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洛伊丝·泰森的逻辑错误  

2014-06-03 09:31:48|  分类: +文论 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Fallacies in Lois Tyson’s Critical Theory Today

 Fallacies are logical errors in reasoning. The following are six types of fallacy identified in Lois Tyson’s book on literary theory, Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide, fallacies that could be avoided in our writing with a little training in critical thinking. I am sure they are unintentional; they have just escaped Tyson’s attention.

 The first three types of fallacy have been identified in my blog article on Tyson’s misreading of deconstruction and poststructuralist cultural criticism. (See http://bfsutheory.blog.163.com/blog/static/322936832014422111039594/)

 Fallacy 1. Shared characteristic: a fallacy stating that qualities of A are inherently qualities of B, merely by an irrelevant association. For example, a box contains a chicken and a sparrow. It is fallacious to say that once you see a two-legged bird in the box, then you assume it is the chicken (not the sparrow) because both birds share the characteristic of having two legs.

 (1) Since classism and colonialism share the characteristic of othering social groups different from the dominant ones, Tyson assumes that the two critical approaches are the same. So she analyzes the othering project in classist psychology as if it was the same as one in colonialist psychology, as demonstrated in her colonialist reading of The Great Gatsby (434).

 (2) In her analysis of “A Rose for Emily,” Tyson intends to study Emily’s sexuality, but she ends up saying something about the gender roles Emily plays: “the text constructs Emily’s gender as a vacillation between the feminine and the masculine” (337). Since Judith Butler has liberated gendered sex (both sex and gender in traditional thinking) from the body, anyone (male or female) can play any sexual (heterosexual and/or homosexual) and gender roles (masculine and/or feminine) throughout his/her lifetime. The fallacy of a “shared characteristic” lies in Tyson’s assumption that since Emily plays both gender roles (masculinity and femininity), a characteristic shared by both straight and nonstraight people, then an analysis about one’s gender roles is one about one’s sexuality. So Tyson argues that “the characterization of Emily exceeds the opposition between homosexual and heterosexual” (337).

 Fallacy 2. Straw man: ignoring someone’s real position on an issue and setting up a weaker version of that position (as if it was a straw man so easy for you to beat) by misrepresentation, exaggeration, distortion, or simplification.

 In her deconstructive readings of “Mending Wall” and The Great Gatsby, Tyson misidentifies the binary oppositions in Step 1 of the deconstructive procedure so that they can be deconstructed in Step 2 (262-4, 267-75). In these two cases of misidentification Tyson has committed two straw man fallacies, because each misidentified binary opposition is misrepresented as a weaker version of the real binary in each work, so that it can be easily deconstructed.

 Fallacy 3. Equivocation: it refers to the use of ambiguous expressions, especially in order to mislead or hedge.

 Apart from the cases of equivocation I mentioned in my other blog article on Tyson about switching shades of meaning of a given term, here is another equivocation from her book.

When talking about the lost object of desire or objet petit a in Lacan, Tyson explains that “in separating us from our preverbal world of idealized union with our mother, the Symbolic Order changed our mother into an other (someone separate from me) just as it changed everything else in our preverbal world of union into a world of people and things separate from ourselves” (28). One example of this lost object of desire or “fantasy union” with one’s mother in infancy is the ending of The Awakening, a “fatal union with the sea,” where Edna drowns herself: “her last experiences are sensory, not verbal, memories of her youth: she hears the barking of a dog, the clanging of spurs, the hum of bees, and she smells the odor of flowers” (34).

 Here, Tyson has used the ambiguous term not verbal to refer to preverbal. As she tells us, the union with mother (as a lost object of desire or objet petit a) happens in the Lacanian Imaginary before the infant acquires language (27). That’s why it is preverbal or prelinguistic. But Edna’s memories of youth (“the barking of a dog, the clanging of spurs, the hum of bees” and fragrances of flowers) in Tyson’s analysis have nonverbal meaning in language (in the Symbolic Order), serving as a contrast with the heroine’s final moments before death.

If we want to trace a scene in a literary work to the preverbal Imaginary Order in Lacanian psychoanalysis (as in a discussion about the lost object of desire or as in Kristeva’s semiotic, also in the Imaginary Order, where meaning collapses), we have to go beyond a mere description of sensory experiences (colors, sounds, movements, etc.). We need to focus on how such preverbal experiences render meaninglessness in language (in the Symbolic Order). But nonverbal meaning may reinforce verbal meaning in language, rather than disrupting its logic (as in the Imaginary Order). For example, the girl’s nonverbal language in the following dialogue is clearly meaningful in language—a nonverbal way of saying “Yes” to the boy’s proposal.

Boy: (Holding engagement ring in hand). Will you marry me?

Girl: (Extending hand to him).

Boy: (Putting ring on her finger).

