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Higgins
02-17-2007, 02:58 AM
Speaking of simulacra, or ghosts or uncanny automata, Helen of Troy may have gone to Troy as a simulacra, at least according to Stesichorus, according to Socrates, according to Plato (Book 9 of the Republic it seems, who knew?. According to one tale, a traveller found the ghosts or simulacra of Helen and Achilles living on a Reality Show kind of island in the Black Sea in the 6th Century BC ( when their more lively selves had been dead for about 700 years) and they told the traveller to tell Stesichorus to write a poem about how fine Helen had been in reality.

Anyway so I am told in Helen of Troy and her Shameless Phantom by Norman Austin (Cornell U. Press, 1994)...

Don't worry, I know just what you are screaming about now, dear reader: you are screaming, "dear god, wasn't I bored enough by being forced to read Stesichorus for many a dreadful and tedious day? Why now? Why do we still have to read literary giants like Stesichorus? When will it ever stop? Why does anyone have to read Stesichorus? I read him and I felt sick for months. His very name makes my guts writhe! When will people learn to teach interesting things in school and not Stesichorus, Stesichorus, Stesichorus and more Stesichorus?"

Good questions and indeed one must wonder at some length about such things, especially in the case of Stesichorus, of whose entire oeuvre maybe about a dozen lines remain. Even at the rate of one word a day you could not have been bored for more than a few months by reading Stesichorus. Still, I sympathize and I realize it must have been pretty awful.

Anyway...the Helen's eidolon (ghost, image, simulacrum) goes to Troy thing. In the ancient world nobody wondered what life was like for the shameless phantom. They worried about where the real Helen went and why. A good question, but I think we moderns are a little more mature and we wonder how things went with the simulacrum.

And in Euripides' Helen (produced as the Athenian Empire fell apart and mocked by Aristophanes (the reader is allowed three tiny shrieks of Boredom! But think of how the Athenians felt!) even Helen herself wonders about the Tragic emphasis on her real self doing nothing for the whole Homeric Plot since she is blamed for what her Shameless Phantom did and notes that she is basically dead since the benefit of the Phantom is that she gets to sit in Egypt doing nothing for 17 years.

Right so, sorry you are bored. I have to go.

ColoradoGuy
02-17-2007, 05:06 AM
I know just what you are screaming about now, dear reader
I'm not screaming, but I am rummaging around in your post looking for your point. So, am I snuffling through all this for a truffle or for a simulacrum of one?

Higgins
02-17-2007, 05:30 AM
I'm not screaming, but I am rummaging around in your post looking for your point. So, am I snuffling through all this for a truffle or for a simulacrum of one?

Like what? What would be considered a point?

ColoradoGuy
02-17-2007, 05:34 AM
Like what? What would be considered a point?
Oh, I don't know -- maybe what you're getting at and why?

Higgins
02-17-2007, 05:52 AM
Oh, I don't know -- maybe what you're getting at and why?

How would that be a point? That would just be me claiming to describe what I probably haven't done. Not much of a thing to take as a point.

But what about that Euripidean business of talking only about the Real Helen? When people in his own play think she is some kind of fake.

No POMO personage would make that mistake.

ColoradoGuy
02-17-2007, 06:03 AM
How would that be a point? That would just be me claiming to describe what I probably haven't done. Not much of a thing to take as a point.
Got it -- a simulacrum of the truffle.

Higgins
02-17-2007, 06:30 PM
How would that be a point? That would just be me claiming to describe what I probably haven't done. Not much of a thing to take as a point.

But what about that Euripidean business of talking only about the Real Helen? When people in his own play think she is some kind of fake.

No POMO personage would make that mistake.

Since this is the place where Critical Theory is discussed and since so many people have so many good reasons for finding it distasteful, I'm trying to be more tasteful about showing some possibly good or engaging aspects of Critical Theory. For example, thanks to Critical Theory (or maybe just the literary world since the Gothic...this seems to be a point one might address if one is not incapacitated by the mere mention of "literary" ) we are now better equiped to deal with Stesichorus "problems" with Helen of Troy and the Euripidean problem with writing a "tragedy" where she is found and mistaken for a eidolon (ghost, simulacrum) or copy (mimetic thing) in Egypt.

However, the difficulty people seem to have with their own distaste for literary (and I use the word in its most general possible sense) objects and for Critical Theory makes even the simplest hints at areas of interest in the realm of literary and Critical Theory appear much more problematic than they really are.

