Sunday, January 13, 2008

If On A Winter's Night An Economist

I too am intrigued by this question from Diskusi Ekonomi: Is there any case in which standard economic cost-benefit/incentive framework can not be applied into?

For a non economics student, this query might sound annoyingly stupid. But after you read economics,--Freakonomics, for instance--, it may not be that foolish anyway.

Today I think I find a case in which such framework might not work, that is, the problem of writing/reading/interpreting a literary work.

From Italo Calvino's If On A Winter's Night A Traveler, an excellent novel I fetched from the library to balance my other winter-break reading of, well, The Machinery of Freedom: Guide to a Radical Capitalism, I read this passage:
"...She explained to me that a suitably programmed computer can read a novel in a few minutes and record list all of the words contained in the text, in order of frequency. "That way I can have an already completed reading at hand," Lotaria says, "with an incalculable saving of time. What is the reading of a text, in fact, except the recording of certain thematic recurrences, certain insistence of forms and meanings? An electronic reading supplies me with a list of the frequencies, which I have only to glance at to form an idea of the problems the book suggests to my critical study. Naturally, at the highest frequencies the list records countless articles, pronouns, particles, but I don't pay them any attention. I head straight for the words richest in meaning; they can give me a fairly precise notion of the book"..." --page 182.
For me, that is a futile attempt to decipher a literary work or text. I know next to nothing of linguistic or literary criticism, but it seems to me that Calvino mocked the use of content analysis.

OK, I digress. My point is that in interpreting a novel, economics does not help, too. And that's perfectly fine.

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