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Monday, June 13, 2016

Staring Down Reality

When you look too closely at anything, it disappears. This fundamental fact, this fact as fundamental as any fact can get, gets too little attention when we attempt to show or explain or represent. You can explain quite well to any third grader what a syllable is. You can get her to demonstrate that she has understood your explanation and to go off merrily clapping her hands whenever the occasion to count syllables arises and never to question her skill or the accuracy of her knowledge or the ontological status of the thing she knows for the rest of her life. Try however to explain to a professor linguistics what a syllable is and she will poke legitimate holes in every definition you try until finally you and she will be compelled to conclude either that there is no such thing as a syllable or that there well may well be such a thing as a syllable but what they are is beyond human comprehension.

If we have this problem with something a simple as a syllable, we will almost certainly have it with anything more complex. And everything is more complex.

Compare this

What is a syllable

to this

What even is a syllable

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