Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Email Three

I find it ironic that in order for us to understand Barthes's "The Death of the Author," Dr. Schwartz had to "resurrect" the author and talk about 1968 and the Paris protests. She did this so that we could get a feel for the environment that produced such rebellious language. Obviously, 35 years after Barthes's publication, we still have not had the heart to murder our authors. We have to know the circumstances of works in order to analyze them. It can be something as simple as a general time (Shakespeare wrote in Elizabethan England) or as specific as motivations (The Communist Manifesto was a pamphlet specifically written for and given to workers). There needs to be some kind of context. I agree that often we look at authors as a categorization. Dr. Schwartz described Barthes as one of many 1968 Parisian writers who wrote with similar inflammatory language. If she hadn't said that, Barthes would have looked like someone making a mountain out of a molehill, but in the context of intellectual uprising, his language makes sense. She didn't need to tell us his biography or what he had for breakfast the day that he wrote "The Death of the Author." We only need a general context, and that's fine by me.

Regarding Rotman, I found the book to be very interesting, although I questioned some of his statements. He calls the new number system "Hindu" numerals. This is an inaccurate label because Hindu is the adjective form of Hinduism. There is nothing religious about these numbers, as the name implies. If he meant that they were Indian, he could have said "Hindi," although even that label is a little off. Zero was not invented in India; it was invented in Sumer. But if we want to play the "Columbus discovered America" game, then, all right, it was invented in India. Mathematicians and scientists (and almost anyone else I can think of) calls these numbers "Arabic numerals" because the Europeans learned about them from Arab traders. There is a running joke among Arabs that goes, "Everyone uses Arabic numerals...except Arabs." This is true: Arabs, Persians, and Indians all use different numerals albeit the same method of notation. Visit this website to see how I learned to write numbers: http://students.washington.edu/irina/persianword/numbers.htm. I think we could do a whole class on the semiotics of numbers, but then again, I hate math. Here's another flaw I find with Rotman: the origin of the word "cypher." OK, so the Rot man says that "zero" came from "cypher" without explaining how such a big leap took place; fine, I'll live with that. But then he says, "the etymology of the word zero, via 'cypher' from the Hindu sunya (= void)." OK, Mr. Rotman, I have to stop you there. Again, you used "Hindu," a word that refers to religion. Are you trying to make "void" sound mystical? Sunya comes from Sanskrit, the origin of all Indo-European languages, including Persian and English (not Arabic or Hebrew, which are both Semitic languages). The word "cypher" actually comes from the Persian word "sefr," which means zero and cypher (sound it out, gang, and you'll see how it makes perfect sense). How does this connect to Indians? Persian was the court language of India, the unifying language like Hindi is today. Persian was the trade language that was used with the Arabs (remember your geography, the Arab traders had to cross Persia via the Silk Road to get to India). The word "sefr" is today used by both Persians and Arabs to refer to zero, in fact it's the only name for a number that we have in common. It's okay with me that the Webster dictionary calls it an Arabic word; that's who the Europeans learned it from. I have this feeling that Rotman is British...I won't get into why, but it would help if this author hadn't killed himself by not supplying an "About the Author" page. He must have read Barthes.

4 comments:

Viscous said...

Interesting! How is the preparation for the interview going?? When is the interview?

prettydoc said...

My interview is two weeks from today in Houston. There is a hurricane coming there, though, so my interview may be postponed to a later date.

Humour and last laugh said...

interesting topics these days! the novel is dead or the author is dead or is it the reader who is no more?

prettydoc said...

Wow! A post from Nepal! You get the award for post from farthest away. I love this Internet thingy. It really brings people together.