Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Letter from the Editor

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Letter from the Editor

Article excerpt

A colleague recently handed over me a copy of a science fiction novel for my summer reading pleasure. Penned by British author China Mielville, Embassytown (Ballantine Books, 2011) is a brilliantly crafted tale set in a far distant future on a planet at the edge of the universe whose narrative plot centers around language. In fact, in many ways, we can say the story is about General Semantics (GS), as the following quotes suggest.

  Does it ever occur to you that this language is impossible?"
  complains the story's female protagonist. "It makes no sense.
  They don't have polysemy. Words don't signify: they are the
  referents. How can they be sentient and not have symbolic
  language" (p. 80)? ... "What we call their words aren't words,
  they don't, you know, signify. And what they call our minds
  aren't minds at all" (p. 81). And when the alien race known
  as the Ariekene succumb to the power of language as a
  "god-drug" our heroine reflects: "No matter how alien
  the Ariekene mental map, the sense of self, I thought
  that must be truly terrible."

GS is not a new influence in the genre of speculative fiction. Many are no doubt familiar with A. E. Van Vogt's seminal 1948 masterwork The World of Null-A, the first major science fiction novel published in hard cover. You may recall that Van Vogt placed the Institute of General Semantics at the core of the novel's central narrative, with subplots and themes based on GS ideas and concepts, as well as direct quotes from Korzybski in many of the chapters' epigraphs. One such quote comes at the introduction to Chapter 2 as follows: "Our tragedies began when the 'intensional' biologist Aristotle took the lead over the 'extensional' mathematical philosopher Plato" (p. …

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