Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics

A Structural Model of Phenomena with Embedding in Literature and Other Arts Author(s): Viveca Füredy Reviewed work(s): Source: Poetics Today, Vol. 10, No. 4 (Winter, 1989), pp. 745-769 Published by: Duke University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1772809 . Accessed: 26/12/2011 11:14
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Model of Phenomenawith A Structural and Other Arts Embeddingin Literature
Viveca Furedy
Hebrew University

Speaking of the play with a play-within-the-play, Dieter Mehl (1965: 42) once said that there had "hardly [been] any attempt to treat the subject comprehensively," and that he was "not even sure whether it would be possible at all, because such a bewildering variety would have
to be included [and because the subject] is ... much more complex

and less easily defined than many other conventions." The same holds true of the whole of the structural category to which the play with a play-within-the-play belongs, namely, what may be called "embeddingembedded objects," which also includes phenomena such as novels with novels-within-the-novel, paintings with paintings-within-the-painting, and films with films-within-the-film (or with paintings or plays-withinthe-film), Chinese boxes and Russian dolls, paradoxes, quotations and free indirect speech, mise en abyme(in some usages of the term), and many other things.' Nevertheless, the present paper, taking Mehl's words as a challenge, constitutes an attempt to treat "comprehensively" or theoretically not only the play with a play-within-the-play
1. Studies of embedding include Voigt 1954; Nelson 1971 [1958]; Mehl 1961, 1965; Genette 1972, 1983; Dallenbach 1977; Bal 1981; Ron 1987. A book which, among other things, also deals with embedding and which acted as a catalyst for my own model is Hofstadter 1980. I regret very much that McHale 1987, which his approach differs from mine-partly -although overlaps with my discussion, arrived too late for me to be able to relate to it within the body of the article. I could only add a few references in footnotes, which, I am afraid, do not do this interesting book justice. Poetics Today 10:4 (Winter 1989). Copyright ? 1989 by The Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics. ccc 0333-5372/89/$2.50.

is an act of punctuation. psychology and communication. each of which has its own defining characteristics and effects." is radically different from a corresponding "simple" object without embedding (a play. Not only communicational continua are subject to punctuation. and so on). is introduced by the participants. Alice's hesitation as to whether what Humpty Dumpty is wearing should be called a cravat or a belt is a case in point. among others. Beavin. Every time I press the lever he gives me food" (Watzlawick. which involves both. Any act of focusing or classification. the very arbitrariness of the punctuation of a continuum may. which I shall call "logical levels. This "Ur-phenomenon" of embedding is brought into being when a boundary of the type which creates discontinuous hierarchical levels. As I hope to show." is inserted into a continuum by means of an act of "punctuation. When there is no agreement. logic. There is normally. into which it was introduced by Bateson and Jackson (1964). tacit agreement between them about this punctuation. punctuation.746 Poetics Today 10:4 (see Furedy 1983) but the structure of embedding as such. and computer programming. literary as well as nonliterary. but so is the usually unconscious decision to call something a flower or a rose. and Jackson 1967: 55)." Such a phenomenon. and thus any act of perception. be exploited in art or in jokes. it is ubiquitous and unavoidable. it is not inherent in the language but arbitrarily imposed on the sequence of verbal interaction. but also that they are actually three facets of the same underlying structure. however. its two parts are equally important and interdependent for their character as embedding or the somewhat unwieldy name used to refer to the embedded-hence whole. following Whorf (1956). . and for their relation to each other. as in the example of the rat which said. painting. The most important of these concepts are continuum. a radical decision to focus on the boundary between the embedding level and the embedded level enables one to demonstrate not only that (in their "pure" state) there are only three kinds of such phenomena. novel. and Continuum Punctuation The term punctuation is taken from the field of communication. furthermore. boundary. which for the sake of simplicity will from now on be referred to as "object. On the other hand. and thus to account for all possible forms of such phenomena. but by no means always. They regarded conversation as a continuous sequence into which punctuation. and logical levels. "I have got my experimenter trained. as a entity The concepts used in the model presented here were borrowed and adapted from various disciplines. conflicting punctuations may cause a serious communicational impasse. when foregrounded. a sort of usually nonverbal metamessage.

