Monday, July 30, 2018

Literary Corner: He also expressed concern over how the borogoves are all mimsy

Salvador Dalí, Bureaucrat and Sewing Machine, 1933, via Tutt'Art.

Fake News Morphing
by Donald J. Trump

Had a very good and interesting
meeting at the White House with
A.G. Sulzberger, Publisher
of the New York Times.
Spent much time talking about
the vast amounts of Fake News
being put out by the media
& how that Fake News has morphed
into phrase, “Enemy of the People.” Sad!
When news outlets report this, as the Times does, as an example of Trump saying something

Mr. Trump said on Twitter that he and Mr. Sulzberger had discussed “the vast amounts of Fake News being put out by the media & how that Fake News has morphed into phrase, ‘Enemy of the People.’ Sad!”
(David Folkenflik put it the same way on NPR, only in the audio there's nothing equivalent to the quotation marks, which makes it more the thing I'm going to complain about; the headline news reader turning it into simple indirect discourse—"talked about fake news and how it morphs into the phrase 'enemy of the people'"—was even worse), they're making a category error. You can't literally talk about "how that fake news has morphed into" any particular phrase.

That doesn't designate an event that happens in our universe. You can say the news consists of words, and the particular phrase also consists of words, and you can even say that words "morph" in their historical development, as Old English hlǣfdīge "loaf-maid" is transformed over time into modern English lady, but you can't claim that some collection of newspaper writings has been transformed in some sense into the words "enemy of the people" ("Look here, something's happened to my newspaper and now it's only got four words, can you get me a fresh one?")

This is an especially rich example of why it's better to think of Trump's utterance as poetry. What he wants to convey often isn't a message you could translate into some equivalent string of words but an experience that no other words could provide (imagine the Times reporting: "Lord Byron announced Wednesday that his current girlfriend walks in beauty like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies"). You need to ask not what it "says" but what it does.

Thus in this case the better response would be to think of Trump's words as corresponding to a cinematic effect where an inscription on a title card, or a Nebuchadnezzar wall, say, "Cohen to Testify President Knew in Advance of Trump Tower Meeting", trembles and dissolves, to the sound in the soundtrack of a noodling harpist, and then resolves into "Enemy of the People!"

Trump is trying to suggest something that you could formulate in a string of words—that the Times is reporting "bad stories even on very positive achievements" because it's our Enemy—but he's trying to do it, quite literally, by magic, making the idea appear in our heads out of the void, through a kind of Surrealist technique akin to "automatic writing", by not thinking.

And it works—because we fail to put the language under the microscope this way.

I see that Fake News morphing
I see a Fraudulent Dossier
I see angry Dems colluding
I see trouble on the way
Don't pick up your lines
From the Failing New York Times
There's some Fake News on the morph...

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