ColoradoGuy
02-17-2007, 08:22 PM
. . . so many people have so many good reasons for finding it distasteful. . . .
However, the difficulty people seem to have with their own distaste for literary (and I use the word in its most general possible sense) objects and for Critical Theory makes even the simplest hints at areas of interest in the realm of literary and Critical Theory appear much more problematic than they really are.
For myself, I find literary critical theory interesting because it asks us to regard language in new and fascinating ways. The specific ways individual Theorists suggest to do that can seem silly or even outlandish. It doesn't help that the language the Theorists themselves (or their translators) use is perversely opaque and impossible to understand.

One reason I put up the Orwell thread is I think his stated view of language is the common, workaday one -- that it is merely a tool for communication. I think that view is incorrect, and even he admitted later in the same essay language is always loaded with subtexts.

So one thing I learn from Theory is that language is a slippery, active thing that sometimes connects author and reader, but other times throws up barriers between them or even completely separates the two. The flow of author à text à reader is not necessarily a direct, linear one. It may reverse itself, turn back in the other direction, or even be inherently false sometimes. Theory explores those relationships.

So I don't hate it. I wish it were better written, though. More than a few theorists (or their translators) do not appear to know that incomprehensibility ≠ profundity. You might take that to heart a little yourself.

Higgins
02-17-2007, 10:52 PM
For myself, I find literary critical theory interesting because it asks us to regard language in new and fascinating ways. The specific ways individual Theorists suggest to do that can seem silly or even outlandish. It doesn't help that the language the Theorists themselves (or their translators) use is perversely opaque and impossible to understand.

I wish it were better written, though. More than a few theorists (or their translators) do not appear to know that incomprehensibility ≠ profundity. You might take that to heart a little yourself.

Maybe nobody is aiming for the good old "profundity" any more, which would explain why so much POMO stuff is so poorly understood. Since Levi-Strauss and Lacan the profound is no longer profoundly anything except irrelevant. Perhaps if you remove profundity from the inequality, the "incomprehensible" term will become easier to introduce into a solution.

So what is up with the puzzling styles one finds in the POMO world?

One thing, and a thing I find quite inspiring, is that the whole crate-of-writing drill is irrelevant to the POMO practitioner. Rather than taking the minimal modernist approach and declaring that "good writing" is writing that has been starved to death, that has had everything removed from it, in the POMO world, you can do what you want.

ColoradoGuy
02-17-2007, 11:03 PM
. . . in the POMO world, you can do what you want.
You still ought to make some sense to non-initiates, though, assuming you want the unwashed to read you.

Higgins
02-18-2007, 12:17 AM
You still ought to make some sense to non-initiates, though, assuming you want the unwashed to read you.

To go into the metaphorically "unwashed": nothing is easier in the online world than to be "read" by the "unwashed"; all you have to do is put something in your post that triggers one of their pre-packaged responses, which is completely pointless from the point of view of making any constructive posts....though it does show that linguistic behavior can be totally irrational. But that is no news to me or anyone else.

They
02-18-2007, 12:56 AM
StesichorusWho?

Cath
02-18-2007, 01:56 AM
...assuming you want the unwashed to read you.
Hey! I resemble that remark...

It's a good point, though. Not all of us have training or even a basic comprehension of literary theory. I pop in here because I'm keen to learn, but find myself confused by the way theories are framed. A little more KISS (Keep it simple stupid) would be helpful - for me, anyway.


...all you have to do is put something in your post that triggers one of their pre-packaged responses, which is completely pointless from the point of view of making any constructive posts....though it does show that linguistic behavior can be totally irrational.
:Shrug:

Higgins
02-18-2007, 03:03 AM
Who?


They made you read him. You were so bored you can't even remember it.

Higgins
02-18-2007, 04:39 AM
Not all of us have training or even a basic comprehension of literary theory. I pop in here because I'm keen to learn, but find myself confused by the way theories are framed. A little more KISS (Keep it simple stupid) would be helpful -


Okay, let's do step one of the simplest possible Levi-Straussian look at Helen and her representations up to Euripides.

1) Do we deal with all attested Helen-goes (or doesn't go) to Troy stories as one unit of possibly useful meaning?
2) Why? What does more then one story about the same character tell you? Or not?
3) Can we set up a basic story or basic Helen and have the rest as variations from a more fundamental "Unit of Helen meaning"?
4) If we find a fundamental unit of Helen meaning, what does it mean? How did it function for Euripides? For his Audience? For Plato? For Us?
5) Is the fundamental unit of Helen meaning closer to the Helen of the Iliad than other Helens? Why? What does that suggest?

pdr
02-18-2007, 03:43 PM
that I'm old, fashions have changed and I'm out of touch but...

Sigh!

Look it's like this.

