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April 12, 2007

Thank you Pop Culture for Archie Bunker!

de Man, ''Semilogy and Rhetoric'' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

"asked by his wife whether he wants to have his blowling shoes laced over or under, Archie Bunker answers with a question: 'What's the difference?'...'What's the difference did not ask for difference but means instead 'I don't give a damn what the difference is' the same grammatical pattern engenders two meanins that are mutually exclusive: the literal meaning asks for a concept (difference) whose existence is denied by the figurative meaning" (368).

Three cheers for de Man for having an entire section that I think every one of us was able to understand! Hip hip hooray! Seriously, I should write de Man a letter and thank him for using pop culture, mass media literature to provide an example for what he was talking about it because that is probably the first thing I have understood since we began this deconstruction stuff.

Anyway, I had never really thought about this before and I think it is a brilliant point. Archie's question to his wife is not really a question at all. But, how can that be? It looks like a questions, sounds like a question, and uses one of the fundamental W question words (who, what, where, when, why) we all learn about in grade school. Grammatically, it is a question. But, as experienced readers, we know from the context that by using the grammatical elements of a question, he is really making a statement that reveals his attitude towards the subject. And the rhetorical question "What's the difference?" is arguably much more effective than the statement: "I don't give a damn what the difference is." So, as de Man shows us, the grammar and the rhetoric of this simple sentence are, as Karissa describes it, battling each other in a boxing ring. These words that would normally signify one thing, instead signify something completely different. We must decipher these meanings through the deconstruction of a text. I think, this proves how important context is in terms of understanding language. We shouldn't ever look at words, sentences, phrases and the like in isolation when deconstructing text for literary analysis. We would miss too many things that impact the meanings, which may already be conflicting in terms of grammar and rhetoric.

Posted by LorinSchumacher at April 12, 2007 12:25 AM

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