"God is both the transcendent signifier
and transcendent signified."
— Caryn Broitman,
Deconstruction and the Bible
"Central to deconstructive theory is the notion that
there is no 'transcendent signified,' or 'logos,' that ultimately
grounds 'meaning' in language...."
— Henry P. Mills,
The Significance of Language,
"It is said that the students of medieval Paris came to
blows in the streets over the question of universals. The stakes are
high, for at issue is our whole conception of our ability to describe
the world truly or falsely, and the objectivity of any opinions we frame
to ourselves. It is arguable that this is always the deepest, most
profound problem of philosophy. It structures Plato's (realist) reaction
to the sophists (nominalists). What is often called 'postmodernism' is
really just nominalism, colourfully presented as the doctrine that there
is nothing except texts. It is the variety of nominalism represented in
many modern humanities, paralysing appeals to reason and truth."
-- Simon Blackburn, Think,
Oxford University Press, 1999, page 268
The question of universals is still being debated in Paris. See my July 25 entry,
A Logocentric Meditation.
That entry discusses an essay on
mathematics and postmodern thought
by Michael Harris,
professor of mathematics
at l’Université Paris 7 - Denis Diderot.
A different essay by Harris
has a discussion that gets to the heart of this matter: whether
pi exists as a platonic idea apart from any
human definitions. Harris notes that "one might recall that
the theorem that pi is transcendental can be stated as follows: the
homomorphism Q[X] --> R taking X to pi is
injective. In other words, pi can be identified algebraically
with X, the variable par excellence."
Harris illustrates this with
an X in a rectangle:
For the complete passage, click here.
If we rotate the Harris X by 90 degrees, we get a representation of the Christian Logos that seems closely related to the God-symbol of Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
On the left below, we have a (1x)4x9 black monolith, representing God,
and on the right below, we have the Harris slab, with X representing (as
in "Xmas," or the Chi-rho page of the Book of Kells) Christ... who is,
in theological terms, also "the variable par excellence."
For a more serious discussion of deconstruction and Christian theology, see
Walker Percy's Semiotic.
John Schlesinger dead at 77;
'Midnight Cowboy' director
Jul. 26, 2003 12:00 AM
LOS ANGELES - Oscar-winning director John Schlesinger,
who daringly brought gay characters into mainstream cinema with
Midnight Cowboy and tapped into nightmares with the teeth-drilling
torture of Marathon Man, died Friday at 77.
The British-born filmmaker.... died about 5:30 a.m....
Schlesinger also directed The Day of the Locust, based on a novel by Nathanael West.
See Heaven, Hell, and Hollywood and
Dogma Part II: Amores Perros.
From the latter:
"Then you know your body's sent,
Don't care if you don't pay rent,
Sky is high and so am I,
If you're a viper -- a vi-paah."
— The Day of the Locust,
by Nathanael West (1939),
New Directions paperback,
1969, page 162
This song may be downloaded at
Pot Culture, 1910-1960.
That same site begins with a traditional Mexican song...
"La cucaracha, la cucaracha,
ya no puede caminar,
porque no quiere,
porque le falta
marihuana que fumar."
("The cockroach, the cockroach,
can't walk anymore,
because he doesn't want to,
because he has no
marihuana to smoke.")
This suggests an appropriate funeral march for John Schlesinger:
"Ya murió la cucaracha, ya la llevan a enterrar..." - La Cucaracha
Those attending Schlesinger's wake, as opposed to his funeral, may wish to perform other numbers from the Pot Culture page, which offers a variety of "viper" songs.
Bright Star and Dark Lady
"Mexico is a solar country -- but it is also a black
country, a dark country. This duality of Mexico has preoccupied me since
I was a child."
-- Octavio Paz,
quoted by Homero Aridjis
For the meaning of the above symbols, see
Kubrick's 1x4x9 monolith in 2001,
the Halmos tombstone in Measure Theory,
and the Fritz Leiber Changewar stories.
No se puede vivir sin amar.
Concluding Unscientific Postscript:
Oh, yes... the question of
Heaven or Hell for John Schlesinger...
Recall that he also directed the delightful
Cold Comfort Farm and see
last year's entry for this date.
Realism in Literature:
Under the Volcano
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 11:13 p.m. EDT Friday, July 25, 2003
PUEBLA, Mexico (AP) -- Mexico's Popocatepetl volcano
shot glowing rock and ash high into the air Friday night, triggering a
thunderous explosion that panicked some residents in nearby communities.
Here are 3 webcam views of the volcano. Nothing to see at the moment.
Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano,
Plato, Pegasus, and the Evening Star,
A Mass for Lucero,
and, as background for today's earlier entry on Platonism and Derrida,
The Shining of May 29.
For more on Plato and Christian theology, consult the highly emotional site
Further Into the Depths of Satan:
"...in The Last Battle on page 170 [C. S.]
Lewis has Digory saying, 'It's all in Plato, all in Plato.' Now, Lewis
calls Plato 'an overwhelming theological genius' (Reflections on the Psalms, p. 80)...."