I had to endure professors at all the universities I've attended prating about literature their way.

I mean that in a class on American literature from the American, pro-Freud prof, everything from Faulkner to Steinbeck was analysed from the Freudian point of view.

Not all my profs were as bad, but I do remember they had a literary theory bias and discussed literature according to their bias.

For example the fool Am lit prof gave his view on why Faulkner used the title 'Light in August' but it wasn't what Faulkner himself said. I quoted Faulkner and what he said about his novel. Prof told us that Faulkner didn't know what he was doing and the prof's view was correct.

What I always got into trouble for asking was: What about the writer? Faulkner wasn't a keen student of Freud, and he didn't write his work influenced by Freud so why analyse it as if he were?

All those literary theories are intriguing, but more often they are fallacies. They don't hold water, because they've lost the writer. The writer and what s/he intended to write are ignored. It's as though they don't count.

I find that silly.

Higgins
02-18-2007, 06:17 PM
that I'm old, fashions have changed and I'm out of touch but...

All those literary theories are intriguing, but more often they are fallacies. They don't hold water, because they've lost the writer. The writer and what s/he intended to write are ignored. It's as though they don't count.

I find that silly.

I'm old too, but in Ethnology, Levi-Strauss has had a major and mostly beneficial impact. Oh, and in school, I've worked on American Indian history and archaeology and basic science (eg. genetics, statistics). I had one Lit class (early American) and got an F.

From Levi-Strauss to Lacan was but a small jump in the early days and from there you could stick to the early Freud (and stay away from the topological ego, id, superego things) -- Freud before say 1920.

Anyway, like I said, Levi-Strauss and company (Edmund Leach, Victor Turner, Mary Douglas) were a lot of help in dealing with problematic structures in ethnology. Possibly they don't really belong in the POMO area and probably Freud and Lacan don't either.

On the other hand in History of Science, flat out POMO ideas have been very helpful in clarifying what exactly is going on in Science....but that's another story.

Oh and anyway, for lots of texts, the Author's intention is just not in any way available. In for example the supernatural treasure stories of the Kwakiutl...no author, just a lot of interlocking narratives full of crucial cultural signs. Only Levi-Strauss has been much help in figuring out what is going on with such stories. Helen actually works pretty well under a Levi-Straussian analysis as I hope to show.

Medievalist
02-19-2007, 06:39 AM
I
Oh and anyway, for lots of texts, the Author's intention is just not in any way available. In for example the supernatural treasure stories of the Kwakiutl...no author, just a lot of interlocking narratives full of crucial cultural signs. Only Levi-Strauss has been much help in figuring out what is going on with such stories. Helen actually works pretty well under a Levi-Straussian analysis as I hope to show.

I'm speaking as me, not as a mod, just in case, you know, I need to make that clear.

You're about twenty years out of date you know. You might take a look at Georges Duméziel and his more modern followers.

And if there's a point to this thread besides "etrangiere" and making strange, I'd like to see you make the point, because mostly I'm seeing some aggressive academic wankery that's lacking in content and execution.

Speaking, I'm sure, as one of the great unwashed, you'd best look to your own damn laundry. And maybe contemplate the concept of community.

ColoradoGuy
02-19-2007, 06:48 AM
. . . you'd best look to your own damn laundry. And maybe contemplate the concept of community.
Plus making some kind of sense. In English.

Medievalist
02-19-2007, 06:54 AM
Plus making some kind of sense. In English.

With like, you know, specific referents and subject-verb agreement even.

Higgins
02-19-2007, 07:10 AM
I'm speaking as me, not as a mod, just in case, you know, I need to make that clear.

You're about twenty years out of date you know. You might take a look at Georges Duméziel and his more modern followers.

And if there's a point to this thread besides "etrangiere" and making strange, I'd like to see you make the point, because mostly I'm seeing some aggressive academic wankery that's lacking in content and execution.

Speaking, I'm sure, as one of the great unwashed, you'd best look to your own damn laundry. And maybe contemplate the concept of community.

Gosh! What does that dead-for-20-years old Fascist and his followers have to say about the specific Helen stories I've brought up? Or the supernatural treasures of the Kwakiutl?

I suppose expecting anyone at all to have anything actually to say about the topic would be a bit much. And I did not come up with the unwashed thing, that was the moderator's helpful contribution.

Higgins
02-19-2007, 07:12 AM
Plus making some kind of sense. In English.


With like, you know, specific referents and subject-verb agreement even.

Examples? I'm sure I can explain what I mean and indeed that is what I have been trying to do.

