3. The Field of Literature

Jane’s father died last week. The family had a wake, and everyone in the family stopped by for a last look at the one they loved, now present in body but absent in spirit. He had been an incredible man, perfect in so many ways. His death was an enormous shock, and a cloud hangs heavily over Jane as she heads to class.  She had stayed at home a few days afterward with her mother to grieve and talk about the impact on the family. They had pondered the meaning of death.

Jane is still asking herself why this should have happened now. She is distraught, not feeling like going on at all, but is attending this class to keep her mind occupied. It feels as though walls are closing in on her from all sides, as if she could suffocate. She feels powerless, her spirits shrunken and deflated, even as she feels –more than ever before --  that some huge power is behind everything that happens. And yet, she says to herself, she now has no core, no faith, and no foundation upon which to build her life. Her roommates and a few friends know about what has happened for her as the class begins.


Dean: Welcome students. Today we discuss the role of literature in our study of evolution. We have Professor Richard Hughes here to talk with us. He was asked by the English Department to represent their faculty.

 We also have with us Professor Albert Hawking from our physics department. He made it clear to me that he holds fast to scientific facts and that literature is not his field. He will speak out if he sees too much fiction in our discussion of nature. (The Dean smiles at him; he knows how testy Hawking can be on literature.  As they are friends, he hopes that their discussion will be courteous, not too blunt.) We are glad to have you with us. (They nod amicably toward each other.)

You may remember that I asked Mary, who is majoring in literature, to think about how Rhetoric could help connect us with the subject of evolution. Mary came by my office for a preliminary discussion, and I know she will offer some exciting ideas for us to think about.

Professor Hughes (looking his way), we talked about Edwin Hubble’s discovery -- and about how research in physics has led scientists to determine that the Big Bang started this whole process of evolution. Would you start our discussion about this subject from the standpoint of literature? Let me ask that you start with my question: “What is literature?”

 (The Dean has asked Prof. Hughes, an eminent retired member of the English Department, to speak slowly and plainly.  He will help the professor stay in touch with students by interjecting questions from time to time. )


Prof. Hughes: Well, literature is a big subject. I will try to condense it in a few words.

Not everyone would agree, but I would say that “literature” refers to written works in fiction, poetry, and drama, which have some permanent value for people. The term does not refer usually to writings in the sciences or mathematics in their technical sense, but rather to works of taste and sentiment that have a degree of eloquence, beauty, and literary value. (Pauses.)

Dean: Are there specialties in this field that might apply to our subject?

Prof. Hughes: All of what we refer to as creative writing bears on this subject --novels, poems, and plays -- but literary criticism may also be relevant.

Dean: Some students may not know what this means. So, what would you say is literary criticism?

Prof. Hughes: Literary criticism is a field in which critics search for principles to help us understand great writings. They ask questions like, “Is the author's intention responsible for the meanings in a text? Can readers arrive at an objective understanding of those meanings? In what setting did a writer work, and might a writer’s setting be important to an understanding of his or her work? And so on.

Dean: How could these critics help us understand nature and evolution? 

Prof. Hughes: Critics look at the formal elements of texts, such as essays, poems or novels. And they also consider their subject matter, their content. Emerson and Thoreau are writers for whom this subject of “nature” is primary. They were members of a group called Transcendentalists.

Dean: Interesting. How did literary criticism evolve?

Prof. Hughes: That would be a long story. We could begin perhaps with Plato’s dialogue Cratylus and with Aristotle’s Poetics, but to trace that history would take us beyond class time. [i]

Dean: Before class, you and I talked about the importance of literary theory. Would you explain what that is for students?

Prof. Hughes: What is commonly called “Literary Theory” began in the 1950s, based on some of the ideas of Ferdinand de Saussure. It became popular in the late 1960s and the 1980s, and by the 1990s it had reached a peak. Two relevant movements would be post-structuralism[ii] and deconstructionism.[iii]  

Dean: What could they tell us about our study of evolution?

Prof. Hughes: Theorists in these movements would reject the idea that science can claim any absolute truth about nature. All of Western science and culture has been subject to their criticism. [iv] 

Dean: (Looking toward Professor Hawking, hoping to start a dialogue.) Professor Hawking, have you read anything about these movements? What do you think?

Prof: Hawking: I have read some literary theory. I have to be honest: I think it is nonsense. 

Dean: But…why? (The Dean is shocked at his immediate dissent.)

Prof. Hawking: Back in 1996, a colleague of mine named Alan Sokal submitted an essay to a prize literary journal called Social Text. He was upset with the fiction in literary thought. In his article, he argued that nature -- the idea of an external world obedient to invariable physical laws -- was a fiction. Science was no more than an idea, a “social construct.” As such, like many other fields of study and topics that theorists have reduced to mere “social constructs,” it too could be interpreted by the rules of literary theory.

Dean: Oh? (He wonders if students got that point.)

Prof. Hawking: He was just spoofing of course, fooling the editors by using the language of literary theory to claim that science and its methods were falsehood. He wanted to expose all of that as nonsense.

Dean: Did he succeed?

Prof. Hawking: Absolutely. Sokal admitted in the magazine Lingua Franca that his article had been a prank.

Dean: So scientists took literary theory down a notch?

Prof. Hawking: Yes. I’m sorry to say. (He is speaking ironically.) 

Dean: Well, that’s what we are here for: straightforward honesty. But can you give us a specific example of an error that students can understand?

Prof. Prof. Hawking: Sure. Literary theorists believe that there are absolutely no absolutes.  But look at how they contradict themselves in this: Absolutely there are no absolutes.

 (This opening shot at literary theory sounds a little unfair to students, as they wait to hear how their prominent visitor will respond.) 

Prof. Hughes: (Hughes is a bit surprised but also quite aware of the Sokal event.) Yes. That prank by Alan Sokal did fool the journal’s editors. They thought that, as a distinguished physicist, the author would have been sincere. But the editors should have asked another physicist to check his article before publicizing it.

Prof. Hawking: (Still in a testy mood.) According to literary theory, I cannot even claim this pencil in my hand is here. -- (He holds a pencil up in the air.) Can all of you see it?

Dean: (turns to students, smiling.) What do you think about this? Is it a pencil, or not?

Jerry: You have to interpret the object in his hand to make it a fact… What if an Australian aborigine saw it? He might use it to dig a hole in the ground. (Prof. Hawking waves this comment off with a laugh and a throw-away wave of his hand, but several students frown at this dismissal.)

Alice: I know a physics instructor who would interpret the pencil as a blooming buzz of atoms.

Prof. Hawking:  Bah!

Tom: (quickly interjecting.) Is Schrödinger's cat dead or alive? I took physics and was taught that there are no absolutes, absolutely. There are only probabilities. According to my teacher, when I blink my eyes the pencil might not be there when I open them.  Everything in science is probability. There is no certainty in physics. [v] (Tom is referring to a “thought experiment” he learned from an instructor in Physics 101. The Dean is glad to hear so many students reacting intelligently to the Prof. Hawking. Students often enjoy playing pranks on each other, but this class does not like Sokal’s trick.)

Prof. Hawking: (surprised at the snappy replies of students but impressed by their intelligence.) Okay, I apologize. I am here to listen.

Dean: Thanks. Go ahead, Professor Hughes. Tell us more about these movements in literary criticism.

Prof. Hughes:  Jacques Derrida coined the term “Deconstruction” in the 1960s. He was curious about how people construct “meaning.” He recommended that students read books in light of “hidden assumptions.” He suggested they think about what was absent in a text and ask how “facts” are constructed.[vi]

Dean: Scientific facts?

Prof. Hughes: Some students in this class might have read the work of Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche asked: “What are facts?” He said that “facts” are not facts until they have been interpreted.

Nietzsche had a profound impact on literary thought. (He pauses, considering how best to explain this complex history.) Literary theorists want to understand the methods for interpreting texts. Some hold that a “method” can include “attitudes” toward a subject. The attitude that one takes toward a subject can shape the facts.

Dean: Attitude. What kind of attitude would literary theorists hold toward nature and evolution?  

Prof. Hughes: An attitude of open inquiry. Theorists would say: “We need to interrogate the world before we try to explain it.” 

Dean: But have literary theorists had differences on how to approach the subject of interpretation?

Prof. Hughes: Yes, they have had differences. There was a rift between the "phenomenological" and "structural" approach, for example.

Dean: Students may not be familiar with these terms. What is phenomenology?

Prof. Hughes: “Phenomenology” is about “structures” of consciousness. A phenomenologist wants to understand the origins of consciousness, how consciousness originates from an event. [vii] 

Prof. Hawking: The Big Bang was an event. Was it physical? Or, are all origins subjective? (Several students crane their heads to look back at Professor Hawking. For some he is so skeptical, they think he has an “attitude,” in the more colloquial sense of that word. Most know him as a serious top scientist. )

Prof. Hughes: Wrong. (Speaking gently.) There is a constant interplay between what is subjective and objective.

Dean: What do you mean by that?

Prof. Hughes: Literary theorists have had that debate among themselves. Some claimed that human consciousness could be the effect of structures people do not usually think about as making a major contribution to the way in which consciousness is shaped. For these theorists,” structures such as businesses, churches, and governments shape how a particular consciousness develops. Structuralists argue that we must look more objectively at institutions that shape our experience.

Dean: Interesting. But how does that apply to the science of evolution?

Prof. Hughes: Well, you spoke to me about how evolution builds “structures,” step-by-step.  So that structural shaping also happened in the formation of the earth. 

Dean: What! That sounds like science. What do you mean?

Prof. Hughes: The first living creatures on earth were structured in a special way. Our body evolved from cells in a unique atmosphere.

So scientists interpret nature (stars and plants) through their physical bodies. And human bodies themselves determine what they experience. It is like a businessman who is not conscious of how the structure of his enterprise frames his outlook. It is as if we were fish who do not realize that we live in water.

Dean: I’m not clear.

Prof. Hughes: The structure of the body shapes what we see and touch, like that pencil on the table. A frog or a bee would see that pencil much differently. (Professor Hawking lowers his head, concentrating.) Most of us are not conscious of how the structure of the human eye affects what we claim as “fact.” We draw conclusions about “external nature” without thinking about how our body shapes it. We live in magnetic fields that determine what are facts.

Prof. Hawking: (focusing on this point) Do you mean that the human body evolved on Earth in an atmosphere that produced our physical senses? And these senses shape our consciousness, which shapes the way we see what we call our facts?

Prof. Hughes: Exactly. Our physical senses interpret only a small part of what is “out there.” So we must inquire into how our senses determine what is valid.

Dean: Whoa. Interesting. I never thought I would hear this from you. So the scientist is biased by the structure of his own body?

Prof. Hughes: Correct.

Dean: What do you think Professor Hawking? 

Prof. Hawking: I did not know that literary theorists would agree that we have a physical nature.

Prof. Hughes: In 1959 Jacques Derrida asked the question: does “structure” have a genesis? His answer is complex. [viii] He raises questions about how we explore reality.

Dean: Can you make it simple? (Grins, a little mischievously.)

Prof. Hughes: Derrida wrote about a matrix of binary relations that I think applies to theoretical physics. He said words have meaning, not just because they correspond to something real but also because they are in a network of oppositions. Terms such as black and white, hot and cold, matter and mind, have meaning only when they are seen in relation to one another.

 Dean: So binaries like matter and mind can only be understood in relation to one another.

Prof. Hughes: More. If you hold one side to be superior to the other one, you are in trouble.

Dean:  Would you say, then, that the terms of science cannot be superior to the terms in literature? A scientist cannot answer the question of who we are with more validity than a novelist can?

