So there you are rolling along I-275 when a billboard catches your eye. It shows a urinal and says “This Is Not Art” with the “Not” Xed over. Since you live in these parts you know it must be about the Dali, and it is. But it also takes you into the world of self-reference. Self-reference means something that refers to itself. It is a cousin to the paradox, and it occurs in language and art. This billboard has its roots in a drawing of pipe by the surrealist Magritte on which he wrote “This is not a pipe.” Which it is not; it is a drawing. That “not pipe” has been widely imitated especially by museums trying to grab our attention.
This stuff is all around us. I once saw a sign for “The Graves Cemetery.” Layers of meaning, but I’ll bury them. The Greeks had them. Socrates was both self-referential and paradoxical. “I know one thing; that I know nothing.” Zeno’s paradox told us that if to get somewhere we go half way repeatedly, we will never arrive. We’ll always be the last half distance away. We see a box that says “All statements in this box are false.” Is the sentence true? If so, then it’s false. But then it’s true. “If the barber shaves everyone in the village who does not shave himself, who shaves the barber?” If he does not shave himself then he, the barber, shaves him. But if he shaves himself, then he cannot be one of those he shaves. Paradoxes.
In theatre we pretend that we can see through an invisible wall. We pretend that the actors don’t know we’re there, and they pretend we aren’t. But in Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth” Sabrina, the maid, comes down to the apron and speaks directly to the audience, “Why can’t we have plays like we used to?” Self-reference and paradox. Good play; should be done more often.
Escher and Duchamp are also self-referential. Escher’s drawing of a hand drawing itself may be best known. His stairs going up and down simultaneously are paradoxical. Like Sabrina he violates a conven- tion, the representation of three dimensional objects on a two dimensional piece of paper. Fun drawing.
At this point the Old Professor must decide whether to wax academic about Russell’s theory of types, or just list a bunch of stuff. (The wily will note the self reference.) Which did I do?
I am not the subject of this sentence. Disobey this command.
Less is more.
You’ve outdone yourself as usual. Authorized parking forbidden!
Just say “no” to negativity.
All generalizations are wrong.
Don’t use contractions.
Honk if your horn is broken.
I am nobody.
I dedicate this to my beautiful wife without whom
I would be nothing. She comforts and consoles, never complains nor interferes, asks nothing, endures all, and writes all my dedications.
This content was stolen by David H. Smith, Ph.D., retired professor.