Sneakily taking the hinges off the doors of perception

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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. elvwood
    June 4, 2012 @ 1:36 am

    I thought you'd have fun with this one, and I knew narrative collapse would have to be a big theme of the entry; but as usual, you've gone far beyond what I could think of. Great stuff – many thanks!


  2. Gnaeus
    June 4, 2012 @ 1:50 am

    " The threat is that the ish will be unleashed into the Omniverbum, which is essentially the Word of "in the beginning was the" fame."

    A problematic suggestion, since "through him all things were made and without him nothing was made which was made", according to the same passage, two verses further down (i.e., Jn 1:3). We appear to be dealing with gnosticism. Again. "Nihil novi", etc.

    "By tearing something down into component parts and looking at the absurdities generated we do not mean to leave the thing taken apart and non-functional."

    Unfortunately, intentional or not, this tends to be the result.

    "Rather we mean to prompt the creation of further concepts – we mean progress."

    Unfortunately, your fourfold visions seem (to the ignorant humanist [note lack of capitalisation]) to render everything meaningless by insisting that everything is meaningful (including that everything is meaningless, that meaning is meaningless, that meaninglessness is meaningful, etc.) "When everyone's a somebody", etc.

    "(The other thing people fail to realize about deconstruction and postmodernism is who we're trying to fool. Ourselves, mainly.)"

    Well, if you aren't fooling anyone else…

    "In other words, the ish is finally foiled by the slipperiness between a word and its meaning – the very slipperiness that fuels postmodernism."

    Please correct me, but I thought there was no difference between a word and its use/meaning. I thought this was the essential premise of Wittgenstein's work.

    "Put another way, faced with a seemingly inescapable dualism between the word that would encompass the whole of creation into a single fixed thing (the omniverbum) and the word that would destroy all meaning (the ish), and, more crushingly, faced with the prospect that these are actually the same thing, the Doctor's solution is to play word games. The Doctor survives through the idea that continued use of language is self-sustaining and always creates new things to escape both extremes of fixity."

    As I thought, but this raises a serious issue: can the ish be a word? It is, essentially, not meaning. An anti-Logos. An inversion which must necessarily be limited, a an inversion of the unlimited. Once we understand this, we can tear the mask from it: the "ish" is none other than the Mighty Mother, Dulness.

    "As Argus’ eyes, by Hermes’ wand oppress’d,
    Closed one by one to everlasting rest;
    Thus at her felt approach, and secret might,
    Art after art goes out, and all is night…"


  3. Andrew Hickey
    June 4, 2012 @ 5:11 am

    You're eliding use and meaning, and they're two very different things.


  4. Adam Riggio
    June 4, 2012 @ 6:12 am

    Dismantling a phenomenon to look at its component parts is analysis. If analysis tends to reveal that the analyzed phenomenon doesn't achieve what we thought it could, or deceives us about what it actually achieves, so much the worse for the phenomenon, and so much the worse for us for trusting it without critique.

    "When everyone's a somebody. . ."
    But everyone is precisely a somebody. This is a problem that's bugged me a lot recently: the idea that in order for one body to be meaningful (or artful, or praiseworthy, or whatever similar ascription you want to use), it has to be contrasted with something that lacks meaning. Here, meaning is used as a sorting term. But there can also be the descriptive use of a term, where we describe a body in terms of how its meaning is generated.

    We can learn about some aspects of the world by asking sorting questions: "Is it X?" But there are other, also very important, aspects of the world that we can learn by asking descriptive questions: "How goes it?" Sorting questions have quick, easy answers: Yes, No, or Investigate further until establishing Yes or No. Descriptive questions are open-ended, with no indication at the start of an inquiry when your understanding will be adequate to the phenomenon investigated.

    When I worked in journalism, my most insightful piece of on-the-job training was my instruction never to ask "Is it X?" questions, because you never got interesting answers. I was always trained to ask "How?" and "Why?" questions because that was the way you actually learned something.