whose punctuation (or perception of the punctuation in the text?) decides whether the object in question is simple or embedding-embedded. beginnings and endings. to distinguish between the "real" pattern on the wallpaper and the "art" pattern on the canvas or paper. This latter punctuation might be called retrospective. and again at the edge of the painted canvas and the novel-within-the-novel. remain) and when one is in a position to make the final revision of the sequential punctuation (which of course also involves continuous revision). Similarly. it is the reader. at the end of the reading process. with its gradual accumulation of data. which are intentionally misleading and which therefore make subsequent repunctuation necessary. of course. The second mode of punctuation is employed. Examples of the first mode is the division of a column of mercury into degrees (the arbitrariness of which is easy to perceive when considering that there are four different such punctuations in use: Celsius. albeit essential to the model proposed here. has no existence in the real world. namely. or boundary markers (see below). that is. but also because of the possibility of encoding in the text punctuational clues. Kelvin. it is this mode that I shall be referring to from now on. a painting of an artist painting another painting or a novel narrating the story of a novelist writing a novel is punctuated in the second mode at the edge of the canvas and the beginning of the text. for instance. In the case of the present model of embeddingembedded objects. or the like who is the agent defining the presence of embedding. and there are often gaps between the two. Both literary characters and the real reader are engaged in punctuational activities. the kind undertaken ad hoc. it exists only in the system of percep- . which might be termed sequentialpunctuation. Since it is this mode of punctuation which creates embedding-embedded objects. The application of either mode of the concept of punctuation to an extended object such as a literary text necessitates the further distinction between two kinds of punctuation. and Reaumur) and the division of a verbal text into chapters.and the kind possible only post hoc. Fahrenheit. during the process of reading the text as it unfolds in time and space. in the case of wallpaper with an abstract pattern on which is hanging a painting with the same abstract pattern.Furedy * Phenomena with Embedding in Literature 747 There are basically two modes of punctuation: one which divides a continuum into units on the same logical level and one which divides it into units on different logical levels (see below). The distinction is called for not only because of the nature of the process of reading. and so on. offstage spectator. paragraphs. when all information is available (although permanent gaps may. Boundary The boundary. although much of what I shall say about punctuation and the nature of the boundary probably holds true for the first mode as well.

two different "worlds" on either side of the boundary. approaching infinitude. first. In drama. In literature and painting. 2. it happens in a different place. Peter Handke's (1969) play Offending when the boundary between play and audience is erased. or the like) or of a certain kind of witness (an audience within the text. is precisely on the "intensification of ontological instability"in postmodernist film and fiction. thus by negation illuminating the markers and normal functions of that boundary when it is intact. the difference thus singled out by the boundary being only one of a very great number. a change of style or period of costume. from a different perspective. stage director. of possible candidates. at a different time. the well-functioning boundary is a gap that bridges. another boundary marker is the switch from outer play actor to inner play character. wholly in line with the view held in the discipline of communication. as distinct from an observer or an eavesdropper). its presence must be indicated by boundary markers. Thus Hamlet cannot intervene and stop the murder of Gonzago. In threedimensional objects and in paintings. It has several interesting characteristics: It is a continuous "line" which divides another continuum. The boundary thus functions within a system without being part of it. Being the mediating absence or "leap" between the levels. elaborates on what happens the Audience 3. constitutes a metamessage. on the other hand. the act of punctuation necessarily creates distinction. there may be a change in dialect or register. By intervening in the continuum. in verbal and visual arts is the presence in the embedding part of a "maker" of some kind who is responsible for the embedded object (a narrator. the modus operandi of the smooth movement of transition from one to the other (Muken 1979). creates. sponsor.3 A common indicator of the presence of such different worlds. the insertion of a boundary.748 Poetics Today 10:4 tion imposed on reality by the punctuator-perceiver. conversely. as it were. that punctuation. it turns difference (more/less) into distinction (either/or). Since the boundary itself is invisible. as opposed to the verbal arts. painter. No distinctions can be made without boundaries. The boundary is the discontinuity itself between the two discrete levels or units between which it distinguishes or. the boundary in this case passing within a biological entity. and the like. color versus black-and-white-setting. something like itself. the main marker (not to be confused with the boundary itself) is a change in ontological status2: there are. by there having existed. in the visual or verbalvisual arts. color-in films. and involves a different species of "people" from his own. . at some point. into discrete units. there is also a boundary marking difference in size. and thus of a boundary. thus turning it into something unlike itself. the embedded object of necessity being smaller than the embedding one. A transgressed boundary too is marked. McHale's (1987: 116) focus. cited above. In the verbal arts. lighting.