The title "Further Into the Depths of Satan," along with the volcano readings above, suggests a reading from a related site:
Gollum and the Mystery of Evil:
"Gollum here clearly represents Frodo’s hidden self.
It is 'as if we are witnessing the darkest night of the soul and one
side attempting to master the other' (Jane Chance 102). Then Frodo,
whose finger has been bitten off, cries out, and Gollum holds the Ring
aloft, shrieking: 'Precious, precious, precious! My Precious! O my
Precious!' (RK, VI, 249). At this point, stepping too near the edge, he
falls into the volcano, taking the Ring with him. With this, the
mountain shakes.' "
In the above two-step vignette, the part of Gollum is played by the
author of "Further Into the Depths of Satan," who called C.
S. Lewis a fool† "that was and is extremely useful to his father the devil."
† See Matthew 5:22: "...whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire."
For Jung's 7/26 Birthday:
A Logocentric Meditation
Leftist academics are trying to pull a fast one again. An essay
in the most prominent American mathematical publication tries to
disguise a leftist attack on Christian theology as harmless
In a review of Vladimir Tasic's Mathematics and the Roots of Postmodern Thought, the reviewer, Michael Harris, is being less than candid when he discusses Derrida's use of "logocentrism":
"Derrida uses the term 'logocentrism'... as 'the metaphysics of phonetic writing'...."
— Notices of the American Mathematical Society, August 2003, page 792
We find a rather different version of logocentrism in Tasic's own Sept. 24, 2001, lecture "Poststructuralism and Deconstruction: A Mathematical History," which is "an abridged version of some arguments" in Tasic's book on mathematics and postmodernism:
"Derrida apparently also employs certain ideas of formalist
mathematics in his critique of idealist metaphysics: for example, he is
on record saying that 'the effective progress of mathematical notation
goes along with the deconstruction of metaphysics.'
Derrida's position is rather subtle. I think it can be interpreted as
a valiant sublation of two completely opposed schools in mathematical
philosophy. For this reason it is not possible to reduce it to a readily
available philosophy of mathematics. One could perhaps say that Derrida
continues and critically reworks Heidegger's attempt to 'deconstruct'
traditional metaphysics, and that his method is more 'mathematical' than
Heidegger's because he has at his disposal the entire
pseudo-mathematical tradition of structuralist thought. He has himself
implied in an interview given to Julia Kristeva that mathematics could
be used to challenge 'logocentric theology,' and hence it does not seem unreasonable to try looking for the mathematical roots of his philosophy."
The unsuspecting reader would not know from Harris's review that
Derrida's main concern is not mathematics, but theology. His
'deconstruction of metaphysics' is actually an attack on Christian
From "Derrida and Deconstruction," by David Arneson, a University of Manitoba professor and writer on literary theory:
"Logocentrism: 'In the beginning was the word.'
Logocentrism is the belief that knowledge is rooted in a primeval
language (now lost) given by God to humans. God (or some other transcendental signifier:
the Idea, the Great Spirit, the Self, etc.) acts a foundation for all
our thought, language and action. He is the truth whose manifestation is
Some further background, putting my July 23 entry on Lévi-Strauss and structuralism in the proper context:
Part I. The Roots of Structuralism
"Literary science had to have a firm theoretical basis..."
Part II. Structuralism/Poststructuralism
"Most [structuralists] insist, as Levi-Strauss does, that structures are universal, therefore timeless."
Part III. Structuralism and
Jung's "theories, like those of Cassirer and
Lévi-Strauss, command for myth a central cultural position, unassailable
by reductive intellectual methods or procedures."
And so we are back to logocentrism, with the Logos — God in the form of story, myth, or archetype — in the "central cultural position."
What does all this have to do with mathematics? See
Rosalind Krauss on Art -
"the Klein group (much beloved of Structuralists)"
Another Michael Harris Essay, Note 47 -
"From Krauss's article I learned that the Klein group is also called the Piaget group."
and Jung on Quaternity:
Beyond the Fringe -
"...there is no denying the fact that [analytical] psychology, like an illegitimate child of the spirit, leads an esoteric, special existence beyond the fringe of what is generally acknowledged to be the academic world."
What attitude should mathematicians have towards all this?
Towards postmodern French
atheist literary/art theorists -
Mathematicians should adopt the attitude toward "the demimonde of chic academic theorizing" expressed in Roger Kimball's essay, Feeling Sorry for Rosalind Krauss.
Towards logocentric German
Christian literary/art theorists -
Mathematicians should, of course, adopt a
posture of humble respect, tugging their forelocks and admitting their
ignorance of Christian theology. They should then, if sincere in
their desire to honestly learn something about logocentric philosophy, begin by consulting the website
The Quest for the Fiction of an Absolute.
For a better known, if similarly disrespected, "illegitimate child of the spirit," see my July 22 entry.
Democracy in America
Jay Leno's man-in-the-street "Duh" interviews are no longer funny. See
America's Ignorant Voters and
Voting Machine Fraud Likely.