Self-Evident Truths? Origin Myths and the Founding of America

LECTURES > PREVIOUS

Every people has stories that it tells about itself-stories about where it comes from, about its place in the universe, about its essential characteristics. Indeed, one of the key functions of “culture” is to impress these stories on each succeeding generation. When successful, this process makes these stories so “obvious” to insiders as to be self-evidently true (despite the fact that these same stories remain self-evidently dubious to outsiders). In these respects, the American people and American culture are no different than any others. From the beginning, Americans have constructed stories —political, historical, literary — as a way of defining themselves and their place in the world and thus as a way of shaping their destiny. A look at works as diverse as The Declaration of Independence, The Federalist Papers, The Scarlet Letter, The Gettysburg Address, and “Paul Revere’s Ride,” can illustrate this phenomenon and help us temporarily stand outside ourselves as we seek a better understanding of who we truly are. Continue reading

Somebody Killed Something: Ambiguous Hero and Beast in Lewis Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky’

WRITINGS > FINISHED

Since its publication in 1871 as part of Through the Looking-glass, Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” has become one of the quintessential examples of “nonsense poetry” in the English language.  Such a classification largely reflects the poem’s apparent non-referentiality when set against the background of a theory of language that claims unambiguous reference as the sole (or at least, highest) goal of language use.  Since Carroll used a number of words that appeared to have “no sense”, and hence no referents, “Jabberwocky” as a whole appeared to be not fully “meaningful”, and hence not fully referential — i.e. the poem appeared to be “nonsense”. Continue reading

Somebody Killed Something: Ambiguous Hero and Beast in Lewis Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky’

LECTURES > PREVIOUS

Since its publication in 1871 as part of Through the Looking-glass, Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” has become one of the quintessential examples of “nonsense poetry” in the English language.  Such a classification largely reflects the poem’s apparent non-referentiality when set against the background of a theory of language that claims unambiguous reference as the sole (or at least, highest) goal of language use.  Since Carroll used a number of words that appeared to have “no sense”, and hence no referents, “Jabberwocky” as a whole appeared to be not fully “meaningful”, and hence not fully referential — i.e. the poem appeared to be “nonsense”. Continue reading

Literary Pragmatics and/of Homer’s Odyssey

WRITINGS > FINISHED

This paper is an essay in the full sense of the word: it is an attempt — and essay — to simultaneously work out two problems, one theoretical and one practical.  On the one hand it seeks to articulate a theory of texts in social contexts.  On the other it seeks to apply such a perspective to Homer’s Odyssey.  From the point of view of the first problem, then, the Odyssey is simply an example, an empirical means to a theoretical end.  From the point of view of the second problem, however, an understanding of the Odyssey is an end in itself. Continue reading