Alter Egos - I Am Done Watching This
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Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Hofstadter talks about viral sentences: self-replicating sentences, sentences which reproduce through an appropriate host. A very simple example would be, "Say me!" The sentence is asking to be said. If we oblige, it replicates and can clearly spread.
Sometimes they come with bribes or threats. "If you copy me, I'll grant you three wishes." "Say me or I'll put a curse on you."
Chain letters operate on the same premise.
More concerning perhaps are self-replicating sentences that are in fact self-replicating ideas: "The bourgeoise is oppressing the proletariat." The repetition of the statement is "driven by a desire to protect a victim figure from a villian figure".
As writers, we ignore the above at our peril.
Step aside for one moment: Hofstadter quotes from a letter he received from Stephen Walton: A manuscript sent to an editor may be considered viral, even though it contains no explicit self-reference, because it is attempting to secure its own reproduction through an appropriate host; the same manuscript sent to someone who has nothing to do with publishing may have no viral quality at all.
What are reject letters then but anti-virals?
As writers we seek to reproduce ideas and other abstractions. We do this through the basic unit of the word and through the sentence. In fact words are by the very nature of language, by the very nature of their existence in the language we use, self-replicating. The structure of a sentence is self-replicating by its very definition. And what of the structure of poems and stories? Oh yes we are an infectious bunch indeed.
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