  5. David Anderson
    June 4, 2012 @ 6:18 am

    Wittgenstein's actual formulation is that when you ask for the meaning of a word you're asking how it's used. But I don't think Wittgenstein would say that therefore a word is how it's used. Indeed, his diagnosis of the problems of a lot of philosophy is that philosophy contains a lot of words that aren't actually being used in any way. (And 'Meaning' in philosophy is frequently one of them.)


  6. David Anderson
    June 4, 2012 @ 6:39 am

    I had a couple of bits of dissatisfaction with the story.
    The suffix …ish is itself an assertion of the gap between the word and its application since it signals that the word does apply but does not apply quite successfully. It's an explicit marker of the play of language (play in an engine is what happens when the parts don't quite fit together snugly). So regarding the syllable …ish as a complete breakdown of meaning that is opposed to the Doctor is in some ways an assertion that the Doctor is on the side of meaning as usual. I'm not sure that I'm entirely happy about that implication. (It's striking here that, contrary to the usual set up of a Doctor Who story the Doctor is known to at least some of the organisers and therefore belongs at the conference. In other words, he's not working in his usual status as the outsider.)
    I'm also unsure about the English-language jingoism. It's part undone when the lack of fit between US and UK English becomes crucial to defeating the entity – but I'm still not sure it's fully defensible.

    One other thing – it seems to be a truth universally acknowledged that Colin Baker's Doctor works in audio as he doesn't on television. It would be interesting to explore why that is further – is it just a matter of tweaking the character? There seems to be much too much to talk about in Jubilee to talk about that.


  7. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 4, 2012 @ 6:41 am

    I think the success of Colin Baker on audio can be accounted for almost entirely by the fact that the writers don't suck.


  8. Adam Riggio
    June 4, 2012 @ 7:35 am

    One of the major themes of this blog is really starting to become clear to me now. If it was clear to anyone else earlier, I fully admit that you're smarter than me. It was the subject of a twitter rant of mine last night: tracing the trauma and impact of the missing episodes on Doctor Who, its fans, and its producers. The wiped episodes from the 1960s are, of course, the most traumatically powerful, but unproduced stories like the original Shada and season 23 (I love that name, the Seasonish) have their own impacts as well.

    The near complete loss of the Troughton era and the last year of Hartnell is probably the most egregious trauma inflicted on the show. And their effects once the fan-industrial complex began to affect how Doctor Who was made was disastrous. They had lost forever this part of the show that so affected them as children, as the commenters on my mystification about the Yeti obsession illustrate. I re-read Phil's post on The Abominable Snowmen, and he's right that, in terms of their concept, the Yeti and the Great Intelligence are kind of stupid. Yet they were scary to children, and when those children became adults, they only had their romanticized nostalgia to inform them of what those stories actually were.

    The loss was traumatic — childhood was gone! — and there was no way to check the actual quality of those stories. So the opinion proliferated in fan culture and the reference literature that the style of story in the most decimated era — the base under siege — was glorified as what Doctor Who should be. No matter its quality, what is lost is remembered most fondly of all.

    What was most important in the base under siege was the monster of the week. All other characters were reduced to functions in the service of the display of the monsters through the siege. This was the message uncovered in Doctor in Distress: the Doctor and the companions were superfluous to a show that was conceived as being a catalogue of monsters. A catalogue of monsters makes for a great encyclopedia, but bad television.


  9. BerserkRL
    June 4, 2012 @ 9:28 am

    Wittgenstein draws a distinction between signs and symbols. A sign is the visible or audible physical mark, while the symbol is the sign used to mean something. So e.g. "bank" (meaning a financial institution) and "bank" (meaning the edge of a river) are the same sign but different symbols.

    Although this in effect is W. distinguishing between a word and its meaning, one point W. insists on — and this is what you may have in mind in saying that W. denies the distinction between a word and its meaning — is that there is no independently identifiable X, describable apart from the sign, such that the symbol = the sign plus X.


  10. BerserkRL
    June 4, 2012 @ 9:29 am

    no televised Doctor Who stories since Trial of a Time Lord have once mentioned or referenced any of its ideas

    Unless the Dream Lord counts as a nod to the Valeyard.


