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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Thursday, April 19, 2018


Just a minute ago, I concluded Part 1 by saying:

In the upcoming Part 2, I'll justify the connection of the two types of meaning with my title regarding the nature of strong and weak propositions.
I'll try to set down my theme statement as succinctly as I can, but some grounding for my use of the word "proposition" is necessary. 

It's widely stated that of the usual "parts of language"-- declarative, interrogative, imperative or exclamatory-- propositions are filed under the heading of declarations. This means that the speaker is declaring his statement to have "truth-value," whether he's saying "it looks like it's going to rain" or "Sequence X of LI'L ABNER is better than Sequence Y."

Now, this is surely true when one is speaking of language as it is used in one-on-one discourse, or even in discourse between one and a multitude. However, literature is not concerned with outright declarations as such. Sir Philip Sidney argued that "the poet never affirmeth, and therefore never lieth." This is tantamount to Sidney's stating that the poet's declarations are structured more as possibilities than absolute truths. 

Obviously, there are some poets who do "affirm" more than others, but Sidney's analysis is on target. Commonplace language deals with strong propositions, but literature favors weaker propositions.

Further, even within literature, there's a hierarchy of strength between the concrete, lateral/literal meaning, and the abstract, vertical meaning of both overthought and underthought.

To return to the two LI'L ABNER sequences referenced in Part 1, it's evident from the way Al Capp works that his cycles-- usually running from four to six months-- could be unified in terms of their action, like "D. Yokum Visits," or simply a motley group of episodes, like "General Bullmoose Debuts." 

The propositional strength of the lateral meaning in both is equally strong, for the lateral meaning is identical with "everything that happens in the stories." Disgustin' Yokum using his unearthly ugliness to turn Wild Bill Hickup into a stone statue and Li'l Abner letting the Slobbovians legally change him into a female are equally strong propositions, in terms of the reader's engagements with them-- though obviously, neither story-structure possesses any "truth-value" for reality as such.

Yet the abstract vertical meaning is even weaker than the assorted vicissitudes associated with "the stories." Many readers can read past the symbolic discourses in LI'L ABNER without noticing their existence, while others will read them purely in terms of their alliance to didactic discourse, as in "Capp is a great satirist, because he makes fun of rich people").

Yet the weakness of weak propositions is also their strength, for readers inevitably seek to justify their appreciation of favored artists via abstract propositions. 

At the same time, even though "Visits" is like a well-constructed brick kiln, while "Debuts" is sort of a tumble-down brick house, it's the latter, less organized work that gave birth to one of the strip's more recognizable characters, General Bullmoose, while Disgustin' Yokum is most probably barely remembered even by Capp's remaining fans.

Thus the weakness of weak propositions can be both a strength and a weakness at the same time.

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