Thursday, May 7, 2009

Excerpts from "Methamagical Themas", by Douglas Hofstadter

Section I: Snags and Snarls
Subsection 2. Self-Referential Sentences: A Follow-Up
p. 35
Speaking of neurotic sentences, what about sentences with identity crises? These are, in some sense, the mostinteresting ones of all to me. A typical example is Dan Krimm's vaguely apprehensive question, "If I stated something else, would it still be me?" I thought this colud be worded better, so I revised it slightly, as follows: "If I said something else, would it still be me saying it?" I still was not happy, so I wrote one more version: "In another world, could I have been a sentence about Humphrey Bogart?" When I paused to reflect on what I had done, I realized that in reworking Dan's sentence, I had tampered with its identity in the very way it feared. The question remained, however: Where all these variants really the same sentence, deep down? My last experiment along these lines was: "In another world, could this sentence have been Dan Krimm's sentence?"

Introduces, in this paragraph, the device of sentence fragments. A sentence fragment. Another. Good device. Will be used more later.

... [several sentences]

This sentence attempts to shed some light on the question posed by the preceding sentence but fails. This sentence, however, succeeds, in that it suggests a possible incestuous relationship between Billy and his mother and alludes to the concomitant Freudian complications any astute reader will immediately envision. Incest. The unspeakable taboo. The universal prohibition. Incest. And notice the sentence fragments? Good literary device. Will be used more later.

The purpose of this sentence (which can also serve as a paragraph) is to speculate that if the Declaration of Independence had been worded and structured as lackadaisically and incoherently as this story has been so far, there's no telling what kind of warped libertine society we'd be living in now or to what depths of decadence the inhabitants of this country might have sunk, even to the point of deranged and debased writers constructing irritatingly cumbersome and needlessly prolix sentences that sometimes possess the questionable if not downright undesirable quality of referring to themselves and they sometimes even become run-on sentences or exhibit other signs of inexcusably sloppy grammar like unneeded superfluous redundancies that almost certainly would have insidious effects on the lifestyle and morals of our impressionable youth, leading them to commit incest or even murder and maybe that's why Billy is strangling his mother, because of sentences just like this one, which have no discernible goals or perspicuous purpose and just end up anywhere, even in mind.

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