  11. Elizabeth Sandifer
    June 4, 2012 @ 9:31 am

    I think, much like the fact that Davies actively went with a different Time War and destruction of Gallifrey from the one he already had available, that the Dream Lord is less a nod to the Valeyard than a tacit rejection of it.


  12. Adam Riggio
    June 4, 2012 @ 9:44 am

    Thinking of the themes of the Whoniverse and continuity fetishism that have come to dominate the show from 1982-5, …ish basically expresses the answer. The strict continuity of the Whoniverse would kill Doctor Who by constraining his actions in a thicker and thicker web of references and internal consistency. The solution reminds me of what Phil wrote about The Ribos Operation about being stuck between a regimented order (the omniverbum) and purely destructive chaos (ish). Either solution marks the end of creativity, so total constraint and absolute dissolution amounts to the same, regarding practical action.

    "Faced with a seemingly inescapable dualism between the word that would encompass the whole of creation into a single fixed thing (the omniverbum) and the word that would destroy all meaning (the ish), and, more crushingly, faced with the prospect that these are actually the same thing, the Doctor's solution is to play word games. The Doctor survives through the idea that continued use of language is self-sustaining and always creates new things to escape both extremes of fixity."

    Facing a dualism of order and chaos, the Doctor should reject the whole system, deciding to play and act in the world, experimenting to create possibilities. At this point in the show's history, Doctor Who itself had to do this.

    The Seasonish is the ultimate way to do so. It was originally a dead time for the show: nothing was being produced. The result was that Colin Baker's tenure became the most maligned and truncated of the entire series. As the audio plays inserted story after story in the space around either side of Trial of a Time Lord, C. Baker's era expanded into a more diverse area than any Doctor fully constrained by the transmission of the classic series ever got. (McCoy's Doctor wasn't really constrained in this way, because the NAs continued in a forward momentum.)

    The Colin Baker era found its renaissance in the slippery spaces between television stories, an otherwise inconceivable outcome for a television show. Dualisms of order and chaos typically operate by convincing people that the dual choice is the only possibility. But Doctor Who accomplished the inconceivable by committing a kind of heresy against television (Binro triumphant?): making a television series without television.


  13. J. L. Webb
    June 4, 2012 @ 10:13 am

    I think that both tread the fine line between rejection and re-conception, avoiding what could be seen as continuity fetishism by reinventing old idea so as to be better tailored (in general, and to modern/television tastes).
    They still leave enough threads to the old versions of the ideas as that nothing need fall out of cannon (in so much as cannon is a meaningful concept, and let's face it some portion of the fandom will always insist on this), but they provide a loophole (a wormhole in the universe of ideas, if you will) through which the spirit of the original can be reached, without having to be tied to all of it's complexities and trappings.
    heaven knows what will become of the Valeyard…


  14. J. L. Webb
    June 4, 2012 @ 10:24 am

    Your re-allusion to the Secret Origin of The Doctor sparked a thought; If he is The Master of the Land of Fiction, then is not The Master what he was always conceived as? A dark inversion of The Doctor's psyche…
    Surely he is a manifestation of all the power and manipulation which The Doctor rejects by becoming a free spirit?


  15. Tommy
    June 4, 2012 @ 1:36 pm

    I'd have gone more with Big Finish's Jubilee (unless fingers crossed you mean to cover it at a later date, perhaps after Peri's departure) in terms of picking a story about the narrative collapse of Doctor Who and the creative destruction that comes with it. Especially since it's something of an answer and reckoning with the 'is the Doctor simply a bigot?' question left by The Two Doctors.


  16. Tommy
    June 4, 2012 @ 1:38 pm

    … and by extension, 'is Doctor Who the TV show just his propaganda?'


  17. BerserkRL
    June 4, 2012 @ 5:41 pm

    heaven knows what will become of the Valeyard

    It all depends who's running the show when Matt Smith's successor yields to Matt Smith's successor's successor.


  18. David Anderson
    June 5, 2012 @ 12:59 am

    That's up for 15th June, according to the Monday April 23 (Warmonger) post. And having just listened to Jubilee, I can see why it's being covered.


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