olive tree; like the waves of the sea when you look down upon them from a height; like an emerald; like the sun on a green hill which is yet clouded--like nothing he had seen or known in England. Ransack the language as he might, words failed him. He wanted another landscape, and another tongue. (47)

Every single his mind, he found thus cumbered with other matter like the lump of glass which, after a year at the bottom of the sea, is grown about with bones and dragon-flies, and coins and the tresses of drowned women...which will show the disorderly and circuitous way in which his mind works.... (101)

For as he looked the thickness of his blood melted; the ice turned to wine in his veins; he heard the waters flowing and the birds singing; spring broke over the hard wintry landscape; his manhood woke; he grasped a sword in his hand; he charged a more daring foe than Pole or Moor; he dived in deep water; he saw the flower of danger growing in a crevice; he stretched his hand....

..."Would you have the goodness to pass the salt?" (40)

Particularly amusing is the way in which
(as in this last example) "reality"(and real time,
and the needs of the biographer to order the dis-rule of Orlando's interior life)
continually intrude in the novel:

...the immensely long tunnel in which she seemed to have been travelling for hundreds of years widened; the light poured in; her thoughts became mysteriously tightened and strung up as if a piano tuner had put his key in her back and stretched the nerves very taut. (298) is an open question in what sense Orlando can be said to have existed in the present moment....Indeed we should have given her over for a person entirely disassembled were it not screens were held continuously on either side, so that the mind regained the illusion of holding things within itself. (307)

...the true, they say, compact of all the selves we have it in us to be; commanded and locked up by the Captain self, the Key self, which amalgamates and controls them all. (310)

Remember the distinctions we were making between the "real" Herculine Barbin and the fictional Middlesex?

I found Herculine Barbin to be very poignant. For me it is still amazing to think about it as a real text and not just a piece of fiction--Haley

By anchoring the book in a real place and manipulating small details and creating characters...Middlesex...seems more realistic, more believable. Herculine Barbin, on the other hand, seems less believable, even though it is a memoir--Carolyn

Orlando seems to combine the "real" and the "imaginary"--
but which is which?
Which is the "real" time?
Which is the "real" self?
What is the relation between "self" and "time"?

And--whatever your answers--what further evolution might this story undergo?
What happens, for instance, when it becomes pictorial?

Come back next week for
11 Portraits of Victoria Mary ('Vita') Sackville-West (from National Portrait Gallery)
American Paperback Covers of Orlando
Sally Potter's film Orlando (1992)
Jacqueline Harpman's Orlanda
a more general consideration of "Something Quite Different From Dialogue":
The Accessibility and Assailability of Pictures, or How Art Works on Us

And one further query (thanks, Arshiya):
What happens to storytelling when we achieve enlightenment?
Will we need stories no longer?

...our modern spirit can almost dispense with language...the most poetic is precisely that which cannot be written down. For which reasons we leave a great blank here, which must be taken to indicate the space is filled to repletion. (253)

And she fell silent. For it is probably that when people talk aloud, the selves (of which there may be more than two thousand) are conscious of disseverment, and are trying to communicate but when communication is established there is nothing more to be said. (314) Flinging herself on the ground, she felt the bones of the tree running out like ribs from a spine this way and that beneath her. She liked to think that she was riding the back of the world. She liked to attach herself.... (324)

From the Watercolors of Sharon Burgmayer

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in the grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase 'each other'
doesn't make any sense.

Jallaludin Rumi, "The Field Beyond"

| Course Home Page | Science in Culture | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 10:51:46 CDT