Prof. Hughes: Well, you jumped ahead of me. Let me tell you how Derrida attacked logocentrism.

Dean: Logocentrism. Not all students will know this term. Explain it to us.

Prof. Hughes: Logocentrism is the tendency of Western thinkers to locate the center of any text within the logos. Logos is a Greek word with many meanings, such as truth, reason, spirit, law, debate, narrative, story, speech, etc., but Jacques Derrida used the term to characterize most of Western philosophy since Plato: a constant search for the "truth."

Prof. Hawking: Truth! Aha! What is that?

Prof. Hughes: Derrida had a method for getting to it. He said that Plato, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Ferdinand de Saussure, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and other philosophers all worked in this Western tradition of Logos. For example, they all thought speech was superior to writing; writing was derived from speech. For him, the belief that speech was superior to writing was a hierarchy, and one among many other falsehoods ruling Western thought. Derrida showed how to assume this hierarchy was an arbitrary decision; it was not in some natural order. One side of a binary cannot be superior to its opposite.

Dean: What binaries affect our topic?

Prof. Hughes: Derrida says we privilege one side of a binary over another, like presence over absence, identity over difference, fullness over emptiness, meaning over meaninglessness, mastery over submission, light over dark. Notice how the first word in these pairs is considered superior to the other in our culture.

Prof. Hawking: If we think one side is superior to the other, we have a problem understanding nature?

Prof. Hughes: Exactly. Jacques Derrida argued in one of his books – Of Grammatology – that the first term of a binary in Western thought is considered “original,” “authentic,” and greater than the second. The second is secondary, a derivative of the first. But this is not true.

Prof. Hawking: So how do we overcome this bias: this superiority of “one side over the other”?

Prof. Hughes: To overcome the bias, Derrida proposes, we should think of ourselves in "rapport to the Other." That is, any “meaning” that comes to us is always connected with other meanings. These terms have a history of development through time.

Dean: (wanting to gauge how the class is following this discussion.) What do students think?

James: Sorry. I’m lost. (Other students agree.)

Prof. Hughes: To clarify this point, I’d ask you to look at it in this way: all binaries can be reversed. In other words, either side can be taken as superior. So a “fact” is conditioned by a particular culture. The idea that one side is superior over the other -- is not true.[ix] I would say the same for the scientific assumption that matter is superior to mind.

Prof. Hawking: That is your opinion. In my opinion “matter” is the fundamental reality behind the mind; we live first and foremost in a material world. If not before, you will realize this when you die. (Jane’s mind, which has been largely absent from the discussion, drifting in sadness over the death of her father, now wakes up, roused by this mention of “dying.”)

Prof. Hughes: Thanks. Notice how in your response, you privilege the “real” over the “ideal” as well as “matter” over “mind.” Every word you speak is a construct of the mind. Your mind is what makes your work in physics possible. Your mind gives you the ability to study matter. Think about it.

Prof. Hawking: Think about what exactly? 

 Prof. Hughes: The two sides are inter-connected, intricately woven together; you would have no science without a mind that works by its own rules.

Dean: What do students think?

Alice: (Still chafing from earlier in the discussion, she addresses Prof. Hawking.) Einstein worked out his formulas purely in his mind. This is an instance in which the “mind” was superior to matter. The “facts” came to him before he did any research. His mind and his ideas produced the facts before they investigated those facts.

Prof. Hawking: (Surprised by this student’s sharpness, but insistent) What I hold here -- in this pencil -- is reality. It is physical; it’s not just in my head.

Prof. Hughes: Derrida’s point is this: No one side of these “binaries” should be privileged over the other. The paired opposites are mutually involved. (Bluntly.) If you believe one side is superior to the other you are in trouble. Your conclusions will be biased. 

(The Dean, worried that this directness and candor will escalate, breaks in.)

Dean: Can anyone throw any light into the dark here? (smiling at his own binary.) Friends, we are working with very complex ideas. (nods at students.)

Derek: This word “complex” tells a different story in my field of psychology than it does in other disciplines. And “ideas” are not the final word for a “complex.” A “complex” is more than an idea. It is beyond consciousness. It has to do with the Unconscious.

Dean: Oooo, yes. Thank you, Derek. So you are saying that, in psychology, everything that we presume about consciousness and reason cannot be the only ground for understanding nature. Is that right?

Derek: Freud talked about the Oedipus and Electra complexes. Alfred Adler talked about the inferiority complex. These “complexes” were not rational or conscious. They were drawn from the data of dreams. Half of our life is unconscious, they said. Freud claimed that the death drive is unconscious.[x] (Impressed, the Dean stops for a moment to ponder.)

Dean: You’re right. Freud defined the death drive as “an urge locked into all organic life.” It could have come with the Big Bang.[xi]   

Derek: Freud said that all living creatures are in a battle between the impulses of life and death.

Dean: He was worried that the death impulse might overpower the impulse for life and destroy civilization. (Jane has been feeling overwhelmed but recovers enough to speak.)

Jane: Professor Hughes, can you give us examples of “death” in novels? 

Prof. Hughes: Yes. Has anybody read the novel called The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky?

Dean: I read it a long time ago.

Prof. Hawking: I read it in college. If you remind me of the story, I might recall the plot.

(The Dean knows that this book was on a reading list assigned to students coming into the program, and lets the conversation continue.)

Dean: What makes this novel so pertinent to us?

Professor Hughes: It is all about confrontations with death. I should explain this to students and remind you all of the plot.

The story begins on a train with the main character Prince Myshkin leaving a sanitarium -- where he was being treated for epilepsy and some sort of madness. The story goes on to describe the terrible realities of living in this world, and death is one of them. 

Dean: What does this mean for us?

Prof. Hughes: Prince Myshkin has epileptic seizures that bring him to the edge of death but also bring him into some transcendent state. He has lightning flashes in his mind just before a seizure; these give him some heightened perception of the world, a sudden awareness of himself, as though he were in a “higher existence.” He asks: what if this heightened experience is nothing but my illness? If this were true, then the experience would not be one of “transcendence,” but an expression of this illness. (Pauses.)

Dean: (filling the silent gap.) He wrestles with the meaning of illness and death. So, what does he decide about this type of experience? Was it a sign of transcendence?

Prof. Hughes: Since what he experiences in this state is the “highest degree of harmony and beauty, some sort of completeness, proportion, reconciliation . . . an ecstatic, prayerful fusion with the highest synthesis of life,” the Prince asks, “What does it matter?”

The Dean: Mmmm. Well, if we have a mind and these experiences of ecstasy, they must have originated from inside the Big Bang.

Prof. Hughes: These moments for the Prince were extraordinary. He says, in effect: “For such a moment, people could give up their whole life!” 

Dean: But how long does his experience last?

Prof. Hughes:  All too briefly. Subsequently, he lapses into confusion and darkness. (Jane has been listening in confusion and darkness, wondering where her father has gone.) In the final analysis, what has he to do with this?  He has to confront the real along with the ideal .

Dean: So this book is about binaries, about oppositions:  life versus death, light versus darkness?

Prof. Hughes: Yes, and all human experience in-between, but this sense of death is persistent. (Pause.) Do you remember Hans Holbein’s portrait of Christ. It portrays Christ’s dead body being taken down from the cross. (Jane’s family is religious, and she is listening intently now.)

Prof. Hawking: Aah! I do recall it.

Prof. Hughes: Dostoevsky himself had seen the painting at one time and was deeply affected by it. So he has his hero, Prince Myshkin, see the painting of Christ as a body, totally dead: flesh without life, no hint of resurrection.  

Prof. Hawking: (impatient) But what does this have to do with nature and evolution?

Prof. Hughes: Christ’s body is dead. It will now deteriorate. Death wins. . . . But the idea of death rips at the very being of the Prince. And Dostoevsky draws us into the mystery. We identify with it.

Prof. Hawking: So? (himself indifferent as a stone mountain.)

Prof Hughes: Dostoevsky was once condemned to death. He stood in line at a scaffold behind a friend, and saw that friend executed, but at the last second he was given his freedom. 

Dean: This sense of death continues throughout the book. I remember that the Prince sees a friend wanting to commit suicide. (At her father’s funeral, Jane recalls, she had thought about ending her own life.)

Prof. Hughes: I mention this story because it brings us into a sense of what is real, while at the same time the novel carries this enormous ideal, of a perfect person. Dostoevsky wanted to write a story about Prince Myshkin as a sort of Jesus, as Jesus might have lived in his time.  But his ideal did not work as Dostoevsky had planned.

Prof. Hawking: The story was not real.

Prof. Hughes: It was real if you identified with the Prince.

Prof. Hawking: It was unreal, surreal, I would say. The Prince reminded me of Don Quixote.

Prof. Hughes: There are dark energies hidden in this innocence. (Struggling with dark energies, Jane can identify with this.) Myshkin grapples with the meaning of death while, momentarily, he also experiences this “infinite joy.” He loves people. He loves all of God’s creation and delights in Beauty. In fact, I think that Dostoevsky is exploring the nature of beauty through Myshkin’s compassion. Myshkin feels joy as well as pain, and people see his beauty. [xii]

Dean: I’m not so sure. Do you remember the evil one in this story, Rogozhin? Rogozhin and the good Prince Myshkin are repelled and attracted to one another at the same time, like poles of a magnet.

A friend of mine, a psychoanalyst, read the book. He said that the evil one, Rogozhin, was the reverse of Myshkin, the good one. Rogozhin was the inverse of Myshkin. Do you remember?  Before the painting of the dead Christ, Rogozhin proposes that he and the Prince exchange with each other the crosses that they wear around their necks. And later he renounces the woman they both love, Natasha, and plans to kill her. He is evil personified.

Prof. Hughes: How does your psychoanalyst friend interpret what happened? 

Dean: Well, the two men also love one another, but the psychoanalyst says their “love” is rooted in sickness. Everyone in this story repels and attracts each other, like magnets. Magnets. Professor Hawking, would you tell us how a magnet works.

Prof. Hawking: Well. An electromagnet is a coil of wire wound around an iron core. When it is connected to a DC – or direct current – voltage, it becomes energized. (Hawking cocks his head at the Dean, who nods for him to continue.) The magnetic flux density is proportional to the magnitude of the current flowing in the wire. The polarity of the magnet is determined by the direction of the current. If you reverse the leads, the electrons will “flow” in the other direction.

Dean: And so these figures repelled one another and at the same time were bound together with an electric intensity. The magnetic attraction was a “high current.”

 Prof. Hughes: Tell us more about what your friend said. It sounds complex. (Derek perks again up at the word “complex.”)

Dean (continuing with the plot): The Prince finds Rogozhin and discovers that he has killed Natasha, the woman he loves. They walk together, in darkness and silence, until they reach the studio where Rogozhin had killed her with his knife. Now we see a real complex situation. The Prince trembles at the sight of Natasha’s body, which is lying before them cold. (This Prince is no Jesus.) The two men exchange a few words: “It’s hot, there’ll be a smell, we could cover her with flowers.”  (Prof. Hughes tells this event in a matter-of-fact way that makes  students shudder, as they feel the horror of this cold death scene.)

Prof Hawking: What happens?

Dean: I should let Professor Hughes continue telling the story.

Prof. Hughes: Myshkin and Rogozhin spend the night in each other’s arms. Beside them hangs a curtain, concealing the dead girl’s body. The prince gently strokes Rogozhin’s hair. (Pause.) Dawn arrives with the police and other people coming to the door. Rogozhin confesses to the murder; he’s tried in court and ends up in a Siberian prison, while the Prince goes back into his sanatorium in Switzerland. He goes back into idiocy, where the story started, and now ends.

