Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 105.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
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Date: Fri, 20 Jun 2003 09:06:34 +0100
From: Wendell Piez <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: 17.078 nesting
I wish I could do justice to the questions you raise.
At 02:12 AM 6/11/2003, you wrote:
>However, the narratologist in me finds it difficult to accept the
>proposed adaptation of what, after all, is a well defined terminology
>in his particular field of research. Don't get me wrong: I am not
>purist approach for the sake of purism. My concern is rather that the
>somewhat metaphorical use of concepts such as 'metalepsis',
>'prolepsis' etc. in the description the non-narrative phenomenon of
>textual markup (or does markup indeed constitute a kind of narrative?
>One might wish to explore that idea as well) does not exploit the
>analytical potential of the theoretical and conceptual import to its
I'm not quite ready to concede that a somewhat 'looser' sense to these
terms isn't perfectly legitimate. As a classicist (poor though I may be as
such), I am very conscious that in some sense these words have been
somewhat 'metaphorical' for most of their long histories. I plead also that
we've barely *started* to talk about the way markup languages signify (as
indeed they apparently do, so differently yet so intertangled with our more
ordinary significations) ... and that some terminology is, perforce,
necessary. To whatever extent my (mis)use of the terms may accidentally
correspond, or fail to, with more advanced sciences with which I'm not
familiar, is a risk that would seem to come with the territory.
I concede that this may only muddy the waters when it comes to a strictly
"narratological" study of markup, in which suddenly the real import of the
terms is thrown into question. Yet this only gives us occasion, if we do it
right, to examine what we actually mean by these terms -- "far-fetching"
was Putnam's English-language gloss on Quintillian's 'transumptio' or
'metalepsis' -- rather than simply reify what we take them to represent
into hard categories.
(And incidentally -- keep reading -- it happens I did not draw the terms
originally from narratological theory, with which I am acquainted only to
the extent that I know it's there ... which certainly accounts for some of
Of course, this does leave the more important task of "exploit[ing] the
analytical potential of the theoretical and conceptual import to its full
extent". But I'm glad to see I don't have to do that by myself....
> > A markup language is metaleptic when the tags seek to reflect or
> > elicit some feature or aspect of the text marked up.
>In terms of representational logic I would rather call this an
>'iconic' mode of markup and not a 'metaleptic' one.
Mm, perhaps I'm not clear about the nature of the markup I'm trying to
describe. Take TEI for example. There are parts of TEI that might indeed be
seen as "iconic" or perhaps "mimetic" in this way; there are others that
are more-or-less confessedly interpretive of the matter they mark up.
(<emph> comes to mind as an example, which is described in the guidelines
as for "words or phrases which are stressed or emphasized for linguistic or
rhetorical effect" -- the judgement of whether a given word or phrase
actually falls into this category being left to the encoder.) Yet they are
(perhaps naively) taken to imply that they mirror or reflect that matter
transparently. Their signification is thus, in a strange way, layered ...
they constitute a narrative of a narrative of the text. (I am not the first
to point this out: cf. Sperberg-McQueen, "markup encodes a theory of the
>Metalepsis in the sense of the narratological
>definition amounts to a calculated conflation of the representational
>(sign/signified or tag/text marked up) with an assumedly (!) natural
>underlying ontological dichotomy
Exactly: just what happens in markup languages, I believe.
>'Proleptic' might still be OK - on the other hand, why not simply
>'anticipatory'? But the proposed use of 'metaleptic' is definitely
>problematic since what
>you want to highlight is mainly the legitimizing gesture embedded in this
>type of markup, and not the idea of a presumed 'ontological divide' being
>transgressed. Your argument that
> >"proleptic" technologies are rather a special type of "metaleptic"
> >technologies, and that all markup languages are metaleptic in a more
> >general way (as representing representations)
>seems to confirm this.
I concede that this may be the trend, without finding that it makes the
phenomenon any less interesting to think about (however awkwardly). The
term "analepsis" ("pulling up", "taking back" -- I see, "restoring") is an
interesting one, which I'll think about.
As for why "proleptic" I wanted to distinguish "descriptive" markup (that
seems to attempt to be representational in some way) from merely
"prospective" applications of markup that have a more fixed semantic
binding to some kind of processing (and hence that are more "procedural")
-- and yet that are more fully formalized (typically they are described by
a metalanguage such as a DTD, against which instances can be validated)
than ad-hoc markup schemes, which perhaps only verge on a consistent
representation. Again, a term for a representation of a representation
>The whole idea of 'metalepsis' is
>about suspending, of cancelling this Platonian insight into the nature
>of representation. There's nothing in TEI or SGML that leads me to
>believe that this discourse is being alluded to, and hence I am
>somewhat reluctant to go pomo on this.
Ah, well this may be closer to the rub. Understand, I am not alluding to
this discourse -- in fact was quite unaware of it at the time of writing.
Rather, the allusion, to the extent there is one, is to the work of John
Hollander (cf. "The Figure of Echo") and Harold Bloom (in various places)
-- neither of whom could ever be justly accused of being pomo. (And they
were deploying the terms some years ago now.)
Also, I don't think it's necessary to suppose that either SGML or TEI
alluded to any such tradition for us to inquire as to what gestures towards
representation are actually made by markup languages. Indeed, the whole
point of my 2001 paper "Beyond the 'Descriptive vs. Procedural'
Distinction", in which these ideas are explored, is that the descriptive
vs. procedural distinction has tended to mask an equally fundamental
distinction between different kinds of representation, all in markup that
takes a "descriptive" approach to its design. So you find that many markup
languages in use actually mix proleptic with metaleptic motives, without
directly facing the design challenges that are raised thereby (albeit
sometimes finessing them very nicely).
>But then again this is perhaps exactly what we should do in order to
>understand markup better. In other words, as a narratologist I may
>find your retooling of narratological terminology problematic, but as
>a computing humanist I find it extremely instructive nevertheless -
>the reason being that this approach ultimately raises the profoundly
>philosophical question whether the current notion of textual markup
>with its heavy emphasis on technological doability and standardization
>is not based on an unduly simplistic and materialist concept of
>signification and representation. And that would surely be a question
>worth to be debated in the HC community.
I'm glad you think so. Signification and representation do turn out to be
more problematic than engineers would like....
Thanks for taking the time to write!
Wendell Piez mailto:email@example.com
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