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“As buds give rise by growth to fresh buds, and these, if vigorous, branch out and overtop on all sides many a feebler branch, so by generation I believe it has been with the great Tree of Life, which fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever branching and beautiful ramifications.”—as Darwin’s 19th­-century prose suggests, we might discuss modern evolutionary problematics with more art and less spit—for once we apply Kroeber’s schema to philology, it seems our tongues evolve in defiance of ‘natural’ criteria. Does it follow that speech is unnatural?—or supernatural? Or—what might it mean to say “[something] is natural”? If we use the term to attribute, or name causes of effects, natural denotes and connotes a myriad of oppositions, contraries, contradictions, antonyms. If we apply it to any singular ontogenesis (development of species attributes per each individual), natural denotes inherited while cultural denotes environmental. If we apply it to a phylogenesis (evolution of a species or its attributes per se)—or to a mythopoeic cosmogenesis? Supernatural and unnatural both denote ‘non­-natural’—but they connote quite differently!

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fig.27—the logic of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”


 Fisticuffs aside, we can disentangle our limbs on the armature of the Semiotic Square. As derived from Aristotle’s Logical Square of Opposition by the linguist Algirdas Greimas, it unfolds as follows: First, we pose a conventional contrary on the same level: cultural. Second, we site a ‘morphological’ contradiction across the diagonal A­-axis: non­-natural?—or, a more common term, unnatural. Third, we triangulate from +A and ­-B to site a contradiction of the contrary at +B: non­-cultural?—or rather, uncultured. Aristotle’s ‘LSO’ follows the propositional logic of related sentences; Greimas’ Square conforms the modal logic of related terms: if we opposed natural with artificial instead of cultural, the +B triangulation would yield artless. So what?—the ‘value­-neutral’ use of artificial to denote cultural (i.e., ‘man­-made’) vanished from modern parlance, just as the term ‘art’ took on the connotation of ‘deceitful trickery’ in 1600—yet the two related contradictionsuncultured’ and ‘artless’ still paint by similar numbers. So, onward—to high art, or to crass culture?

© 2008-2012 Ian C Thorne. all rights reserved. about credits privacy contact share