Histories of Meaning
16 January, 1999
is in white with red
comments in turquoise are
responses to Nichole’s text in red.
Knight in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland entertains the question
of the existence of an existential relationship between a thing and the
name it is called.
exists a disparity between what a thing is and what it is called.
a „disparity“ to those who aren’t familiar with the system. To the knight,these
are merely differences in kind, since he manipulates the system as a rational
one, and does not confront it as a problem. This is indeed a problem for
the Socrates of the Cratylus, however, and for Alice too, although she
is probably not aware of it in those terms.
call is to name.
is ostensibly true, in ordinary English. But since we are faced with a
language that is other than ordinary, and given that Lewis Carroll wasa
logician, I think we must presume that the two terms in the text are not
synonymous.It then behooves us to read the text in order to a thesis on
how the theterms differ.
Also, even if they were the ordinary English usage,
Lewis Carroll’s Knight and Plato’s Socrates make a distinction between
a name and a thing, as the two must be studied separately as first the
signifier or representation and, secondly, the thing itself.
are absolutely right about Socrates. But the Knight makes at least four
 the thing
 the name of the thing
 what the thing is called
 what the name of the thing is
is the difference you bring up (perhaps unintentionally) between a „signifier“
and a „representation“? This would be a good question to pursue, if not
now in this context, some time in some context.
immersed in language is to be caught in a
web of signifiers that, while not definitiveof
the surrounding world, prove complex and confusing to those who wish to
the „web of signifiers“ is „not definitive of the surrounding world“ what
is? In asking it with slant, am I aligning myself with Hermogenes, Cratylus,or
Also, the „while not definitive“ leads one to
real proves to
be something altogether different from the
world of language in which names
and signifiers reveal the natural world topeople
through distorted lenses.
of the following questions is rhetorical:
1. What is the difference between a name and asignifier?
2. How could signifiers reveal a natural world?
On second thought, the second question probablyis
of this, Socrates addresses how, if it is at all possible, to studyreal
existence when it becomes clear that „the knowledge of things is notto
be derived from names . . . they must be studied and investigated in themselves.“
. Here he clearly places emphasis not
on the thing itself, but the signifier.
admits to Socrates that the name is the representation of a thing .The
signifier, the representation, must first be analyzed to discover if, in
fact, the representation, in Derrida’s words, mingles with what it represents.
raise an interesting question here. I interpret the line you cite from
439 to mean that Socrates’s places emphasis on the thing itself, not
on the signifier.
While what he says points toward the thing itself,I
an see your interpretation justified by the fact that the actual investigation
Socrates conducts focuses almost exclusively on the signifier. This merits
to Carroll’s Knight, it does not. The Knight outlines four different namesof
the song that have little or no relation to each other. What the name is
called and what the name is are two incredibly different denominations.They
are „HADDOCK’S EYES“ and „THE AGED AGED MAN,“ respectively. Conversely,the
song is called and is „WAYS AND MEANS“ and „A-SITTING ON A GATE,“ respectively.
seems to be the only socially accepted and most widely used mode by which
to examine, analyze, and describe the surrounding world.
Words then,are mere imitations and representations
of the true thing and, no matter how accurate or inaccurate in resemblance,
they describe nonetheless. Socrates mentions the signified, which has to
do with groups of letters forming words acting as participants in signification.
Socrates reflects if there can exist a way, beyond language, people may
know things in their respective truths and affinities. What, I think, Socrates
is doing is separating the thing from the name chosen to describe it, which
reminds me of Derrida’s statement, „The sign
thing and its corresponding name is questionable
and doubtable. Moreover, Derrida cannot help but use the language he simultaneously
proves to be an inadequate representation of the natural world. In writing,
the above statement seems to be especially powerful, as Derrida must cross
out certain words while using them to convey his argument to the reader.
The difficulty should be obvious. Only yearslater can Alice understand
what the Knight truly meant by his labyrinth-like explanation of the song’s
name. This essay should demonstrate the same difficulties and complexities.
The question „what is“ best describes Plato’s dialogue and Carroll’s
conversation between the Knight and Alice. It
seems they have realized what it is not, which is a step in an insightful,
last sentence below describes what you’ve accomplished here: a step in
an insightful, thought-provoking inquiry.
This was very intersting and bodes well.
To the syllabus
To the lexicon
To our orientation
To the prehistory of the seminar
To the metapaideia
E mail Earl