Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Self-Satirising Site of the Day

I've been struggling with a post about this site for a few days now. It's the home of the Literary Universals Project. Here you can find out what literary universals are:

For any given domain (e.g., narrative), universals are features (properties, relations, structures) of works in that domain that recur across genetically and areally unrelated traditions with greater frequency than would be predicted by chance. Genetically unrelated traditions are distinct in origin (e.g., Greek and Chinese traditions are genetically unrelated; Greek and Latin traditions are not). Areally unrelated traditions have not influenced each other, at least not with respect to the feature under consideration.

You can also join the hunt for literary universals. You don't have to be a literary scholar to find one; anyone with the ability to reason logically should be able to come up with heaps:

Perhaps the opposite of “contingent” universals (which might never have arisen) are logical universals. These are universals that necessarily apply to all traditions for logical reasons. For example, the relations between temporal order in story and discourse (i.e., the story and the way the story is told) are necessarily synchronous or anachronous. In other words, the discourse either presents events in the same order as they occur in the story or it changes that order.

On this basis, I'm pretty sure that this is a literary universal: any literary work written in a particular language will be more readily appreciated by readers who are literate in that language. I haven't actually tested this, but if my experience of trying to read Chinese and Japanese paperbacks over the shoulders of Asian students on the tram is anything to go by, I reckon I must be onto something.

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