Boustrophedon


In Ancient Greece, the boustrophedon, meaning literally “to turn like oxen”, was the writing of alternate lines in opposite directions, one line from left to right and the next from right to left, like the oxen would do when ploughing a field.

Common styles of boustrophedon writing include:

  • Inversion of every other line, but not the words themselves.

E.g. So again we have learned something,
Greek the about joke cheap a making of instead
civilisation upon which everything around us depends

  • Inversion of every other line, as well as the words themselves, but not each individual letter.

E.g. gnihtemos denrael evah ew niaga oS
daetsni fo gnikam a paehc ekoj tuoba eht keerG
sdneped su dnuora gnihtyreve hcihw nopu noitasilivic

  • Inversion of every other line, the words themselves as well as each individual letter.

Some Etruscan texts have also been written in boustrophedon style, as have some early Hungarian and Polynesian scriptures.

Chinese Box World


‘With the metaphor of the Chinese box Brian McHale in his book Postmodernist Fiction explains a frequent phenomenon in postmodernist literature. The phenomenon whereby a story-line is interrupted by another story, thus creating a discontinuity that may be subtle as in the case of Hamlet’s play-within-the-play, where each story represents a different ‘world’. The purpose of these novels-within-the-novel; still-photographs-within-the-novel; films-within-the novel in modernist literature “serves as a tool for exploring issues of narrative authority, reliability and unreliability, the circulation of knowledge, and so forth.” In postmodernist literature these different interrupting worlds/narratives are so frequent that the original narrative sometimes gets lost. Attention is drawn to the fact that we can never know the complete truth, we are only capable of knowing a truth, and different Chinese boxes will give us different (sometimes conflicting) information about different worlds.’

– McHale, B. 1987. Pöstmödernist Fiction London, United Kingdom: Methuen Inc. p. 113

Gricean Maxims


According to the linguist Paul Grice, the cooperative principle is a norm governing all cooperative interactions among humans. The principle consists of four maxims:

  • The maxim of quantity, where one tries to be as informative as one possibly can, and gives as much information as is needed, and no more.
  • The maxim of quality, where one tries to be truthful, and does not give information that is false or that is not supported by evidence.
  • The maxim of relation, where one tries to be relevant, and says things that are pertinent to the discussion.
  • The maxim of manner, when one tries to be as clear, as brief, and as orderly as one can in what one says, and where one avoids obscurity and ambiguity.

“The greater the ambiguity, the greater the pleasure.” ― Milan Kundera

Idiotic Division of Functions


‘According to the current way of thinking (or not-thinking), it seems that if we are to enjoy anything then we must not have to think about it, and, conversely, if we are to think about anything, then we mustn’t enjoy it. This is a calamitous and idiotic division of functions.'[1]

– Queneau. R. 1947. Exercises in Style New York, United States: New Directions (2012) p. xiv


[1] Excerpt of the preface by Barbara Wright who translated Queneau’s Exercises de Style in 1981.

On Tragedy and Comedy


“The difference between tragedy and comedy: tragedy is something awful happening to somebody else, while comedy is something awful happening to somebody else.”

– Aaron Allston

The Crime of Poverty?


‘America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, ‘It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.’ It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: ‘if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?’ There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand – glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register. […]

Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say Napoleonic times. Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves.’

Vonnegut. K. 1969. Slaughterhouse-Five New York, United States: Random House (2007) p. 128-129