Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Lower Depths


(From Beverly Hills Stories)

- The rule is, when you make yourself into a machine you agree to be treated as a machine.
- Whose rule?
- My rule.
- People can stop making themselves into machines and be people again.
- Am I supposed to wait?
- Yes.
- And while waiting I die? Assuming you're right and it's even possible for them to stop making themselves into machines. You know the play by Gorky, The Lower Depths? About a flop house in turn of the 20th century Russia? The question is raised: are these creature, the tenants of the house, the inhabitants, are they still human?
- You think you can treat people like machines because they have made themselves into machines and as machines have lost the ability to remake themselves into humans?
- It's an idea. You're running a sort of Beverly Hills flop house here. You've got me in one corner, and you've got your childhood friend living in other corner, a limo driver who boasts of never having read a book in his life. Do you know what we discussed last night while you were off administering to your flock on the streets?
- What?
- English grammar. He claims to be religious, has a copy of the bible laying around with his things. He says intentions and words and thoughts don't matter, only actions. It's not that he is against hypocrisy. I don't think he knows the word. Rather he wants to be able to act by rule, without thought. He was making fun of people who say, "Joe & me", "me & him", as not knowing the rules. I informed him there was an ongoing dispute regarding this question. "People dispute about grammar? he asked. Yes, they do. There is the "generative grammar" school that says many different rules are used to construct sentences, which when completed cannot be seen to satisfy any set of rules. The resulting sentence, composed according to rules, breaks some of them.
- Did he understand?
- No. Do you? I went on. If you want to tell a story of going with your friend to the market, you can express the idea of going together with, in which case there are not two subjects, but a relationship between them. In English grammar, the expression of going "with" directs you use the form "me," or  "him", instead of the subject form "I".
- And did he understand that?
- No, of course not. Do you? Put aside the question of grammar. The real question is whether you try to produce actions that satisfy a rule, or you use rules to choose your actions, not sure how they will turn out, ready for something new to result, like the sentence we complete not knowing in advance how we are going to do it.
- So the people in the lower depths...
- Like your friend the limo driver Christian grammarian who never read a book in his life...
- The people in the lower depths, having made themselves into machines, can act by rule, but have lost the ability to create new sentences by assembling them, choosing each word by rule but open to a result that will not satisfy all the rules?
- Congratulations.
- Thank you. I don't have to worry then you'll treat me like a machine?
- For the time being.

Continued here