ColoradoGuy
02-19-2007, 07:58 AM
Sokal, I'm putting on my Mod hat to explain the issue here. For a conversation to be a conversation, all participants must understand each other, and clearly many don't understand you. Rather than trying to explain what you mean in ways that others understand, you appear to revel in being obscure. Such obscurity is not a sign of intellectual rigor; it is a sign of poor writing. Worse, in one post (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showpost.php?p=1132252&postcount=11)you mocked all of us as not being up to your intellectual standards. This is not "respecting your fellow writer," which is the Prime Directive of AW. You're metaphorically dancing and spinning around, looking now and then at yourself in the mirror, and don't give a damn if anyone understands what you're saying or not. That is not a good thing, and it is an insult to all of us.

Since you drop a name or two in you posts, I will do the same. I've been taught by many absolutely brilliant people, including Sir Isaiah Berlin, one of the sharpest literary critics of the last or any century, David Baltimore, a Nobel Prize winner, and Doyne Farmer, the originator of chaos theory. All of these cared very much if their readers and listeners understood them, and we did, because if we didn't they regarded our lack of understanding as their problem, not ours.

Medievalist
02-19-2007, 08:03 AM
Examples? I'm sure I can explain what I mean and indeed that is what I have been trying to do.

No, I don't think you can explain what you mean . . . quite frankly, I think you're being obscure for two reasons . . . pseudo academic wankery, and because, to be brutally frank, you don't know what you're talking about.

I loathe critical theory; that's very very true . . . but I have to be able use it on a daily basis. It's sort of compulsory, in fact. I'm not alone in that on AW; there are several of us.

When writers really really know their subject . . . and actually gives a damn about their readers, they can and do take the trouble to write clearly and specifically. Shoddy prose tends to equate with shoddy thinking, or, since you like jargon, you're indulging yourself with writer-based prose, that is prose that has meaning only for yourself. It's encoded with meaning . . . but only for the writer. It's not meant to communicate to anyone else.

Higgins
02-19-2007, 08:22 AM
Sokal, I'm putting on my Mod hat to explain the issue here. For a conversation to be a conversation, all participants must understand each other, and clearly many don't understand you. Rather than trying to explain what you mean in ways that others understand, you appear to revel in being obscure. Such obscurity is not a sign of intellectual rigor; it is a sign of poor writing. Worse, in one post (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showpost.php?p=1132252&postcount=11)you mocked all of us as not being up to your intellectual standards. This is not "respecting your fellow writer," which is the Prime Directive of AW. You're metaphorically dancing and spinning around, looking now and then at yourself in the mirror, and don't give a damn if anyone understands what you're saying or not. That is not a good thing, and it is an insult to all of us.

Since you drop a name or two in you posts, I will do the same. I've been taught by many absolutely brilliant people, including Sir Isaiah Berlin, one of the sharpest literary critics of the last or any century, David Baltimore, a Nobel Prize winner, and Doyne Farmer, the originator of chaos theory. All of these cared very much if their readers and listeners understood them, and we did, because if we didn't they regarded our lack of understanding as their problem, not ours.

You're the one who came up with the unwashed idea. It never would have occurred to me to do such a thing.

Higgins
02-19-2007, 08:24 AM
No, I don't think you can explain what you mean . . . quite frankly, I think you're being obscure for two reasons . . . pseudo academic wankery, and because, to be brutally frank, you don't know what you're talking about.

I loathe critical theory; that's very very true . . . but I have to be able use it on a daily basis. It's sort of compulsory, in fact. I'm not alone in that on AW; there are several of us.

When writers really really know their subject . . . and actually gives a damn about their readers, they can and do take the trouble to write clearly and specifically. Shoddy prose tends to equate with shoddy thinking, or, since you like jargon, you're indulging yourself with writer-based prose, that is prose that has meaning only for yourself. It's encoded with meaning . . . but only for the writer. It's not meant to communicate to anyone else.

What is so obscure? I introduced a topic. Apparently no one, not even the treasured G. Dumezil has a thing to say about it. Why is that due to me?

Hmmmm....and if you use this loathed thing on a daily basis...perhaps (or would it be too much to ask?) if you as a member not of the Army of Moderators, but as a person who might maybe have something actually to say on the topic of various stories of Helen of Troy? You might drop a hint of some kind about what one is to make (in Lit Crit terms) of some inter-versional comparison of one or more of the stories of Helen of Troy? Maybe by G. Dumezil when he was taking a break from his fascist nostalgia? Thereafter you can abuse me all the more appropriately! And bring in some other mods as well (for the abuse part, anyway) to make it yet more a matter of respecting our fellow writers as long as they are not me.

