Troubleshooting 1

of Meaning

Earl Jackson, Jr.

Seminar Winter 1999



Troubleshooting is a category of presentation of certain of my responses
to the response-papers submitted by members of the seminar. I have made
them anonymous and entered my „troubleshooting“ comments in crimson.
I do this because the kinds of difficulties I find in these responses are
the kinds that seem most prevalent. Therefore I focus on them and their
corrections here not to embarrass anyone or to vent, but as a constructive
means for getting the kind of stylistic, grammatical, conceptual, and critical
help you might need. There is nothing vindictive, or even personal about
it. I never remember who made what mistakes – I only remember how much
a student has improved between the beginning and the end of the course.

What you find.

    Whether or not you find your paper on the Web with
red commentary, or you only receive it in email with commentary, it is
important to realize that two of the frequent sentences I write are quite

„This is not English.“ When you
see this, it is not sarcastic, nor i am making fun of anyone. I mean the
sentence immediately to its left is literally not English.

„What do you mean?“ This is not
a rhetorical question, nor is it a condemnation. It is literally a request
for more information, or for clarification.

What to do/How to respond.

I take a lot of time and spend a great of deal of effort on these corrections
and interventions. I don’t expect applause for this, and have half-way
understood the anguish or even anger that I sometimes encounter over these
commentaries. In most cases, however, students will see the necessity of
and benefits from these exercises. But the benefits are not automatic.
You have to work with these comments and with me to access said benefits.
And this begins with the bottom line- the degree at which certain modes
of response should be considered part of the course requirements.

Basic Responses [required]

If you receive either of the above comments on your work, please take
them literally and act on them

    [1]. Any sentence marked „This is not English“ should
be rewritten in English and submitted to me. If you have difficulty ascertaining
the exact nature of the problem or how proceed contact me as well. This
is a diagnostic intervention and has nothing to do with scolding or shaming.

    [2] Any passage marked „What
do mean
?“ requires an answer. Your response paper will not be considered
an actual submission until you submit answers to those questions to me.
This is not an inquisition – I am interested in what you’re thinking about
and want to make sure I understand you. Secondly, in going back over your
work to clarify your thought to me,
may help you clarify it to yourself. You may change your mind entirely
(although is not mandatory), or discover new ways of articulating things
more effectively. If you don’t get anything else out of this class, I would
be very very gratified if it at least aids in refining a very necessary
skill: the ability to explain what
you mean

I have put „troubleshooting„
sections like this on several other Web sites for earlier courses. I will
construct a guide to them, as those might be helpful as well. Offhand I
can list the following websites that contain extensive „troubleshooting“

the 1997 Hysteria and


Suspense Fiction




Date: Monday, January 11, 1999 20:06:53

From: a student

Subj: Cratylus Summary

To: Earl Jackson, Jr.

[The] Cratylus
opens with an invitation [Unnecessarily passive.
Say who invited him to join in.]
to Socrates to join a discussion
between Hermogenes and Cratylus over the nature of naming [Have
to be more specific than that or you’ll never get through in this length
of space]
. Cratylus argues that Hermogenes is not named correctly,
since he cannot possibly be „sired by Hermes“ as his name would indicate
[This wasn’t the argument, this was a joke told on
the side. If it were part of Cratylus’s argument, moreover, he would be
siding against himself. Cratylus is proposing a natural law for names and
their relation to what they name. If he seriously pressed the point that
Hermogenes was named incorrectly, that would be a point for Hermogenes’s
side, the „strictly conventional“ theory of language.]

Hermogenes „cannot convince [himself] that there is any principle of
correctness in names other than convention and agreement (Cratylus 2).“
He asserts that „the name of each thing is only that which anybody agrees
to call it (ibid.).“

This [Antecedent? Don’t begin a paragraph with
„This“. I really don’t know to what this „this“ refers, and therefore can’t
see anything in the Cratylus or your opening remarks which raises questions
of subjectivity at all.]
raises questions of subjectivity which
Socrates is aware of:

„suppose that I call a man a horse or a horse a man, you mean to say
that a man will be rightly called a horse by me individually and rightly
called a man by the rest of the world; and a horse again would be rightly
called a man by me and a horse by the world (ibid.).“

Socrates counters this[Not English, and in any event
incorrect, applied to a situation that did not occur any way]
Subjectivity Error !!!!!

