Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Summary -- La Rochefoucauld IV 146

Diagramming a Maxim

Ju. K. Shcheglov & A.K. Zholkovskij from Moscow, Russia, took a look at one of La Rochefoucauld's clever Maxims:

Why must it be that our memory is capable of retaining even the minutest details of what has happened to us, but is not capable of remembering how many times we  have retold them to one and the same person?
--La Rochefoucauld, Maximes, No. 313

and then diagrammed the structure of it as shown below.
The result was a paper of about 39 pages in length, about which they said, “The following essay is an attempt to describe the structure of this maxim -— seen not as an ethical or philosophical proposition but as a miniature work of art, a literary text.”

The entire article is on-line at:
Note the importance of “comic censure” in the diagram. La Rochefoucauld is using humor to get us to agree with him that something deserves censure. The complexity of the intellectual structure, combined with the simplicity and recognizable syntax of the narrative, combined with the humor used to transmit the lesson, represent a great example of the four qualities described in the Encyclopedia Britannica (1911 edition) entry on La Rochefoucauld and repeated in blog entry #143:

In uniting the four qualities of brevity,
                                                    fullness of meaning and
La Rochefoucauld has no rival.”

Further, we can trust La Rochefoucauld. He writes plainly. He doesn't waste our time. He never fawns upon us nor does he try to manipulate us emotionally. Notice the importance of item (c) -- psychological verisimilitude -- and the specific characteristics (4) and (5) in the diagram, a position itself entirely consistent with realism.  He eagerly shares his profound sense of humor, as comedy itself is a means of clear and full communication so quick as to shock us into laughing. Out of sight, he has perfected the point and the comedy by trying it out and accepting improvements from Madame de Sable and the rest of the salon that acted as his reviewers and editors. The result is an important and high level of trust between the author and those readers who are unoffended. This trust is important, because there is something he left out of his Maxims, something so powerful and shocking he mentions it directly only in a private letter, though hints of it are sprinkled throughout his Maxims. We will discuss that in the next blog entry – La Rochefoucauld's Great Secret Understanding – which itself is the key to uniting and concluding the Quiddity blog.

Incidentally, La Rochefoucauld's invitation to join him in his humor of censure is the powerful technique of the professional comedian. It is a technique entirely outside most formal philosophy and certainly lacking in deconstruction theory. Therefore we can safely mistrust deconstruction as well as other humorless philosophical approaches when we seek truth.

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