ColoradoGuy
02-19-2007, 08:24 AM
You're the one who came up with the unwashed idea. It never would have occurred to me to do such a thing.
Check the batteries on your irony meter -- they need replacing.

Higgins
02-19-2007, 10:32 PM
... you'd best look to your own damn laundry. And maybe contemplate the concept of community.

Ah, Laundry. Well...what was I saying. The topic of the tread is (as the title says) Helen's Phantom (eidolon) and some simple examples of how literary theory (or litcrit) can help us deal with it (or not).

So, behold, let me stand here like Old Priam (the old guy in the Iliad, King of Troy who is instructed by Helen about which Greek is which) faced with the grim duty of telling the community about his laundry. And what I have to say is this: I picked this topic because it was very simple. Everyone has heard something about Helen and (contrary to New Criticism's ideas from 70 or 80 years ago) the answer is not in some single text, some single perfect work of art. Nor is it in some authority, such as G. Dumezil. It is here where somebody takes up the burden of explaining it somehow. But this is a burden open to all, we, as a community, can enact an answer and no amount of hoary New Criticism can reduce our attempt to relative meaninglessness. I suppose this is somewhat complex, but let's get back to the simplest part of this simple attempt to construct a simple meaning for Helen and her Phantom.

To keep it simple, there are 3 versions of Helen's going to Troy (up to and including Euripides' tragedy):

1) The Homeric (Helen really went to Troy in Person)
2) the Stesichoran (Helen did not go at all, but an image/simulacrum of her went)
3) the Herodotan/Euripidean (Helen left for Troy, but was detained in Egypt and Paris went on with a simulacrum or Eidolon or ghost)

For the moment, we the simple community, can simply contemplate this set of three very simple stories or plot elements, leaving aside all other issues such as the fact that G. Dumezil noticed that there are three goddesses involved in the Judgement of Paris, that Helen has semi-magical powers even in the Odyssey, that there are Helen cults all over and lots of alternative stories about such things as why Stesichorus wrote his version.

The first question is: is there any useful level of analysis in which these three plot-elements about Helen can be compared? Or to put it another way: what possible meanings could we find in comparing the three alternative Helen plot-elements? What would these meanings clarify (if anything?)?

Cath
02-19-2007, 11:13 PM
Or to put it very simply - does comparing the differing versions of the Helen of Troy story through literary criticism help us find the truth behind her story - and is it useful to do so?

Medievalist
02-20-2007, 02:13 AM
Here's the thing Sokal. You may be interested . . . but you've yet to present a compelling reason why anyone else should give a rat's ass.

Nor are you actually saying a whole hell of a lot when one actually parses your sentences. What is your purpose? Who is your audience? Why should anyone else care?

Higgins
02-20-2007, 03:25 AM
Or to put it very simply - does comparing the differing versions of the Helen of Troy story through literary criticism help us find the truth behind her story - and is it useful to do so?


Well, I hadn't thought about the question of what set of truths might turn up. We can take a step back and ponder whether we can place ourselves at kind of question zero: what sort of truths might be expected to result from looking into literary objects (using the term "literary" in its most general possible meaning)?
Will we find some perfect text that does whatever we want done with truth? (A gesture at New Criticism)...Will we find that Indo-Europeans did everything in threes? (Thanks Dumezil!!!). Or some other set of truths?
Which by the way leads me to wonder if I should start a thread to go into the question of "What is a Structure in Structuralist Terms?"

Higgins
02-20-2007, 03:31 AM
Here's the thing Sokal. You may be interested . . . but you've yet to present a compelling reason why anyone else should give a rat's ass.

Nor are you actually saying a whole hell of a lot when one actually parses your sentences. What is your purpose? Who is your audience? Why should anyone else care?

You know, you and ColoradoGuy always ask me questions like this just before you go Ape about something or other. You'll have to excuse me if I postpone complying your implied demand that I depart from the simplest of possible methods for very carefully saying one very simple thing about one simple thing at a time. After all, less than 24 hours ago you and ColoradoGuy were really peeved because I was obscure. Now you're peeved because I'm not.

aka eraser
02-20-2007, 04:42 AM
I know nothing about critical theory. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

If I know anything about the philosophy of language, I learned it by accident or osmosis.

What I do know is that writing is a form of communication and communication is a shared understanding between at least two people.

I don't understand what Sokal is writing about. Further, I'm not sure anyone here does - possibly, indeed probably, including Sokal.

MacAllister
02-20-2007, 05:04 AM
I'm going to close this. I'm frankly not quite sure what the game is--but I've a suspicion it's not a particularly pleasant one.