Dean: My friend said this story was about the sickness in humankind. Prince Myshkin was far from a perfect man; he was very sick.

Prof. Hughes: So, this is not an ordinary story about love and romance! (Looks at Hawking.) It’s about reality. It tells us how we are bound up with one another in strange ways, through sickness, death, and strange forms of love. (Jane feels a chill, and cradles her arms together around her.)

Prof. Hawking: (to the Dean). What does this say to us about our physical nature?

Dean: The forces of attraction-and-repulsion in the physics of the Big Bang have gone through a long evolution, changing energies and contexts. Now it has taken this human form, where it can assume many intense human varieties, as my psychoanalyst friend sees, such as sadism, masochism, and madness.  There are all sorts of repelling-and-attracting relationships going on inside the human psyche, conscious and unconscious.

Prof. Hughes: The Ancient Greeks would say that Hubris – the violence that arises from overweening pride – drags Nastasha and Rogozhin to their fate. Myshkin is so sympathetic that he suffers with them both. He suffers with them so much that he cannot overcome his former sickness and idiocy. He cannot transcend the static energy going on in his mind, a deadly polarity. It moves him back into insanity.

Prof. Hawking: Well, I would say that the Prince is like the planet Mars moving toward life at one time in its lifespan, but then falling back into static electricity. This is physical reality. Dust storms rage across the surface of Mars with toxic chemicals that could poison any form of life there.

Dean: A good metaphor! I asked my friend, the psychoanalyst: How might the Prince have overcome his sickness?

Prof. Hawking: So, what did he say?

Dean: The Prince has a good attitude, which is the first step. He identifies with his friends and shows some compassion; that’s good. But then, to overcome this madness, he must detach and re-position himself as a separate human being. The Prince would have to transcend the aspect of himself that keeps him overly attached to these others, cross beyond this low and base feature of his personality that contributes to his idiocy. He must distance himself from all of them. He must become objective about what is happening.

He is trapped by excessive sympathy, embroiled in this fixed attraction, as though pulled by gravity. So he could not rise above this gravitation and move beyond his madness. (Jane feels that at some point, she must become more objective…. But how?)

Prof. Hawking: (challenging him.) Is our “physical nature” your “text”? Does matter, really matter?

Prof. Hughes: Well, the same forces of physics are working here at this human level. Nature invents and transcends as the Dean has proposed. The Prince simply could not invent and transcend. He could not build a new life for himself. He is static, yes, like Mars, as you suggest. That’s his reality. 

Prof. Hawking: Today neurologists would examine his brain. That could be the source of his problem.

Dean: But I gather that literary theorists want to reveal all the oppositions: Matter and Mind, the Real and the Ideal. They see them as intricately bound together. We cannot avoid nature in its real and ideal forms. These oppositions are constant.

Prof. Hughes: Exactly. For Derrida, every text will evade a final judgment. In a university study of nature, we must face these binaries.

Prof. Hawking: Matter or Mind? (still insistent.) Which is more real?

Prof. Hughes: In every “text” something is left out. Nature as a text forces us to look for more than what we think is real.

Prof. Hawking: (Brusquely.) Look. The “final reality” is dust – for all of us. Check that out when you die.

(Jane shudders. Sick about the loss of her father, she feels that Prof. Hawking is somehow speaking to her condition.)

Dean: So, there is no way to avoid this “interplay” – life/death, absence/presence. The difference keeps us going, seeing them forever in a new way. Each one of us lives through these differences, each in our own ways.

Prof. Hughes: And so it is our task to transcend, which is what occurs in physical nature. We cannot let one side trap us – as in some idealism versus materialism.

Dean: Sounds like Aristotle: We must find a middle ground?

Prof. Hughes: Yes, but more complex. Derrida argues that every structure has a history. We can understand a text better by looking at its origins. Keep interrogating; keep asking questions.

Dean: Keep trying to find out about our history in the Big Bang -- before we die.

Prof. Hughes: What do students think about this?

Mary: Look at the rhetoric:  Big against small, night against day, old against young. One side cannot be known without the other. They are total opposites, but they are dependent on each other.

Dean: But wait. Your examples invoke an “either/or” dichotomy, which points to the logic of sensation and empirical research, not the logic of symbolic life. We need to think of Aristotle’s law on the excluded middle.[xiii] 

Prof. Hughes: Yes. When we think at the symbolic level, these references to “day” and “night” become more complex. The two images “old and young” can join into a unity through a third form. A physically old man can be young at heart. “A dark night” can last beyond the next “day.” [xiv]  (Jane has read about what happened to St. John, in his “dark night of the soul,” but the description of his experience had never registered for her so much as it does now.)

Jane: What about life versus death? Who wins?

Dean: That’s what we are here to find out. (Silence. Jane scrunches lower in her seat.)


Jerry: (changing the subject) So Derrida says these binaries organize thought in all cultures.

Prof. Hughes: Yes, but Derrida sees “binaries” as different from physical opposites, like night and day.

Prof. Hawking:  But the alternation of day-and-night is a physical reality. 

Prof. Hughes: Yes, and yet, his binaries have a deeper meaning as well. For example, we think of good as superior to bad, but the question of what is good and what is bad is more complex in The Idiot. This is what makes the novel so good. (He chuckles as he says “good.”)

Prof. Hawking: What do you mean?

Prof. Hughes: Dostoevsky gives us a sense of how they can be reversed: of how good can be bad and bad can be good. The reader is not always sure who is right and who is wrong. The author keeps you thinking.

Derek: We are taught these binaries from childhood. Parents teach us how they are separate and opposed to each other.

Prof. Hughes: Exactly. Typically, parents assign the hierarchy that Derrida talks about: GOOD is better than EVIL. LIGHT is better than DARK (focusing on students). But life is more complex. (He holds his hand on his chin, pondering.) Life is more complex than death.

Jane: What do you mean?

 (But now, another silence. No one speaks.)

Prof. Hawking (breaking the silence): I still want to know what this has to do with physics.

Prof. Hughes: Derrida’s theory is like David Bohm’s theory. Bohm, a great physicist, described pairs of opposites, such as explicit versus implicit, and particle versus wave.  He talked about the instability of the quantum world as against the stability of Newton’s universe. Physicists talk about the indeterminacy of quanta versus the determinacy of the everyday world.

Prof. Hawking: Okay, but physics is an entirely different field of thought. It is too big a jump to go from Derrida to Bohm.

Prof. Hughes: Still, nature keeps its mystery in these binaries. Look. Derrida creates a neologism written as différance – as opposed to the word difference, spelled the same both in his French and our English -- to emphasize the possibility of its mystery (writes on the blackboard). He is showing the instability of human language. Language is like quantum physics and, I would say, close to Bohm.

Dean: What does his new word mean?

Prof. Hughes: Différance points to the “arbitrary” way that we create hierarchies -- like light over dark. If you took a survey, most people would prefer light to dark, determinacy over indeterminacy. But both conditions coexist in reality. That’s the mystery.

Dean: Yes.

Prof. Hughes: Derrida invented the word différance. It can only be identified through a visual text. He was showing how writing could be superior to speech on occasion. (You can’t hear the difference; you must see the word with your eyes.)

Dean: That’s funny.

Prof. Hughes: But wait. The real "meaning" of différance is no more present in the written form than in the spoken form. Différance is neither a word nor a concept. Derrida points to something more that remains unseen in a text.

Prof. Hawking: That’s gobbledygook. I don’t accept it.

Prof. Hughes: Gobbledygook. Well, is it as bad as string theory in physics? (smiles at his own blunt rebuttal) Both are beyond us. String theory points to what is beyond our ken; you don’t know what it is. Nature remains a mystery. Something always lies beyond our grasp.

Prof. Hawking: (more calmly): Now please try to explain again, so that I can understand, how could physical nature be a text?

Prof. Hughes: Derrida uses the word "assemblage" to refer to the web-like character of things.  He sees an unending combination of texts and contexts, endlessly reshuffled to produce meaning.

Dean: Words are assembled in our nature in ways that require something to be hidden.

Prof. Hawking: Derrida is crazy. I feel like Alan Sokal all over again. 

Prof. Hughes: But you don’t say Bohm is crazy. Why is that? Is it your identity with physics? This "assemblage" between binaries -- existence and non-existence, say, or presence and absence – is close to Bohm’s implicate-and-explicate order in physics. It occupies an indeterminate and intermediate position between the terms of these binary oppositions.[xv]

Dean: Wait. Better slow down. You’re moving too rapidly now. This is getting too complex. (Looks to students most of whom nod Yes, except for a few who shake their heads No. Jane is feeling lost again.)

Okay, take this idea one more step. Then we will stop.

Prof. Hughes: Language for Derrida is “web-like, interwoven and inter-related.” Each word is the sum of many interwoven parts in its history. The evolution of language is not straight and linear, not simply created by a past and future. 

Prof. Hawking: More nonsense.

Mary: But, could the evolution of language be like a mirror to what happens in physical evolution? [xvi]   

Dean: That is the big question. Are we imitating physical nature by inventing new words, similar to the way in which nature invents new things? Do we, constantly work to transcend the past, as does our physical nature?

Prof. Hughes (looks toward Prof. Hawking): You speak of black holes-and-white holes… particle-and-wave… implicate-and-explicate… alive-and-dead. Right? Scientists also are engaged in figuring out these binaries. What do you say?

Prof. Hawking: We are working on them. A white hole is the opposite of a black hole. A black hole acts as “an absorber for any matter that crosses the event horizon.” A white hole acts as “a source that ejects matter from its event horizon.” The sign of the acceleration does not vary under time reversal, so both black and white holes attract matter. The only difference between them is in their behavior at the horizon of an event. [xvii]

Dean: That, too, is hard to follow. Not all of our students are majoring in science.

Prof. Hughes: In The Idiot, the forces in the characters are mutually involved. The madness of the Prince is simultaneously the madness of his culture. 

Prof. Hawking:  Before you continue, think about what I am saying in my terms: the origin of things is not to be found in culture. There are forces outside us that are vital to understand -- like the earth, the atmosphere, and the physical environment. All this is real to me. And these should count in our discussion of nature.

Dean: Prof. Hughes, do literary theorists take account of the physical world “out there,” in Professor Hawking’s sense?

Prof. Hughes: Yes, I agree with Professor Hawking.

Prof. Hawking: So scientists can explain our origin in terms of material forces. Would you agree?[xviii]

Prof. Hughes: No. That’s going too far. That’s reductionism. I say that “nature” is a tangle of the “body-and-mind.” The Big Bang must have contained this opposition before the creation of culture. Otherwise, we would not be here, talking about it.

Prof. Hawking: But culture was created from physical nature. There was a sequence in time from molecules to organisms – long before culture evolved.

Prof. Hughes: But, culture incorporated all the elements that had preceded it into the body-and-mind. Culture “took in” all previous elements as people transformed from animals to humans, from simple gestures or shrieks to symbols and language. Culture is a transcendent feature that has   incorporated, and now embodies, all the elements. It is different from our body but is mutually involved with it. 

Dean. Oh, and Professor Hawking, you talked about this idea in our last class. Hold on. (The Dean writes on the blackboard:



Prof. Hawking: Yes, that word is not in my vocabulary; it’s not in science, not in my field. 

Dean: Prof. Hawking, we talked about importing the word from the humanities -- into science. It is like the way we are importing the words of science into the humanities. We adjust and define, redefine. It’s like human animals adjusting to a new climate. Couldn’t we say that?