In short, Tyson’s not verbal is an ambiguous reference to preverbal, but the two terms do not have the same meaning.

Fallacy 4. Slippery slope: a course of action that seems to lead inevitably from one action or result to another with unintended consequences.

About transgressive (hetero)sexuality as a practice paving the way for transgressive homosexuality, Tyson states that “a text’s focus on transgressive sexuality, including transgressive heterosexuality (such as extramarital romance), throws into question the rules of traditional heterosexuality and thus opens the door of imagination to transgressive sexualities of all kinds” (340). It is a slippery slope to argue that transgressive heterosexuality “opens the door of imagination to transgressive sexualities of all kinds” (including transgressive homosexuality). Analogously, it would be fallacious to argue that the overuse of marijuana as a painkiller “opens the door of imagination” to the overuse of all painkillers.

Fallacy 5. Non sequitur: meaning “it does not follow,” also known as irrelevant reason: use of evidence irrelevant to a conclusion.

(1) To support her claim about punishment of “Myrtle’s sexual vitality, that is, her aggressiveness,” Tyson says “the description of her death closes with a reference to her vitality: ‘The mouth was wide open and ripped at the corners as though she had choked a little in giving up the tremendous vitality she had stored so long’” (127-8). This is a non sequitur, because her conclusion about Myrtle’s sexual vitality does not follow from the evidence about the woman’s remaining life signs indicating “tremendous vitality” right at the moment of death. Tyson seems to assume that if a woman lives a life full of vitality, it means that her life can be characterized by sexual vitality or aggressiveness. If anything, the description of Myrtle’s death, I would argue, may stir up the emotion of pity on the woman, rather than intending a punishment of her sexual vitality as “her real crime” (127).

(2) Tyson argues that Nick in The Great Gatsby “inhabits a transgressive subculture” at West Egg because “Broadway had begotten upon a Long Island fishing village [West Egg].” Nick compares this Long Island fishing village, West Egg, to Broadway probably because of its vitality and glamor (because Gatsby lives there too). If it is because of its “transgressive subculture,” Tyson needs to prove it with substantial evidence. But the point is supported only by an assumption: “Nick’s observation that Broadway is responsible for this subculture is noteworthy both because Broadway was a gay cruising area in New York City at this time (Chauncey 146) and because the theatrical profession has always been associated, whether accurately so or not, with sexual tolerance and experimentation” (348).

Tyson’s argument is a non sequitur, because the point about Nick living in a sexually transgressive subculture at West Egg (being compared to Broadway) does not follow logically from the fact that “Broadway was a gay cruising area” and that “the theatrical profession has always been associated” with “sexual tolerance and experimentation.” Such an argument is similar to this fallacious point: since a friend of mine lives in a small town near Guangzhou which he likens to Broadway in New York City, then I argue that he lives in an area full of cultural activities because I know Broadway has been associated with theatrical productions (assuming he uses Broadway to imply nothing but its cultural activities). But in fact, the reason he likens that town to Broadway may be because he thinks the price of housing there is as expensive as it is in Broadway (or may be what Tyson has said about its transgressive subculture), or because of any reason other than its cultural activities.

 Fallacy 6. Suppressed evidence: the omission from an argument of known relevant evidence (or the failure to suspect that relevant evidence is being suppressed).

 After a lengthy discussion about George Chauncey’s gay history of New York City, Tyson uses the ambiguous term transgressive sexuality (another equivocation) to refer to the City in Nick’s eyes in The Great Gatsby that resembles gay New York in Chauncey’s writing: Nick “goes to New York City, which both he and Jordan associate with transgressive sexuality. Nick says of New York, ‘I began to like… the racy, adventurous feel of it at night,’ and Jordan observes, ‘There’s something very sensuous about it—overripe, as if all sorts of funny fruits were going to fall into your hands’” (348). In her use of the term transgressive sexuality as the implied meaning of transgressive homosexuality with which New York City is associated in Chauncey, Tyson has suppressed the evidence of Nick’s heterosexuality in this comment on the City. Nick’s heterosexuality is clear to Tyson, at least in this part of the novel, shown in the same passage she has cited elsewhere in more detail (273, 350). When Nick “began to like… the racy, adventurous feel” of the City, he was telling us a much clearer message about the transgressive (hetero)sexuality than the term Tyson has used to render here, but she has failed to point out his explicit heterosexual reference to the City and in so doing suppressed his sexual orientation (at this stage of his life in New York) in the ambiguity of transgressive sexuality.

 Work Cited

Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2006.

References

Logical Fallacies. http://www.logicalfallacies.info.

The Sceptic’s Dictionary. http://www.skepdic.com.

张在新(主编),《大学英语写作教程——从创新思维到批判思维》,外研社,2014年。

张在新(编著),《英语写作教程——从创新思维到批判思维 4:批判思维与议论文》,外研社,2011年。

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