[The contemporary theoretical-critical terms we
use, „subject“ and „subjectivity“ have for all intents and purposes no
relation to the colloquial, non-technical use of the term „subjective“.
I can’t state this strongly enough. I want to make sure everyone understands
this difference and the reasons why it is important. Subjectivity isn’t
a big part of this dialogue, and it isn’t here at all. This is about communicative
chaos that would result if everyone allowed themselves an individual idiolect.]


[antecedent! What is similar to poststructuralism?]
which is similar to some aspects of poststructuralism, by saying that [Dangling
participle! Who is the subject of „saying“?]
, if Hermogenes believes
that statements can be true or false, then he must believe in the objectivity
of names

[This is a non-sequitur. Work it out on paper,
and reread the passage you think you are paraphrasing. Quote directly from
the text, this may solve some of these problems. But just think about it.

    1. Statements can be true or false.

    2. Therefore Names are objective.

The second statement is not implied in the first.
Furthermore – another problem: „Statements can be true or false,“ implies
that statements can be something else tooneither true
nor false. There’s a big difference between your premise and the one I
think you had in mind: „Statements must be either true or false.“
But this still doesn’t entail statement (2) above. For one thing, „objective“
is not an aspect of „truth“ or „falsity“ of statements, it is usefully
an aspect of the attitude of the person making the statement. Secondly,
„objective“ cannot be a predicate the category „names.“ To say „names are
objective“ is like saying „names are green.“ What do you mean?]

Ironically, Hermogenes later agrees that politicians are those who are
most adept at naming, which points to a social construction of language.[Where
does he say this? What do you mean by a social construction of language?
Your statements are all non-sequiturs.]

Then Socrates segues into a long discourse on etymology, which is probably
more of interest to those fully versed in Greek [This
is a joke on Socrates’s part. He’s not serious.]
. We can infer the
etymology of the word „hermeneutics,“ always important to students of Literature,
through Socrates’s etymology of the God Hermes: „I should imagine that
the name Hermes has to do with speech, and signifies that he is the interpreter
(ermeneus) or messenger, or thief, or liar, or bargainer; all that sort
of thing has a great deal to do with language (Cratylus 21).“ [That
etymology happens to be true – the etymology of „hermeneutics“ – to call
it the etymology of the name Hermes is a cart before the horse conundrum.]

It is ironic in the context of this dialogue that Socrates says that thievery,
lying and bargaining all have to do with language [Why
ironic? He does this completely intentionally. Remember on the back of
his mind are the sophists.]
. The question of who gave the name[s]
to deities who supposedly created the universe is not sufficiently addressed,
either [Why should it be addressed at all? It would
be about something that never happened to entities that never existed.]
Certain questions of causality are involved [These
passive-like, subjectless sentences are less than meaningful. „Certain
questions of causality“? What questions? Causality in what sense, of what?
What are these questions involved with? According to whom? Impinging upon
whom? This oracle just floats here at the end of your paragraph describing
nothing in our world or theirs either.]
, which could lead to statements
of the „it’s turtles all the way down“ ilk. [See
what I mean? these „questions“ could lead to „statements“ – apparently
contentless statements said by no one in repsonse to unidentified questions
raised by no one of a causality with out a cause or a rebel.]

At the end, Cratylus enters the discussion [Isn’t
the dialogue named after him? He enters it only at the end? What do you
. He and Socrates review some of the points of the discussion.
At the end [At the end twice!], Socrates warns
Cratylus to avoid the nihilism inherent in believing that everything is
subjective and that nothing can be adequately described by language [I
think you’re getting the sides confused. You should rewrite this clearly
stating the position of Hermogense and that of Cratylus – in fact, it’s
rather alarming that in a summary of the Cratylus these positions are never
mentioned much less explicated. What were you trying to summarize? Always
ask your self that before and during the writing of the summary.]

„Reflect well and like a man, and do not easily accept such a doctrine;
for you are young and of an age to learn. And when you have found the truth
come and tell me (Cratylus, 48).“ [Good advice,
please follow it.]


Troubleshooting 2

To Syllabus

To Our Task

To A Cybermental Education