We want to create a new climate for thought on campus. New words could produce a different basis for conversations among faculties. But let me say to you, as I did before in our discussions, transcendence does not refer to something supernatural.

Prof. Hawking: Well then, what does it mean, for goodness sake?

Dean: It refers to an entity, anything from an atom to a person, which changes itself completely. Whatever it may be, the entity changes entirely and goes beyond its past form. But this new entity (or being) incorporates key elements from its past and shows greater complexity. And it has more potential to evolve. We call it “transcendent” when it remains part of the community of things around it and reveals to us a new stage. But this is not the same as progress.

Prof. Hawking: Good. Progress in science means the rate at which something changes. We do not talk about molecules “transcending” from atoms.[xix]

Dean: Yet they did. Molecules included atoms and became more complex. And here we are as human beings composed of molecules but going beyond them. Atoms carried that greater potential to lead to our being here on earth, like the potential of an acorn to become an oak, as we’ve also pointed out.

Prof. Hawking: Okay.

Dean: It’s real, not an ideal. So now you, as a scientist, are part of this process, producing molecules in the laboratory. In nanotechnology, you may be capable of changing the course of our evolution. In that case, you would then be acting like nature itself. …. (There is a quiet moment, everyone resonating with the import of this statement: What will physicists like Professor Hawking do with all that power?)

Tom: (breaking the silence.) I can see a problem with this process in biology. A normal cell may transform, or change, but become malignant. The cell spreads and destroys the whole body.

Dean: Yes. But we can also see positive transformation. Animal eyes transformed slowly by natural selection. Rods and cones were added and eyes continued to evolve.

Tom: Okay. Animals began to see more colors and shapes. They could gather more information about their environment. They survived better.

Dean: What do other students think about this idea of transcendence? Think about the literature in your major field. (quiet)

 Barbara: For political science? I don’t know what it would mean.

Dean: In political science, we see governments transform. Adolph Hitler transformed Germany into an authoritarian state. It was a complete change in a short period of time. What happened?

Barbara: We would call it a cancer. Germany transformed back into an old pattern of dictatorship, like a malignancy spreading everywhere. Hitler wanted to expand and unify the world around him. The Nazis transformed the country from what it had been most recently, but they did not transcend. They reverted to authoritarianism; something like what Germany had had before with Bismarck.[xx]

(Prof. Hawking knits his eyebrows, shaking his head.)

Prof. Hawking: When Hitler came to power, people thought he was progressive.

Dean: That’s right. You have to look at the process and the outcome. A transformation can go anywhere. A new entity may destroy or create. It may add to the survival of an organism or not. It may add to the wellbeing and development of a country or not.

Prof. Hawking: Tell me more about what you think transcendence has to do with my field.

Dean: Each entity that transforms, surpasses its past by adding a different structure. The new structure adds a new function and makes the entity more capable of survival. In the process it adds value to the whole process of change.

Prof. Hawking: Nonsense. We don’t deal with “values.” This word “value” would require an operational definition and enormous research. I can’t use it.

Dean: Let me describe it another way. An entity, like an atom, develops a new structure that offers a greater resource for going beyond its past. A molecule’s atoms are its “members.”  Atoms provide the foundation of the molecule. They are of immense value to the molecule.

Prof. Hawking: What?

Dean: The value of the atom is greater because it is now part of a molecule that has more potential to evolve.  (Hawking scowls. The two contenders are suddenly quiet.)

What do students think?

Tom (in support of the Dean): Biologists discovered how prokaryote cells merge with one another to become a larger cell. The larger cell then survives with more potential. It will now evolve further. (Hawking is looking cantankerous.)

Dean: Tell us more.

Tom: A small prokaryote joins with a larger prokaryote and supplies it with a new structure that has a new function. This adds to its power. The collaboration of the two cells gives this new cell new energy. 

Prof. Hawking: New energy. Now you’re talking. That’s in my field, at least. How does this happen?

Tom: Fossil records show that eukaryotes evolved from prokaryotes about two billion years ago when two prokaryote cells merged to become a larger cell.

Mary: (jumps in) Ah! This turns out to be a synthesis. It is the principle of the metaphor showing up in energy and matter.

Tom: We call it a symbiotic union. The two cells join forces and become part of the larger community of cells. The host cell gains from the chemical energy it produced. The two parts became one. And this added to the potential of the single cell for evolution. It now becomes more creative.[xxi]

Prof. Hawking: How do you know what is creative and what is not?  (Students sit up more eagerly; this could be a “gotcha” statement.)

Dean: I have been proposing that the main force of evolution is creative in the long haul. We go from atoms to molecules to cells to organisms and to consciousness. Each stage brings together parts from the past to create something new. Each new thing transcends all the past stages.

Tom: (boldly). And every new thing becomes the foundation for the next stage.

Dean: Exactly. The past parts (e.g., earlier atoms inside later molecules) become the basis for the next stage of cells. Molecules are the foundation for cells; then cells are the foundation for organisms. Would you agree? (Prof. Hawking’s right eyebrow goes up; he is cogitating. The class glances back and forth between him and the Dean, relishing the debate, but Tom goes on.)

Tom: But with a malignant cell, this foundation is destroyed.

Dean: Anybody else? I’d like to know what other students think? (Jane is pondering. The Dean looks toward Barbara.)

Barbara: I’m not sure how what you’re saying fits with my studies. In the body politic of Nazi Germany, no new structure was created to surpass the past. Its elite suppressed people. Citizens lost their freedom and their value.

Prof. Hawking: I am opposed to adding these terms “value” and “transcendence” to our conversation. They smack of religion. Where did this word “transcendence” come from?

Dean: I looked up the origins of the word “transcendence” (shuffling through his notes). It comes from Latin—transcendere—via 14th century Middle English, and first meant, “to climb over or across.” It developed as a transitive verb that means to “rise above” something; and came to mean, “to go beyond the limits” of what has happened before. Then it developed the connotation of “outdoing” something. It can mean to “outstrip” or “exceed” the past. It’s a secular word.


Prof. Hawking: That sounds nuts! In what context could I say that the molecule “outdid” or “outstripped” the atom? No scientist would say that the molecule is better than the atom. 

Dean: Well, not “better than”; just new and different, with more potential; in relation to and measured against the past, it has greater energy.

We see that that the molecule depends upon its “member atoms.” The molecule cannot exist without its members holding it together. So this new molecule transcends the past, but it cannot survive without its parts. It needs them.

Prof. Hughes: Let’s say, “need” should be substituted for  “value.” (Prof. Hawking frowns, knitting his brows again.) Let’s see. What do other students think? Might these terms have an application in other disciplines?

James: In economics, the private market added potential for societies to evolve. Capitalist markets became a new structure in which more individuals were valued more than ever before. (The Dean, impressed, is beaming at him.)

Tom: In biology, when an animal adds a new structure that it never had before, like a wing, this new structure adds value because it increases the animal’s capacity to survive. Animals construct wings to escape enemies. (Now both the Dean and Prof.Hawking are looking impressed.)

Dean: Barbara, what about political science?

Barbara:  I would need to study the question more.

Dean: Think about the literature you’ve been reading.

Barbara: The American colonists had predecessors for developing democracy. And, well, structures were added, one at a time.  I think the colonists did transcend all previous democracies. But, I would have to look more into the history of democracy.

Dean: In the last class, you mentioned the Magna Carta as a step evolving in this direction. That was a new structure for its time. Now do you recall those ancient Greeks who created democracy?

Barbara: Democracy for the Greeks was limited to the elite males. No slaves and no women could vote. Yeah, and for the nobles during feudalism, the Magna Carta was a new structure. 

 Dean: The Magna Carta was issued in the thirteenth century, and then Switzerland’s experiment came later, around the fifteenth century.

Barbara: Yes, but Swiss democracy is very different from any other system in the world. The people voted directly on government policies.[xxii]

Dean: Switzerland has a history more than four times as long as that of the United States. So the evolution of democracy is uneven, like the evolution of nature.

Barbara: Look at the kibbutz in Israel. Democracy is evolving more variety. You could say it is a species that is evolving piece by piece.[xxiii]

James: And I see democratic structures in the   market system. Our stock exchanges are experimenting with democracy. Trade associations are built on democratic principles. 

Barbara: I agree. I will look into the literature more. Maybe this could even become my masters’ thesis.

Dean: Very good. Right now, though, I hold to this hypothesis I have just written down. Listen to this (speaking slowly): 

Transcendence occurs when an entity transforms into something new by synthesis— surpassing the past, adding a structure—which gives it a greater power and energy to evolve. This change happens in its own locale. It must fit into its surrounding community.

Prof. Hawking: (sensing an error) You are “prioritizing” the community. The surrounding community is more important than its “individuals.” 

Dean: But remember: “Individual” members are also important to this new entity. They find a new place in the whole. They are as just as important as the new entity itself. The atom, the molecule, and the cell cannot do without the individuals upon which they depend. (Tom feels like he has lost the thread for the moment. Jane is ready to leave; all this is too heavy for her current condition.)

Alice: One thing dies and is reborn into something new…. It’s pretty simple. But I’m worried where it is all going.  What about our question earlier—Who are we?”

Dean: (pauses) At this point we are human beings “becoming” more than we have ever been before. What would you say we are, based on our discussion so far?

Alice: The past is inside our bodies – atoms, molecules and cells. The future is in our potential, our greater awareness of where we have been and where we are going. We could transcend into something new.

Prof. Hawking: I’m still not convinced about this “transcendence.” Evolution is not a morality play.

Dean: I agree. But what lies ahead? Do we go back or forward, up, down? The Dean is not sure where this discussion may yet go, but at the moment he is looking quizzically toward Mary. Then, he writes on the blackboard:

Rhetoric: Grounds for Future Research.

Dean: Professor Hughes I must tell you.  After our last class, I asked Mary if she would talk to us about how Rhetoric could inform our discussion, where we have been and where we are we going. Perhaps you could join us in this discussion. She has prepared something special to present to us.

Mary, I think you have something important to impart to us. Would you start with “What is rhetoric?”

Mary:  (Mary is a little shy, but she stands up like a trooper as the Dean sits down in a front row seat.) Rhetoric is the way people are convincing and artful in talking or writing. It’s the art of persuasion. 

Prof. Hughes: That’s right (encouragingly). It’s the way we use symbols to produce what we want to happen.

Mary: Yes (catching her breath, and proud of her research on the topic). Kenneth Burke defined rhetoric as “symbolic action” -- writing, speaking and acting through symbols.

Dean: Mary, could you tell us what rhetoricians do?

Mary: Yes, they study what are called “tropes.” Tropes are “figurative language” as opposed to “literal language.” They offer different ways to use language -- to speak and write more forcefully and more eloquently.

 Dean: We need examples. 

Mary: I am thinking of alliteration, synecdoche, metonymy, onomatopoeia, chiasmus, irony, allegory, and more.  Maybe you’ve heard of some of the more common ones. I can’t remember them all, and so I made a list to hand out to everyone. It would take a lot more research than I’ve done to say if they apply to the study of evolution, but I’m starting to think they do. (She gives the pages of the list to the Dean’s assistant to hand out to the class): Maybe you could have a look at these (suddenly shy again).


