(no subject)

Apr 09, 2009 11:43

 Interesting Theoretical Exercise:

When i say "James Bond" and my friend XJ says "James Bond" we mean different things.  This strangeness is possibly explainable by the causal theory of reference.

This theory says that at one point an item is "dubbed" (given a name).  the person(s) who name the item (say it is a cat) spread the word until all their friends and relations know the cat's name.  these friends and relations can now use the name to their friends and relations, and news spreads, and even people who could not pick the cat out of a line-up know it's name and can tell amusing anecdotes about it.

For a fictional character this is even more interesting, because a person who writes a novel, naming a character, say Albert, has never met Albert.  Albert does not technically exist, except that the author can talk about him easily.  As the author's friends are shanghaied into listening to the author they can soon make comments like, "I don't think Albert would do that."  or "Why doesn't Albert like Trisha?"  Readers of the now published book now know who Albert is, and they can tell their parents and friends about him to such an extent that they can ask, "Why hasn't Albert asked Trisha to marry him yet?" even if they have never read the book.

Now here is where the theory of fanfiction comes in.  Someone who knows about Albert (whether it's from being the author, talking to the author, reading the book, or listening to people who have read the book) may in fact write a story wherein Albert and Trisha do get married and have five children.  And Albert is still Albert.  Next someone may come along and read the story about the 5 children, having never even heard of the Albert books before, but enjoy the characters so much that she may write her own story in which Albert, Trisha and the 5 children are pirates!
But, according to the causal theory of reference, Albert still refers to the Albert named by the original creator (which is why, sadly, RPF can be slander).

(I am not going to broach the topic of UberXena because whether Dar from the Dar and Kerry stories refers to Xena in any way is far too muddling to think about.  A rose by any other name may not smell as sweet, but it is still a rose, isn't it?  Or is it a rose+ or a rose-, or both?  I think fanfiction is a very important place to look at theories of reference, but it's giving me a headache)

So now!  To the final point!

"James Bond" is not just a character, he is a franchise.  Ian Fleming, sitting by his pool and pickling in alchohol, named him, and wrote quite a few books about his exploits.  Many people read them and knew who James Bond was.  Then the movies were made about him.  I am assuming that at least the screenwriters and directors had read the books, but it's likely that many people had only heard of James Bond when walking onto the set.  More movies were made.  More books were written, by people other than Ian Fleming, and today all over the world people can use "James Bond" in a sentence.  I am guilty of "that was very James Bond."  Wherein i was using it as an adjective!

However, a year ago, i realized that although i could use the term James Bond in a sentence, i didn't really know anything about him.  I hadn't seen the movies, i hadn't read the books.  I couldn't even tell the difference between him and the guy in Mission Impossible.  So i read a few books.  Thunderball was brilliant!  I felt that i really got to know Bond, his tragic loyalty to his country, his weak kneed penchant for beautiful women, his camraderie with other members of his profession, including his housekeeper and M's secretary, his love for his gun, even if everyone else thought it too feminine.  So i watched the movie, and i couldn't recognize him in it anywhere.  For me, the movies weren't about James Bond.  My friend had seen the movies first, and the hard drinking, screws anyone Bond was Bond.

Technically our chains of reference ended up in the same place, with Fleming's poolside invention.  However, my view of him (heavily influenced by one of the later books in the series) and her view of him, were entirely different.  But the paths of our chains of reference were totally different.

According to the causal theory of reference, we are indeed referencing the same thing, and we should be able to understand each other.  And we can.  But this theory does not entirely account for the change in semantic value as the reference gets farther away from the referent.

fanfiction, theories, language

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