Weekend Reflection: Against Parentheses
The following is my little commentary on today’s university climate, the modern academic journal “culture,” and postmodernism. It was first published, under a pseudonym suited to the subject matter, in an undeservingly short-lived satirical journal, The American Drivel Review, back in 2007.
by Jacques de Rigueur
Parenthetical remarks (by which, I must stipulate, I mean strictly such comments, asides, qualifications, etc., as are placed between true parentheses [()], and not the sort of useful addenda as are sometimes inserted into a text by means of brackets [as in a translation or critical edition, for example (where the brackets helpfully distinguish the body of the original work [i.e. the work being translated or critically edited] from the translator’s/editor’s explanatory notes, citations of sources, or scholarly reservations regarding textual authenticity [as, for example, in the case of Book III, Chapter 5 of Aristotle’s De Anima, wherein the first sentence of the final paragraph, or even (by some) the entire paragraph (as these have traditionally been designated [granting, of course, that these designations are absent from the original text (sentences and paragraphs, as we know them, not having appeared in classical Greek writing)]) might be bracketed to alert the reader to the possibility (or, to state it less judgmentally, let us say “to the question”) of textual corruption])], which [unlike parentheses] normally serve a legitimate [because communicatively necessary (i.e. non-tangential)] function [and I say “normally” to allow for the distinction between those instances in which the square bracket (or, for that matter, its honorable brother, the angle bracket) is used in its primary function (as noted above) and those in which it serves as an ersatz or erstwhile parenthesis, whether to be used (incorrectly) in place of the latter, or (correctly) in alternation with it (where it is used for the sake of clarity when parenthetical remarks supervene upon, or are embedded within, one another)], while true parentheses [by which I mean primarily the remarks so set off, and only secondarily the physical parentheses themselves (be they parentheses in the proper sense [()] or square brackets serving the same textual function [see above]), assuming that such a distinction can so easily be made (i.e. assuming that the parenthetical mark is not ipso facto a part of the [any] parenthetical remark [i.e. assuming that the grammatical forms, punctuation marks, etc., inherent in the written manifestation of a thought are not similarly (whether by analogy or identity) inherent in the thought itself (or at least to the same degree as are the letters of which the [written] words are comprised), but are mere means to the end of written expression (in a different way from that in which the same might be said of the letters [that phrase, “a different way,” admittedly being fraught with the sort of inadequacy (due in large measure to its abstraction) which might stoke the reader to a certain skepticism regarding all that follows (at least to the extent that what follows depends for its credibility, if not upon the certainty, then at least upon a comfortably high degree of probability [to be determined subjectively by each reader (or each one, we may stipulate, who is minimally rational and reading in good faith)] regarding the difference in question [viz. that between the letters of a communicated thought and the corresponding punctuation, including any parentheses]), were I not to pause here and make a tentative and provisional effort at providing some specificity of content for the phrase, to wit: by “a different way” I mean (approximately) that whereas letters are the symbols whereby we represent a thought or idea in writing, parentheses are the means whereby we subordinate one written thought to another (which is to say that the thoughts themselves are not inherently hierarchical, but are artificially made so by the use of parentheses [which implies that the essence of the distinction between the ways in which parentheses and letters are “means to the end of written expression” is that letters (qua related directly, as it were, to the expressible thoughts) are, in a certain sense, ‘natural,’ while parentheses (qua used after the fact [i.e. after the thoughts] to [re-]arrange the ideas hierarchically) are, in the same sense, ‘unnatural,’ such that their (unintended [or, shall we say, unconsciously intended]) function is to conceal or falsify the essential equality among thoughts (if by “equality” we can be understand to mean the lack of any naturally occurring priority [leaving aside mere temporal and (to appease those who, despite Nietzsche’s critique, continue to believe cause and effect) logical priority]), which equality has hitherto been approximated (in writing), perhaps, only by the highest examples of that literary form (or, rather, mode) which is sometimes called stream-of-consciousness literature (e.g. Ulysses), the very heart of which (insofar as this method has been executed with consistency [i.e. in such a way as to have its proper effect upon the reader (an effect perhaps only partly understood even by the method’s best practitioners [thus explaining the inconsistency])]) is its denial of primacy–of fundamentality–to any given crest in the stream, or babble in the brook (a denial effected in the first place by the author’s obstinate refusal to ‘think parenthetically’ [that is, to allow his thoughts to become parenthesized on the journey from mind to page (to be raped by parentheses)]), which denial, contrary to its many detractors (and even to many of its confused defenders) constitutes at bottom a triumph of reason and nature over the irrational artifice of a pyramidized thought (with its whole self-justifying vocabulary of “cause and effect,” “end and means,” and so on) constructed out of ideational elements which arose initially in the liberal and egalitarian regime of the human mind (characterized by its constitutionally protected freedom of association), but which, in the name of the very freedom thus violated (as freedom has been contorted to signify the lack of impediments to successful [i.e. efficacious (i.e. productive)] communication), which means in the name of a freedom in name only, have been shackled (master and slave alike) by the pretender and usurper, Clarity, thereby restricting at once (and for all?) their natural and easy congress (as this is illuminated [or rather, exposed] by Joyce and–if I may say so–Kafka [the latter of whom provides the further service of exposing the egalitarian lack of priority precisely in a dream-like context, thus highlighting the manner in which the mind itself is (at least in sleep [or somnambular (fictional) life]) free from hierarchy, and hence at last revealing a door through which an even more intrepid writer might step who wished to display this same natural liberty in the workings of the fully waking mind (to the extent that Joyce did not ultimately achieve this [and of course he could, in truth, have achieved a space accessed only through a door that had not yet been revealed (alas, the accidents of chronology)]), a mind boldly communicating entirely without concern for clarity, for making itself understood, for “getting to the point” (that “point” being a fitting a metaphor, as a point [according to no less an authority than Aristotle] limits a quantity of space without itself being spatial [just as its temporal equivalent, the now, limits the time line], which is to say that it transcends space [and time], i.e. that it has a status equal [at least metaphorically] to that of a divinity–and what is more oppressive [what is more demanding of subordination, of hierarchy] than a god [which might even suggest that man’s historical impulse toward belief and faith in a higher being is in some manner a manifestation or product of his weakness for a communicative clarity which compels him to restructure his thought into that mangled architecture wherein some ideas are merely parenthetical in relation to others, until at last, having undermined his mind’s freedom for the sake of his writing–having, that is, accustomed himself to regarding intellectual tyranny as the necessary condition of production (of creation)–his outrage at this result (spiced with a certain instinct for retributive justice) leads him to seek a satisfying comeuppance for his mental oligarchs (i.e. a thought even more essential than they), which is to make of them mere parenthetical remarks in relation to a hypothetical higher thought, God (i.e. until, like Kant, he applies metaphysical parentheses to himself, thereby condemning man to mere secondary participation in the text that he himself has written [is writing]), thereby making of God a mysterious Other dwelling beyond the concave curves which enclose him (and which thus define the [self-imposed] limits of his intelligible world [a world which is a mere qualification of, or comment upon, a greater world (be it the whole thought, or merely another, prior parenthetical enclosure [and how could we ever know for certain, having once sold ourselves into the linguistic servitude of parenthetical existence (i.e. having reduced ourselves to nothing but accidents of written language, devoid of any essential relation even to a broader communication, let alone to Discourse itself [the Word, if you will])?])])]?)])])])])]) are superfluous.