Tropes in linguistics[xxiv]


    * allegory: An extended metaphor in which a story is told to illustrate an important attribute of the subject

    * allusion: An indirect reference to another work of literature or art

    * anacoenosis: Posing a question to an audience, often with the implication that it shares a common interest with the speaker

    * antanaclasis: A form of pun in which a word is repeated in two different senses

    * anthimeria: The substitution of one part of speech for another, often turning a noun into a verb

    * antiphrasis: A word or words used contradictory to their usual meaning, often with irony

    * antonomasia: The substitution of a phrase for a proper name or vice versa

    * aphorism: A tersely phrased statement of a truth or opinion, an adage

    * apophasis: Invoking an idea by denying its invocation

    * aporia: Deliberating with oneself, often with the use of rhetorical questions

    * apostrophe: Addressing a thing, an abstraction or a person not present

    * archaism: Use of an obsolete, archaic word(a word used in older language, e.g., Shakespeare's language)

    * auxesis: A form of hyperbole, in which a more important sounding word is used in place of a more descriptive term

    * bathos: a descent from elevated to commonplace style; anti-climax

    * catachresis: A mixed metaphor (sometimes used by design and sometimes a rhetorical fault)

    * circumlocution: "Talking around" a topic by substituting or adding words, as in euphemism or periphrasis

    * commiseration: Evoking pity in the audience.

    * correctio: Linguistic device used for correcting one's mistakes, a form of which is epanorthosis.

    * denominatio: Another word for metonymy

    * double negative: grammar error that can be used as an expression and is the repetition of negative words

    * epanorthosis: Immediate and emphatic self-correction, often following a slip of the tongue.

    * enumeratio: A form of amplification in which a subject is divided, detailing parts, causes, effects, or consequences to make a point more forcibly.

    * erotema: Synonym for rhetorical question

    * euphemism: Substitution of a less offensive or more agreeable term for another

    * hermeneia: Repetition for the purpose of interpreting what has already been said

    * hyperbole: Use of exaggerated terms for emphasis

    * hypophora: Answering one's own rhetorical question at length

    * hysteron proteron: Reversal of anticipated order of events

    * innuendo: Having a hidden meaning in a sentence that makes sense whether it is detected or not

    * invocation: An apostrophe to a god or muse

    * irony: Use of word in a way that conveys a meaning opposite to its usual meaning

    * litotes: Emphasizing the magnitude of a statement by denying its opposite

    * malapropism: Using a word through confusion with a word that sounds similar

    * meiosis: Use of understatement, usually to diminish the importance of something

    * metalepsis: Referring to something through reference to another thing to which it is remotely related

    * metaphor: An implied comparison of two unlike things

    * metonymy: Substitution in which an attribute of something is used to stand for the thing itself,

    * neologism: The use of a word or term that has recently been created, or has been in use for a short time. Opposite of archaism.

    * onomatopoeia: Words that sound like their meaning

    * oxymoron: Using two terms together, that normally contradict each other

    * parable: An extended metaphor told as an anecdote to illustrate or teach a moral lesson

    * paradox: Use of apparently contradictory ideas to point out some underlying truth

    * parallel irony: conveys a meaning same in an expression [a “same meaning”? This definition seems unclear to me. –ed]

    * paralipsis: Drawing attention to something while pretending to pass it over

    * paronomasia: A form of pun, in which words similar in sound but with different meanings are used

    * pathetic fallacy: Using a word that refers to a human action on something non-human

    * periphrasis: Substitution of a word or phrase for a proper name

    * personification/prosopopoeia/anthropomorphism: Attributing or [okay?—ed]applying human qualities to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena

    * praeteritio: Another word for paralipsis

    * procatalepsis: Refuting anticipated objections as part of the main argument

    * prolepsis: Another word for procatalepsis

    * proslepsis: An extreme form of paralipsis in which the speaker provides great detail while feigning to pass over a topic

    * proverb:A succinct or pithy expression of what is commonly observed and believed to be true.

    * rhetorical question: Asking a question as a way of asserting something. Or asking a question not for the sake of getting an answer but for asserting something (or as in a poem for creating a poetic effect).

    * simile: An explicit comparison between two things

    * syllepsis: A form of pun, in which a single word is used to modify two other words, with which it normally would have differing meanings

    * syncatabasis ("condescension, accommodation"): adaptation of style to the level of the audience

    * synecdoche: A form of metonymy, in which a part stands for the whole

    * synesthesia: The description of one kind of sense impression by using words that normally describe another

    * transferred epithet: The placing of an adjective with what appears to be the incorrect noun

    * truism: a self-evident statement

    * tricolon diminuens: A combination of three elements, each decreasing in size

    * tricolon crescens: A combination of three elements, each increasing in size

    * zeugma: a figure of speech related to syllepsis, but different in that the word used as a modifier is not compatible with one of the two words it modifies

    * zoomorphism: applying animal characteristics to humans or gods




Mary: We can talk about these tropes as part of our discussion of nature. But first I want to give you a second list with schemes that also apply to this study. These lists give much more information than you need right now, but they are for reference. And you may start to see from them how the mind uses language to create all sorts of linguistic products, from persuasive arguments to works of literature. The physical principles that produced the human brain may be hidden here somewhere. (Assistant hands out pages of second list).

Schemes in Linguistics

    * accumulation: Summarization of previous arguments in a forceful manner

    * adnominatio: Repetition of a word with a change in letter or sound

    * alliteration: A series of words that begin with the same letter or sound alike

    * anacoluthon: A change in the syntax within a sentence

    * anadiplosis: Repetition of a word at the end of a clause or the beginning of another

    * anaphora: The repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginning of successive clauses

    * anastrophe: Inversion of the usual word order.

    * anticlimax: the arrangement of words in order of decreasing importance

    * antimetabole: Repetition of words in successive clauses, in reverse order

    * antistrophe: The repetition of the same word or phrase at the end of successive clauses

    * antithesis: The juxtaposition of opposing or contrasting ideas

    * aphorismus: statement that calls into question the definition of a word

    * aposiopesis: Breaking off or pausing speech for dramatic or emotional effect

    * apostrophe: Directing the attention away from the audience and to a personified abstraction

    * apposition: The placing of two elements side by side, in which the second defines the first

    * assonance: The repetition of vowel sounds, most commonly within a short passage of verse

    * asteismus: Facetious or mocking answer that plays on a word

    * asyndeton: Omission of conjunctions between related clauses

    * cacophony: The juxtaposition of words producing a harsh sound

    * classification (literature & grammar): linking a proper noun and a common noun with an article

    * chiasmus: Reversal of grammatical structures in successive clauses

    * climax: The arrangement of words in order of increasing importance

    * consonance: The repetition of consonant sounds, most commonly within a short passage of verse

    * diorimazeau: [N.B. definition missing—ed]

    * dystmesis: A synonym for tmesis

    * ellipsis: Omission of words

    * enallage: The substitution of forms that are grammatically different, but have the same meaning

    * enthymeme: Informal method of presenting a syllogism

    * epanalepsis: Repetition of the initial word or words of a clause or sentence at the end of the clause or sentence.

    * epistrophe: The counterpart of anaphora

    * euphony: The opposite of cacophony - i.e. pleasant sounding

    * hendiadys: Use of two nouns to express an idea when the normal structure would be a noun and a modifier

    * hendiatris: Use of three nouns to express one idea

    * homographs: Words that are identical in spelling but different in origin and meaning

    * homonyms: Words that are identical with each other in pronunciation and spelling, but differing in origin and meaning

    * homophones: Words that are identical with each other in pronunciation and spelling, but differing in origin and meaning

[Is there is any distinction between “homonyms” and “homophones”?]

    * hypallage: Changing the order of words so that they are associated with words normally associated with others

    * hyperbaton: Schemes featuring unusual or inverted word order

    * isocolon: Use of parallel structures of the same length in successive clauses

    * internal rhyme : Using two or more rhyming words in the same sentence

    * kenning: A metonymic compound where the terms together form a sort of synecdoche

    * non sequitur: a statement that bears no relationship to the context preceding

    * merism: Referring to a whole by enumerating some of its parts

    * paradiastole: Repetition of the disjunctive pair "neither" and "nor".

    * parallelism: The use of similar structures in two or more clauses

    * paranomasia:

    * paraprosdokian: Unexpected ending or truncation of a clause

    * parenthesis: Insertion of a clause or sentence in a place where it interrupts the natural flow of the sentence

    * paroemion: A resolute alliteration in which every word in a sentence or phrase begins with the same letter

    * parrhesia: Speaking openly or boldly, or apologizing for doing so (declaring to do so)

    * perissologia: The fault of wordiness

    * pleonasm: The use of superfluous or redundant words

    * polyptoton: Repetition of words derived from the same root

    * polysyndeton: Repetition of conjunctions

    * pun: When a word or phrase is used in two different senses

    * sibilance: Repetition of letter 's', it is a form of alliteration

          or spoonerism: jumbling of the letters in words by a funny way

    * synchysis: Interlocked word order

    * synesis: An agreement of words according to the sense, and not the grammatical form

    * synizesis: The pronunciation of two juxtaposed vowels or diphthongs as a single sound

    * synonymia: The use of two or more synonyms in the same clause or sentence

    * tautology: Redundancy due to superfluous qualification; saying the same thing twice

    * tmesis: Division of the elements of a compound word.



Dean: Well, these lists are certainly more thorough than I had expected! I have two questions right off the bat—one specific, the other one general. First, would you tell us what a “trope” is?

Mary: A trope is typically just called a “figure of speech.” It is a word or phrase used in a way differently than we would normally use that word or phrase.

Dean: Okay. And now, can you give us a general statement about how these tropes and schemes apply to our immediate study: how do you think they might explain physical and human evolution?[xxv]

Mary: I am following our last lecture on synthesis. A metaphor is a device that means putting together very different images to create a new image.

Dean: Right, we said it matches the scientific concept of synthesis for describing evolution, like two different atoms coming together to create a more complex atom.

Mary: So when we say, “She is a star,” it’s a metaphor. Two different things are identified with one another, simply connected by the word “is.” This common identity of different things or images produces a new idea. Or when we formally compare these same two images— a woman and a star, the figure of speech becomes a simile; we say she is like “a star.” Then, if we elaborate on the comparison, the figure becomes an analogy.

Dean: This concept of analogy will connect us with sociology and Herbert Spencer’s theory of evolution. Professor Hawking, what do you say at the outset about Mary’s proposal of linking language use to evolution?

Prof. Hawking:  Okay, but this is not the same as what we do in chemistry. Metaphors take place only in the mind. It is not the same as synthesizing hydrogen and oxygen to make water.

Prof. Hughes: But your synthesis creates a new form of matter just like humans create a new idea. Is this physical action not based on the same fundamental principle as the metaphor? (Prof. Hawking pauses to think about this question.)

Mary (continuing): The metaphor helps explain the evolution of language. I am proposing that the same principle operates outside in nature -- atoms to molecules to cells to organisms and ultimately, for humans, to verbal communication. The evolution of language follows like night follows day, like molecules follow atoms. (Mary is charged.) And “language” is the most advanced stage of evolution on earth – beyond all atoms and animals! 

Prof. Hawking: Are you saying that the principles explaining the evolution of language could explain all previous stages of evolution?

Mary: Well. I never thought about it that way before. I just started to think about this idea in this seminar.  So…look at onomatopoeia – which refers to words that sound like their meaning, words like “hiss” for snakes or “buzz” for insects. We use these words when we talk to children, and maybe this is the way early human beings began to talk.

Look at bathos. This word points to mocking or someone saying something not sincere. This might have first appeared among animals that began to become conscious and tried to fool each other. My cat plays tricks on me, pretending one thing and doing another. She tricks herself, batting a ball of yarn with one paw, pretending that it has actually moved by itself so she can run after it. (Everybody laughs.)

Dean: I think Mary is exploring the idea that language evolved according to principles that explain what happened in nature. It evolved in like matter.

