Transposition in life (excerpt of forthcoming essay)



II. Form, content, context and transposition in real life

On a perpetually empty road, at a perpetually empty intersection, a man's parents and the man himself have pulled to a full halt at the stop sign all his life. His parents, his driving teacher and everyone he knows has said and, in his presence, stopped at the intersection in accordance with the law. Every time he reaches the intersection, he momentarily, perhaps unconsciously, considers people's past reaction to the stop sign (the cause here), that is: The stop sign causes the effect of a reaction (which entails stopping to his knowledge). Whether or not he stops at the intersection, the man compares the present context to the past. If he sees them as sufficiently similar, he will presumably stop; if he determines a material difference, he may not. As we will see, whether or not he stops, whether acting consistently with the past or not, he has essentially engaged in a transposition.

               In part I, the key terms for transposition were content, form and context: In life they would be defined as:
Content: Material provided within the form (same)
Form: Cause + effect
Context: Surroundings, environment in which content occurs (same)

The elements of this story correspond closely to those of transposition in literature. As an original situation, parallel to the original sentence, there is a man in the past driving, reaching an intersection with a stop sign and halting. The form of the original is the man seeing the same stop sign and reacting, i.e. there is a similar cause (seeing the sign) and effect (reacting), which involve the identical content of halting in the original along with other components of the content such a man, driving, stop sign. So when the driver sees the stop sign in the present, he is conscious of two contexts: the past and present. The driver's action is the transposition: If he sees the two contexts as similar, then he will act in accordance with tradition (by stopping); if he continues driving without stopping, he sees divergence in the contexts. In either case, the form remains the same in the present and past: stop sign (cause) - reaction (effect) - driver's action. And if there is a change in content due to the driver's not stopping, that does not change the equation of transposition:

[Grammar + meaning (Form)] + [previous known context + present known context] = Transposition
or
[Stop sign (cause) + reaction (effect)] + [21st century context + 20th century context] = Driver's actions

               I include the word "known" and "palpable" in reference to context in order to highlight a distinction between the dual nature of transposition and the singularity of literature. Implicitly, every narrative and every sentence or situation in an original narrative takes place in reference to another context. If at all, original literature only seems to lack an implicit second context. Even when the narrator of Anna Karenina tells a simple story with a specific timeframe, each sentence is informed by many unknown or intangible contexts.[1] Such contexts are in all works of art. They would also be present in an original narrative with the aforementioned man driving up to a stop sign. What makes transposition different from original literature, is the palpable duality of context, i.e.: We know both the original context and the transposed context. We know that the context of each transposed sentence is the original sentence's time and place on the one hand and the transposed sentence's time and place on the other, just as the man driving can know his past and present context.


[1] It is important to say here that I am not talking about the distinction between the context of the story and the context of the book's appearance.
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