Monthly Archives: November 2013

A Textual Intellectual’s Lexical Indexicals

DSCF4893Pierre Jardin is an aspiring textual intellectual, as seen in his recent posts where he compared the self-referential or literal qualities of petriverses and text messages–both modes of expression indicate what is happening at the moment of speaking, and use words whose meaning depends on context.  There’s a word for such words: indexicals.  Indexicals are deictic, meaning they point to something.  Words in the indexical lexicon include I, you, this, that, here, there, today, tomorrow, and now.

Pierre’s latest message adds the indexical phrase “and so is THiS” to one of his prior petriverses, which had simply said “Nothing is written in stone.”  The latter message had created a paradox: “nothing is written in stone” means that there is never anything written in stone and nothing ever can be written in stone.  The saying means that nothing is ever permanent.  Ironically and simultaneously though, when Pierre wrote it as a petriverse, the message paradoxically proved that there IS some thing written in stone, because the word “nothing” was in fact written in stone, and the statement was therefore literally true: the word “nothing” is written in stone in the message “nothing is written in stone.”  The paradox arises because the message is self-referential and creates a tangled loop of logic caused by the oscillation between the message’s contradictory meanings.

Putting “and so is THiS!” at the end of “Nothing is written in stone” adds a twist to an already “strange” or “tangled” logical loop.  The indexical “THIS” in the message has two different meanings, that operate on different logical levels: it could refer to the single word “this”; or it could self-referentially mean the entire message “nothing is written in stone…and so is this.”  The message creates another level of paradox in the contradiction between the confident assertion that “nothing is written in stone,” meaning nothing is EVER written in stone, and the baldly stated literal observation that ‘this’ whole message, like the word nothing, is written in stone.

“THIS” is a particularly emphatic lexical, used to famous effect by Robert de Niro‘s character in The Deerhunter when he says, “This is this.  This is not something else.  This is this.” Pierre looked at his message, thought to himself “this is this…and that’s that.”  Now, he thought, I have earned a promotion, and I’ll order a new business card.  It will say:

Name: Pierre Jardin

Occupation: Keeper of the Petriverse

Title: Textual Intellectual


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