Prof. Hawking: Mary, you have a good imagination. Excellent. (Grins.) Did you invent this idea of animals coming to consciousness and using the primitive elements of language for a particular purpose? (Mary looks confused, uncertain whether he means to be complementary or just sarcastic.)

Dean: (quickly intervening). It looks to me like invention is the key to evolution. Mary, tell us more.


Mary: Let’s see. I was going to say that alliteration refers to the repetition of the same consonant sounds in a sentence, such as d’s and s’s in “Dusk demands daylight,” or d’s and l’s in “Dewdrops dwell delicately” and “drawing dazzling delight.”

 I would ask Professor Hawking: Could alliteration be a principle that is in the nature of things? Is it like replication in chemistry? Could this same principle be at work at different stages of evolution? (She pauses, looking thoughtful.)

Prof. Hawking: James Watson and Francis Crick—they discovered the structure of DNA—talked about replication in genetic material. There is a lot we could discuss about replication in chemistry, but right now there’s no time. (Friendly now.)

Prof. Hughes: Mary is suggesting that this principle of replication may apply across all disciplines. What about other major fields?  Students?

Tom: In biology, Richard Dawkins coined the term meme referring to a “replicator.” He applied it to both genetic and cultural evolution.  

Prof. Hughes: Replication. Could that be a key principle explaining culture in evolution? Tell us more.

Tom: Dawkins said a meme is an “information pattern” held in a person’s memory. It is replicated, that is copied to another individual's memory. This explains the replication of all items in culture, such as tunes, catch phrases, beliefs, clothing fashions, ways of making pots, and the technology of building arches.

Dean (to Prof. Hughes): What do you think? This would be right in your area of expertise.

Prof. Hughes: Not bad, but not good.

Dean: What’s the problem?

Prof. Hughes: The problem is the way it is elaborated from the standpoint of biology, rather than that of anthropology. Some memes (ideas, tunes, technologies) become extinct in culture, and others survive, spread, and mutate, as in biology. So the idea appears good at first.

 Memes are then supposed to evolve by natural selection – the principles of variation, mutation, competition, and inheritance. But this attempt at expanding the idea, I say, is not right on the mark. The evolution of culture is far more complex than this.[xxvi]

Dean: So you would argue that culture is more complex than biology? The principles of natural selection do not explain the evolution of culture?

Prof. Hughes (nodding his head): Yes.

Dean: Okay, we can talk about this more later, in terms of anthropology. We interrupted you, Mary, in the middle of your discussion. Could you please start again where you left off?

Mary: Okay. I was saying that alliteration is the repetition of the same sound in a sentence, like “the sweet smell of success.” Now I would add another device: Metonymy.

 Metonymy is a figure of speech in which the attribute for something is used to stand for the thing itself, like “a man of the cloth” to mean a clergyman; or, “the brass,” which stands for military officers. It is the substitution of a word or phrase for another.

Dean: Prof. Hawking, is there a principle of “substitution” in science? Might we say that it is akin to the principle of substitution we study in language?  

Prof. Hawking: In science, sure. Scientists study the differences in substitution rates among nucleotides in mitochondrial protein-coding genes of vertebrates. [xxvii]

Dean: Well. Does this idea of metonymy -- as a principle of rhetoric -- mean the same thing as “substitution” in the science of nature? Is the word “metonymy” an expression of what you say happens in nature?

Prof. Hawking: Whether substitution in science— which is quantifiable, mind you— is in any way whatsoever comparable to what happens in language, I haven’t got a clue. I really know nothing about the matter.  I will say that “substitution” in language seems to me to be just a generalized term. That’s all. It’s just an abstraction, and frankly, a distraction.

Mary: But scientists use these terms. They use these same words in everyday life, just like all of the rest of us.

Prof. Hawking: Yeah. But so what?

Prof. Hughes: But that could be significant. Are your scientific words anthropomorphic?  Are you projecting the world of language into you’re the physical world? And again, my friend, are you privileging one over the other? (Prof. Hawking says nothing, thinking.)

Mary: To me, it’s interesting. One study showed that English speakers produced an average of 3000 novel metaphors per week. We are changing everyday. I think that collectively we are becoming something new everyday. 

Dean: In other words, these inventions are created everyday, but, for the most part, we don’t notice them. We might call this change but not transformation.

Prof. Hughes: (interrupting). The work of the literary theorist, Roland Barthes, is relevant in this context. He said that no sooner is a form seen than it must resemble something. Humanity, he said, is doomed to analogy.

Dean: In our perspective, the principle of analogy is also a promise. We are “doomed” to change by invention. We are becoming the inventors of nature.

Mary: In my research, I copied something down from Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen, which I’d say is also relevant here. They say that the way we understand everything is based on a metaphor of our senses. Let me quote:


Seeing has, in our culture, become synonymous with understanding. We 'look' at a problem. We 'see' the point. We adopt a 'viewpoint'. We 'focus' on an issue. We 'see things in perspective'. The world 'as we see it' (rather than 'as we know it' and certainly not 'as we hear it' or 'as we feel it') has become the measure for what is 'real' and 'true'.[xxviii]


Dean: And Mary, I would say you are right on track. So let’s talk about your proposal after class. I think it is excellent, worthy of advanced study. It also looks like you are moving into a higher plane so to speak… going into graduate research. It will require considerable thought, professionally. And you need to work with a scientist.

So, thanks for what you’ve brought us in a preliminary way about this idea. (Mary feels herself beaming, elated now at her prospects, as she is she is in the process of applying for a Ph.D. in literature.)

Now, Professor Hughes, could you bring us back to the novel—but not only as a literary form? How could a novel inform us about nature as it transforms itself in evolution?

Prof. Hughes: I just finished reading Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain. The scope of this novel is incredible. I think it applies to our case.

Dean: How?

Prof. Hughes: Let me go back to what Mary was saying and propose: All of nature can be seen as an allegory. I think Thomas Mann gives us an allegory in this story, but he has grounded it in reality (glancing at Prof. Hawking).

Prof. Hawking: An allegory? How can an allegory have anything to do with reality? What do you mean by allegory? (The Dean looks to Mary, his other speaker.)

Mary: (She raises her hand, proudly.) An allegory is a moral story, like John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, or Dante’s The Divine Comedy, or William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies. A writer uses this kind of story to present ideas – as if they were part of everyday events. But this leads the reader to go beyond these events and gain a new perspective.

Dean: (to Prof. Hughes) What’s so special about this particular allegory?

Prof. Hughes: Readers have said that The Magic Mountain is an allegory for our time, full of great ideas and feelings. It could represent what we are doing and where we are going in this class.

Dean: I can’t wait to hear!

Prof. Hughes: Let me tell you how this story unfolds.[xxix]

Hans Castorp is our hero, an ordinary young man, who goes to a sanitarium on a mountaintop for a vacation. He wants to see his cousin for a few days, but he is so attracted to the place that he stays seven years. During this time he meets an Italian scholar by the name of Settembrini and then a German pedagogue named Naphta. Settembrini is a humanist and somewhat methodical. Naphta is the reverse, like a volatile, flammable liquid. So here we see a great play of opposites. Hans is in the middle of these antagonists, who debate great ideas.

Prof. Hawking: What does this have to do with us?

Prof. Hughes: We are in this play of opposites, learning from faculties in very different disciplines loaded with powerful principles that clash.

Dean: Tell us more about this story.

Prof. Hughes: Settembrini is very rational, slightly brittle, with great human qualities. Naphta is wild, brilliant, and unpredictable. Hans Castorp, plain and run of the mill, is there to find out “who he is,” himself. He’s got to put it all together, I mean, to synthesize, if he can, all those opposing tempers and thoughts (pauses).

Alice: That sounds like a lot like our case. 

Dean: Wait. Is this story about evolution? 

Prof. Hughes: In this story, we see Hans Castorp evolve so to speak. The sequence of events brings about a slow awakening for him--as to who he is. 

Prof. Hawking: (somewhat impatient) So, how does it end?

Prof. Hughes: Well, the story doesn’t end, exactly.

Prof. Hawking: Does that imply something you want to say about us, that our story will not end?

Dean: You mean: We are between the unstoppable "cold" rationality of science and the passions of literature?

Prof. Hawking (disturbed): As I think I’ve said already—but I don’t mind repeating myself— passion is not in my subject.

Dean: But Professor Hawking, evolution is our subject. Passion was also buried in that Big Bang. Passion must be part of our subject (no answer).

Mary: Professor Hughes, you said this was a novel about emotions and ideas together. Tell us what happens.

Prof. Hughes: It is a passionate struggle to find the truth. Great fights take place over conflicting ideas held by Settembrini and Naphta. So this is a great opportunity for Castrop to find out who he is. He must put together opposing truths and resolve emotional differences. In the course of the novel, he learns a lot.

Mary: (bravely interposes). Learning. Learning requires comparison and synthesis. I see the metaphor. He is enacting the metaphorical uniting of different elements, comparing and putting those differences together.

Prof. Hughes: But what about this book as an allegory? Dante's Divine Comedy tells us about the medieval mind. It carried all the thoughts, fears, beliefs and aspirations of Dante’s epoch.

Dean: So, The Magic Mountain is an allegory for our time. And for us?

Prof. Hughes: Precisely. We see how truths develop with a passion; all sides entangled with nature. Castrop had to work hard. He was living in a pathological world.

Prof. Hawking: Are you saying we live in a pathological world?

Prof. Hughes: Well, look. This novel is a bildungsroman. In German, Bildungsroman means “a novel of personal development.” Personal development is the evolution of an individual, the changing dynamics of a person, a process of maturation through change, a growing up. We see how this happens for Hans Castorp.

Dean: How?

Prof. Hughes: Castorp left the security of his home in the “flatlands” to go up the mountain, where he expands and broadens his life; he goes beyond his past and transcends it. He learns about art and politics; about music; about the physical body; about human frailty and love. He keeps learning. He studies music; listens to songs that stir memories. On the top of this mountain, he develops a panoramic view of the world.

Prof. Hawking: But how are “we” represented in this story?

Prof. Hughes: In seven years Hans Castorp is transformed. 

Dean: Seven years! We have no more than a couple of semesters. Tell us how this happens for Castorp.

Prof. Hughes: He listens to his friends who are great masterminds of politics and philosophy. They fight it out, and he absorbs all of it. Something has to happen to him.

Dean: Give us one detail about his transformation.

 Prof. Hughes: He falls in love with a woman, romantically, fantastically, bubbling over with his youthful feelings, kneeling at her feet. She had repelled him, but now he is like an adolescent in love with her. She ignores him. He learns, painfully, to see her more objectively.

Prof. Hawking: (impatient): So, what was Castorp’s great life transformation?

Prof. Hughes: Can you see the hour hand on a clock turn? (giving Hawking his own medicine, mild sarcasm with a shot of truth.) It is difficult to notice a clock’s hand change while you are looking at it. But after a time you see that it has really moved.

In the case of Hans Castorp, we see a slow metamorphosis. His transformation is as slow as the hour hand of a clock. The change occurs at a snail's pace, from egg to larva to pupa, and finally he changes into a mature and beautiful figure. Hans Castorp becomes a man.

Dean: Wait a minute. A friend of mine read the novel and said the story was just a collection of random, meaningless events in the German Alps. 

Prof. Hughes: You can find randomness and meaninglessness there, but if you read carefully, you will see how, in the long run, there is a transformation.

Dean: My friend said that Hans Castorp was the same detached, unthinking individual from the first day to the last day. He would say to you: There is no transformation in this fictional character. 

 Prof. Hughes:  Well, that is not the interpretation of most reviewers. And it was not the intention of the author. In the Afterword to his book in the 1927 edition, Thomas Mann says: Hans Castorp came to understand that “one must go through the deep experience of sickness and death to arrive at a higher sanity and health…" (Jane is listening intently.)

Prof. Hawking: This is fiction, not science. There is no connection with us scientists, no connection at all.

Prof. Hughes: Hans Castorp thinks that Settembrini is sarcastic and arrogant, but he comes at last to admire him. Settembrini says, “No, I’m not sarcastic. I’m malicious.” Maliciousness, he says, is the brightest sword that reason has against the powers of darkness and ugliness. It is the spirit of criticism, the origin of progress and the Enlightenment.” 

Prof. Hawking: Perhaps this where we could say that science comes in. It is a sword, not magic, not religion. It is a sharp and constant search for truth.

Prof. Hughes: I mention this book because, on this mountaintop, Castorp studies physical reality. He studies the body, its nerves, its muscles, and views x-rays, medicine and science. Then he says that he cannot view life just through “the peepholes created by biology, chemistry, history, economics, and psychology.” He reads all the medicine and science he can. But he must go beyond it and understand his own reality.

Dean: Are students following this? (A few look uncertain, but most heads nod Yes.) Professor Hughes, please give us one example of how you see his transformation.

Prof. Hughes: I noticed a special change in the character in an episode called "Snow."

Mary (speaking up):  Weather can be a metaphor for life.

Prof. Hughes: Castorp has been overwhelmed by all the scientific information flowing to him and has learned so much, but he lacks a core. And he must find that core with integrity. He must find a center to be able to stand on his own. (Jane listens, head lowered.)

Alice: Ah! So he is asking the question that we are, “Who am I?”

Prof. Hughes: Exactly. He has no faith, no foundation on which to stand. The scientists and intellectuals overpower him.

Dean: So what does this snow episode represent?

Prof. Hughes: Hans Castorp seeks solitude on the heights of the mountain and is caught in a violent blizzard, surrounded by the powers of nature gone mad. The “empty air riots,” Thomas Mann says, full of spiraling flakes so thick Hans Castorp cannot see one step ahead of him. Gusts of wind could suffocate him. There are driving sidelong blasts of wind pulling up snow in great eddies, swirling in a mad dance. Hans Castorp is in a chaos of “white darkness.” (Jane’s eyes are fixed on him; he might be describing the current chaos inside her body and mind.)

Here’s the key. Hans Castorp loved the snow like it was some primal energy. He loved the fathomless silence, the menacing “mute elemental forces” rising up around him. They were not hostile to him, just nature. But he knows he is at death's door (pauses).

Prof. Hawking: You got me. What’s next?

Prof. Hughes: He has a dream of a sun-lit Mediterranean shore and interprets it as the cradle of Western civilization. It is a vision that goes right to his gut, you might say, composed out of the elements of this dreadful physical experience, deep in snow. He hears music like the sound of harps, joined by flutes and violins. (Jane’s spirit lifts.) It was as if veils -- visible to no one -- were falling away, revealing the purest most intense light, and then one more, the ultimate, and then, another, incredibly, the absolute “last intensity,” so it seemed.

Jane (choking down a sob rising inside her):

Well. This reminds me of the Prince in The Idiot just before his epileptic seizure.

Prof. Hughes: Yes. But for Hans Castorp the intense light stops. He falls into the dark side of this dream, now a nightmare, he sees naked old women, working in silence, dismembering a child held savagely over a basin bloodied. The women soon begin to devour the dismembered child. Hans Castorp is in the deadly spell of a horrific nightmare. (Since her father’s death, Jane has had rage. eating at her core, like a hungry ghost.) Babbling Hans Castorp asks a question that I ask you now: Where did that dream come from?

Jane (haltingly): I wonder. I have had sick dreams.

Dean: Yes (compassionately), we all have had them. (pauses) What does Hans Castorp say?

Prof. Hughes: He decides that we do not just dream from our own soul but communally from a great soul of which we are just a little piece.

Dean: You mean: This is “humanity suffering”?

Prof. Hughes: He realizes how much he has learned from all those sick people in the sanitarium, and he says: “I have known flesh and blood…He who knows the body, he who knows life, also knows death.” (Jane’s body begins to shake; she sobs, but embarrassed, tries not to make a sound.)

Dean: Perhaps he cannot allow fear and hatred to win out over love.

Prof. Hughes: He says we must not let death have dominion over our thoughts. I think he got some of that power and energy from Settembrini, who did not relish sympathy, much.

Dean: How so?

Prof. Hughes: Settembrini had asserted that any sanctified state, like the Christian reverence for misery -- was a fraud, based on deception, on misplaced feelings, a mind blunder. The sympathy that the “healthy person” feels for someone who is ill could intensify to the point of awe. The sick person is just sick, that’s all. Illness would batter its victims until they got along with one another better, he says. The senses of a person might diminish, but nature allows the organism to find relief.

Dean: Weird.

Jane (half under her breath): He’s brutal.

Prof. Hughes: Hans Castorp needed that excessive distance, that rational mind, to moderate his excess of sympathy.

Prof. Hawking: So, is that the end? Will we ever get there?

Prof. Hughes: All forms of civilized life --social, political, artistic—evolved as a response to fear, a fear of death. That’s what he concludes.


Prof. Hawking: (He has had enough.) There is no end to this story.  

Prof. Hughes:  Well, here is the end.  The author asks: “Out of this festival of death, this ugly rutting fever that inflames the rainy evening sky all around – will love somehow rise up from it?” 

Prof. Hawking: Very, very romantic. (abruptly) So then, does our hero Hans die in the end, or does he ride off with his love into the sunset?

Prof. Hughes: He declares: Love (not reason) is stronger than death. Only through love does life triumph.

Prof. Hawking: Pure German idealism.  

Dean (ignoring Hawking): What next?

Prof. Hughes: Hans Castorp goes back to the flatlands and faces those agents of death firsthand. All that he had learned from those sick intellectuals -- cynicism, nihilism, and absolutism – it’s back there for him to encounter in everyday life.

Prof. Hawking: Now, are we at the end?

Dean (to Prof. Hughes): I must tell you: we are running out of time.

Prof. Hughes (smiling, inclining his head in assent): There was an outbreak of war. Everything Hans Castorp had come to celebrate – goodness, love of beauty – is eliminated. People destroy churches, close colleges, burn books, and old gramophone records of music. So Hans Castorp goes into the military service.

Prof. Hawking: The End! (Some students are appalled at this remark, while others are laughing.)

Prof. Hughes (ignoring Hawking): We finally see him in an army uniform of. Bullets fly, shells explode, what we would call “destruction is occurring all around. Castorp goes into battle. Deep in mud, he refuses to let death claim him. 

Prof. Hawking: I’m asking you, what does any of this say to us?

Prof. Hughes: I think Mann is asking whether love can prevail in all this destruction. We must sacrifice our lives for a higher cause.

Dean: Remember what Prof. Davidovitz said?  It’s what we bring to this mountain of indifference that makes the difference (pauses, looking first at Professor Hawking, then at students). What would you die for?

Prof. Hughes: That’s the question (silence). 

Prof. Hawking: (briskly): No time left.  When John McEnroe lost to Tim Mayotte in tennis, he said at the end of the match: "This taught me a lesson, but I'm not sure what it is." (The whole class laughs.)

Dean: Wait. (Holds up his hand, looking at Hughes.) How did you interpret the book?

Prof. Hughes: My friends would say Professor Hawking is right, and I will tell you why. The book is full of romance and idealism. 

Prof. Hawking: What! I can’t believe it! You are on my side?

Prof. Hughes: Listen to what my friends say.

First, in terms of psychology: They think Hans was afraid to be independent. He has all the financial resources to be free, but he puts himself into a sanitarium where all decisions are made for him; he is running away from responsibilities. Then he leaves the sanitarium and joins the army where he will be obedient again to someone in command. Again, he is putting someone else in charge of his life. People with that kind of fear of taking responsibility will fall quickly into a dictatorship. Erich Fromm said this about Nazi Germany in Escape from Freedom.[xxx]

Dean: But you said that Castorp had fulfilled his highest dream.

Prof. Hughes: Second, in terms of sociology: The highest dream in those flatlands is to give up your life for your country. Countries today are moving competitively toward self-destruction. They battle like tribes with weapons of mass destruction.

Dean: They are repeating history, not inventing it. We need to create a new way to govern ourselves at the international level.

Alice: Are you putting down the sacrifice Hans Castorp made to serve for his country?

Prof. Hughes: No. I celebrate every soldier’s courage – as far as it goes.

Alice: You said Hans Castorp was transformed.

Prof. Hughes: Yes, as far as he could go. But he was not Buddha or Jesus or Gandhi.

Prof. Hawking: So?

Prof. Hughes: We have to fight for humanity. This is the challenge of our new century. We’re not finished with war.

Prof. Hawking: War is inevitable. It will never be over. It’s in our nature. It is in nature itself.

Dean: How do you know?

Prof. Hawking: You’re the one who’s always referring us back to the Big Bang. Now I say to you: Remember the Big History. Look at those black holes and those galaxies. How did they get there except by huge violent energies? Look at those calamitous changes on earth, just a relatively few tens of thousands of years ago. Look at the great shifts in geography and geological plates.

Look today at the great earthquakes, typhoons and hurricanes. Nature slaughters people by the thousands. Nature will kill you too in the end.

Prof. Hughes: Okay, but here is my question. Can we learn how to train and educate students to fight for humanity? How will we see the next stage of history?

Prof. Hawking: Oy! You are an idealist. You are worse than Thomas Mann!

Prof.: Hughes: Read the book!

Dean: We are past time.

Prof. Hughes: But wait. “Time” is what this book is all about.

Dean: No more seconds left!  (Looks at the clock.) We have not given students an opportunity to talk about Thomas Mann’s book. (He embraces both colleagues, waves to the class, leaving. He speaks individually to those lining up to talk with him, saying what a great class it had been, and about how much he had learned.) Better be prepared (joking). Next time, I’ll be calling on you more for answers. Auf Wiedersehen.


(Jane is alone, the last to leave the room. She had felt bewildered for much of the class, but now she is more present than absent. And like Hans Castorp, she had somehow managed to learn a lot, soaking up the stern, indifferent, wry and doubting spirit of Hawking. “He’s cool, after all,” she’s thinking. Yes. She might like to take a course with Professor Hawking.

In Professor Hughes she had seen a great soul, a compassionate man, who wants everyone to learn how to connect through dialogue. “He looks like my father,” she sighs.

She had “tuned into” that glorious, curious, open mind of the Dean. She will talk with him later about her future.  “Their discussion, the back and forth between them and members of the class will help me put what’s been happening at home aside more for now,” she’s thinking, “and help me keep the spirit of Dad close.” She’s not quite sure how she knows this. 

Now she goes back to the campus flatland, walks out the door of the hall looking at the expansive green lawn, sad, but not in such deep grief, knowing that she is starting to move forward, even if it’s only with small steps.)



[i] Aristotle, Poetics. See also Wayne C. Booth. The Rhetoric of Fiction. 2nd ed. Chicago. University of Chicago Press, 1983. Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Biographia Literaria. Stephen Cox. "Devices of Deconstruction." Critical Review, 3 (1989), 56-75. Stephen Cox. "Literary Theory: Liberal and Otherwise." Humane Studies Review, 5 (Fall 1987), 1, 5-7, 12-14. R. S. Crane. The Idea of the Humanities and Other Essays Critical and Historical. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967. Gerald Graff. Literature Against Itself: Literary Ideas in Modern Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979. E. D. Hirsch, Jr. Validity in Interpretation. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967. Samuel Johnson. Preface to Shakespeare. Elder Olson. On Value Judgments in the Arts and Other Essays. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976.


[ii] Structuralism was a fashion in France in the 1950s and 60s. Scholars studied the underlying structures inherent in texts and used analytical concepts from disciplines from other disciplines to interpret them. “Structuralists” wanted to integrate their work into other bodies of knowledge, as seen in the work of Ferdinand de Saussure in linguistics, Claude Lévi-Strauss in anthropology, and early 20th-century psychologists. Post-structuralism holds that the study of underlying structures is culturally conditioned and subject to misinterpretations. To understand an object (e.g., one of the many meanings of a text), it is necessary to study both the object and the systems of knowledge that produced the object. Post-structuralism then becomes a study of how knowledge is produced.


[iii] One of the questions of literary theory is "What is literature?" Another is: “How does one define a "text?" For some theorists "texts" comprise "works belonging to the Western literary canon," such as those of Aristotle or Shakespeare, but others include works of non-fiction, popular fiction, films, historical documents, law, and advertising. This broadens the field of literature to include cultural studies. Some scholars then treat cultural events, such as fashions and folk songs as "texts." In this sense literary theory can be thought of as the theory of interpretation, closely linked with phenomenology.


[iv] The prefix "post" refers to the fact that many contributors–such as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Julia Kristeva—rejected structuralism. Paul Harrison, "Post-structuralist Theories" in Approaches to Human Geography, S. Aitken and G. Valentine, eds., (London: Sage, 2006). Tony Davies, Humanism (London and New York: Routledge, 1997). Peter Barry, Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1995).

[v] Schrödinger’s cat illustrates a principle in quantum theory of “superposition,” proposed by Erwin Schrödinger in 1935. The cat was a “thought experiment” to demonstrate the conflict between what quantum theory tells us is true about the behavior of matter on the microscopic level and what we observe to be true about the nature of matter on the macroscopic level. Schrödinger's “thought experiment” involved placing a living cat into a steel chamber, along with a device containing a vial of hydrocyanic acid. In the chamber there is a small amount of a radioactive substance. If a single atom of the substance decays during the test period, a relay mechanism will trip a hammer, which will, in turn, break the vial and kill the cat. The observer cannot know whether or not an atom of the substance has decayed, and consequently, cannot know whether the vial has been broken, the hydrocyanic acid released, and the cat killed. Since no one can know, the cat is both dead and alive according to quantum law, in this superposition of states. It is only when someone breaks open the box and learns the condition of the cat that the superposition is lost, and the cat becomes dead or alive. This is called quantum indeterminacy or the observer's paradox. The observation or measurement itself affects an outcome, so that the outcome does not exist unless the measurement is made.


[vi] In a 1966 lecture "Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Science," Jacques Derrida proposed “a rupture” in intellectual life. He talked about a "decentering" of the former intellectual cosmos. Instead of progress from an identified center, Derrida described the "event" as a kind of "play."

 In 1968, Roland Barthes published “The Death of the Author” and declared that any literary text has multiple meanings, and that the author was not the prime source of the work's content. In 1976, Michel Foucault summarized the impetus of the post-structuralist movement: A key doctrine was “textualism,” which is the idea that language or culture constructs the world according to its own internal principles.

[vii] Edmund Husserl defined phenomenology in the 1930s as “a descriptive analysis of the essence of pure consciousness.” Phenomenology for him was a science of essential Being, or a science of essences. His battle cry -- “To the things themselves” -- signals his desire to come back to the immediate givenness of phenomena. Husserl was concerned about positivism and reductionistic tendencies, which  rule out the possibility that consciousness, ideal objects, and cultural artifacts have features that cannot be traced back to empirical facts. Husserl counters the scientific claim through a detailed analysis of intentionality. Post-Husserlian phenomenologists began to distance themselves from the extremism in Husserl’s original program. Edmund Husserl, Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology. Translated by W. R. Boyce Gibson. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1931.


[viii] Jacques Derrida, "'Genesis' and 'Structure' and Phenomenology," in Writing and Difference (London: Routledge, 1978), paper originally delivered in 1959 at Cerisy-la-Salle, and published in Gandillac, Goldmann & Piaget (eds.), Genèse et structure (The Hague: Morton, 1964), 167.

[ix] Derrida attacked the whole enterprise of philosophy. "Deconstruction," as Derrida's approach is called, claimed that the very nature of a written text undermines itself. To "deconstruct" a text, then, is to dismantle inherent hierarchical systems of thought, to look for hidden details, to find the "margins" of the text, where there are new possibilities of interpretation.


[x] Carl Jung defined “complex” as a “grouping of psychic elements about emotionally toned contents.” The components of a complex may be present in consciousness or in the unconscious. But the key idea is that conflicts, frustrations, and threats to personal security experienced during infancy are repressed into the unconscious. They remain dormant but not forgotten. These unconscious memories then govern a person’s response to emotional conflict into adult life.


[xi] Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle. New York: Norton, 1960. (Original: 1920; English translation 1922)


[xii] For some of these thoughts, see A. S. Byatt, The Guardian, Saturday, June 26, 2004.


[xiii] Scholars recognize four laws of Aristotelian logic: the law of non-contradiction (A is not non-A), the law of identity (A is A), the law of excluded middle (either A or non-A), and the law of rational inference from what is known to what is unknown. Bertrand Russell makes a distinction between the "law of excluded middle" and the "law of contradiction." In The Problems of Philosophy, he cites three "Laws of Thought" as more or less "self evident" or "a priori" in the sense of Aristotle:

1. Law of identity: 'Whatever is, is.'

2. Law of non-contradiction: 'Nothing can both be and not be.'

3. Law of excluded middle: 'Everything must either be or not be.'

Aristotle, "Metaphysics," W. D. Ross (trans.), vol. 8 in Great Books of the Western World, Robert Maynard Hutchins, ed. (Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., Chicago: 1952.) First published, W. D. Ross (trans.), The Works of Aristotle, Oxford:Oxford University Press. Norman Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, Come Let Us Reason (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 16.  Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy, With a New Introduction by John Perry, Oxford University Press, New York, 1997 edition (first published 1912). Bertrand Russell, The Art of Philosophizing and Other Essays, Littlefield, Adams & Co., Totowa, NJ, 1974 edition (first published 1968). 


[xiv] The phrase "dark night of the soul" came from the writings of Saint John of the Cross, a Carmelite priest in the 16th century. The texts tell of the saint's mystical development and the stages he is subjected to on his journey towards union with God. The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD, and Otilio Rodriguez, OCD, revised edition (1991).



[xv] The term, différance is a derivative of the word difference and means both difference and deferral. Derrida argues that the "meaning" of words lie in the "differences” between the binaries and the things they name.  


[xvi] In Of Grammatology, Derrida looks at the binary of speech-and-writing, saying that speech is seen as more important than writing. He says speech gets privileged because speech is associated with presence. For a spoken language to exist, somebody has to be present to be speaking.


[xvii]  For Hawking's suggestion that black holes are also white holes see: Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose, The Nature of Space and Time, Princeton (1996).


[xviii] Michael Foucault assumes that all of reality is in its essence “semiotic” or linguistic in character. This is the basis upon which critical theory evolved. Michael Foucault, "Nietzsche, Freud, Marx," 64; Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 9, 251. 64, 65.


[xix] Chemists write about a “progressive increase in minimum proton exchange rate with maturation of liquor.” Shoichi Okouchi, Yoshimasa Ishihara, Shigeo Ikeda and Hisashi Uedaira. Food Chemistry, Volume 65, Issue 2 (May 1999), p. 239-243,


[xx] Otto von Bismarck (1815–1898) was known as the “Iron Chancellor.” Under his reign Germany grew from a loose confederation of weak states to a unified powerful empire. His success (winning three wars in eight years) led to the extension of German borders and the rapid growth of German industry.

[xxi] Biologist Lynn Margulis first proposed “endosymbiosis” in the 1960s and then officially in her 1981 book "Symbiosis in Cell Evolution." This concept proposes that "symbiotic consortiums" of prokaryotic cells were the ancestors of eukaryotic cells. Symbiosis indicates that two different organisms are co-dependent in association with one another. Nature is filled with examples of close interdependent relationships. Bruce Alberts, Alexander Johnson, Julian Lewis, Martin Raff, Keith Roberts and Peter Walter, Molecular Biology of the Cell (NY: Garland Science, 2002).


[xxii]  Gregory Fossedal, Direct Democracy in Switzerland. (Transaction Publishers (2002).

Foreword by NASDAQ Vice Chairman Alfred R. Berkeley, April 2002.


[xxiii] Kurt Raaflaub asks how the concept of freedom originated. He analyses ancient Greek texts from Homer to Thucydides. Archaic Greece, he says, had little use for the idea of political freedom; the concept arose during the great confrontation between Greeks and Persians in the early fifth century BCE. He studies the concept of freedom in relation to other concepts—such as equality, citizenship, and law—as a tool of domination, propaganda, and ideology. Kurt Raaflaub, The Discovery of Freedom in Ancient Greece (Chicago: University of Chicago Press: Revised and Updated Edition. Translated by Renate Franciscono, 2003).


[xxiv]  The tropes and schemes in this and the following table can be found on Wikipedia.

[xxv] G.W.F Hegel idealized “synthesis” in philosophy, and most scholars agree that he lost a sense of the material foundation of evolution that could occur independent of the mind. There is a tendency toward idealism in his philosophy, as though he had forgotten about the interaction of a mind with the material world.


[xxvi] A meme comprises “a unit of cultural information” and is believed to be the building block of cultural evolution. It moves across society through  “diffusion,” propagating from one mind to another, analogous to the way in which a gene propagates from one organism to another as a unit of genetic information in biological evolution. Multiple memes may propagate as cooperative groups called meme complexes. Those memes that replicate most effectively spread better, etc.

Memetics has become a science that studies replication, the spread and evolution of memes. Cultural evolution, including the evolution of knowledge is then modeled through the same principles of variation and selection that underlie biological evolution. This implies a shift from genes -- as units of biological information -- to a new type of unit of cultural information: memes.

Dawkins reduced the process of biological genetic evolution to its most fundamental unit: the replicator (or gene). He suggested that the information in brains and culture could function as replicators.  R. Aunger, ed. Darwinizing Culture: The Status of Memetics as a Science (Oxford University Press, 2000). M. L. Best, “Models for Interacting Populations of Memes: Competition and Niche Behavior,” Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission, 1. 1997. S. Blackmore, The Meme Machine (Oxford Univ. Press, 2000). 


[xxvii] S. Kumar, “Patterns of Nucleotide Substitution in Mitochondrial Protein Coding Genes of Vertebrates,” Genetics. 1996 May; 143(1): 537–548. Institute of Molecular Evolutionary Genetics and Department of Biology, University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University, 16802.


[xxviii] Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen, 'Front Pages: (The Critical) Analysis of Newspaper Layout'. In Approaches to Media Discourse, Allan Bell & Peter Garrett, eds.: (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), 168.

[xxix]  Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain. Translated from the German by John E. Woods (NY: Alfred Knopf, Inc., 1995).

[xxx]  Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom (Holt Paperbacks; Owl Book Ed edition, 1994). Fromm says that people in modern society can move quickly into authoritarianism. They seek to avoid freedom by fusing themselves with others, in the process becoming a part of an authoritarian system like the society of the Middle Ages. People do this is by submitting to the power of others, becoming passive and compliant. Or, another way is to become an authority yourself, a person who applies structure to others. Either way, you escape your individual identity.