" written on the canvas precisely in order to counteract the "realistic pull" of that pipe. however. As we shall see. but even the words "ceci n'est pas une pipe. however. the relation between the two units distinguished by the boundary will be different. one of which represents "reality. 1956 [1908]) distinction between logical types and Tarski's (1956) between metalanguage and object language (distinctions with problems of their own. the punctuation of a painting into discrete logical levels. parallel story lines set in different places. and so on). The term as used here refers to hierarchically discontinuouslevels. and another Einstellung-a suspension of belief-to blur them in order not to be gulled by Magritte. which.4 The same. for example." without which not only does the realistic pipe become a mere blot of color. Logical Levels The term logical levels is used here to avoid the interpretation of the preposition within in concepts such as novel-within-the-novel or painting-within-the-painting as "physically surrounded by the embedding part of the object. perception. 1937 [1903]. create for logic). It is in principle a logical concept. nevertheless.Furedy * Phenomena with Embedding in Literature 749 an intact boundary. of two-dimensional spatial clues into three-dimensional objects." involves not only complex translations. and deceptive. Even so. and in each of these cases the effect created will also be different. there is no such thing as neutral. The concept of hierarchical discontinuity is abstracted from Russell's (1922. in their turn. holds true for embeddingembedded objects of different kinds as well. but also a liberal dose of "willing suspension of disbelief. two characters on the same level may speak in different dialects or registers. a number of such signs are usually needed to mark the certain presence of a boundary. the logical level-creating boundary can assume three different forms: It can remain intact. and second. It should be noted that since some of the phenomena in this by no means exhaustive list do not necessarily indicate the presence of a boundary (thus there may be different. as Douglas Hofstadter (1980: 701) has shown in his interpretation of Magritte's painting Ceci n'estpas une pipe. Thus a special Einstellung-a suspension of disbelief-is required of the viewer in order to perceive the distinct. by the feeling of the strangeness of the interaction between the former levels (see below). certain "traces")." as is often the case at least in literary criticism. In each of these cases. become reified. or cease to function and become transgressed (leaving. dissolve into smudges of paint. it has ontologi4. (As may be gathered from this account. See Kneale and Kneale's [1962] analysis of the theories and account of the problems which they. exceed the scope of this paper.purposeless.) . logical levels (see below). though involving other factors.

as in expressions like "It rains and rains. however. When such interaction nevertheless does take place." and the like. approaching infinity. however. The concept of infinity is mathematically tricky and may give rise to logical problems. as in a story by Julio Cortazar (1970). Chief among these ontological implications is the impossibility of interaction between different logical levels. is that of infinite regression or recursion. passim). The sense of oddness which arises is a sign that the object in which this effect is created is an embedding-embedded object with a transgressed boundary.5 The reason for this difference may well be that there is no theoretical 5. be taken to mean "a very high number of recursions. above. I should therefore. or when a character in a book murders the reader. presumably. for additional areas in which transgressions may manifest themselves. and not a simple object in which there is nothing to prevent such interaction to begin with. such as a play with a play-within-theplay.750 Poetics Today 10:4 cal implications which. as when the sun in an embedded painting casts a shadow in the embedding one." "infinite recursion. according to some-an infinite expansion cannot in fact take place. to other laymen. seems to me considerably weaker than that brought about by recursion. (See also the section on boundary markers. McHale 1987: 114. somewhat in the nature of an afterimage on the retina (cf." The sense of infinity created by cases of repetition. As a mathematical layman speaking. it does so precisely because the boundary between the logical levels is no longer intact. we can now proceed to an examination of the three subtypes of such objects created by the insertion of the three different forms of boundary between the logical levels of these objects. The Intactand MultiplyingBoundary The effect par excellence which most people associate with an embedding-embedded object. Leo Spitzer (1957: 205) remarks on the same potential of the number two in language. it seems to me. which are called upon to represent the infinite expansion (rains and rains and rains etc. but that within the confines of our finite world-even the universe is finite. 124. The effect is especially interesting. I have. thus collapsing the distinction between them.like these. the potentially endless addition of discontinuous hierarchical levels. since it is actually created by a finite number of embeddings."(I am grateful to my father for this caution. often employed the expressions "potentially infinite. often only one or two.). 1." that "language has chosen only two links in the chain.) After this brief introduction to the concepts of which the model of embedding-embedded objects is constructed. often serve as a kind of "discovery procedure" (or marker) which helps one decide whether or not there are two (or more) different logical levels in the object of analysis. in practice. unless the context indicates otherwise.) . meaning that we get a (nonscientific) sense of infinite recursion.

he may augment the effect thus created by increasing the amount of analogy between the logical levels."with which John Barth's (1969: 1-2) novel Lost in the Funhousebegins.Furedy * Phenomena with Embedding in Literature 751 necessity for repetition on the same logical level to go on ad infinitum. the following level is y. The construction of the strip may also be represented by the use of logical bracketing in the following way: a (a ((a (((a . when discussed.) The difference is easier to perceive when we turn to a visual embedding-embedded object. Though not immediately evident in the case of verbal repetition on different levels. and that what we have is analogy. made of specks of paint. exists only in the third subtype. To be able to regard the cocoa tins as "the 6."' and so on. in its turn becomes an object level. The greater the number of elements repeated on the different levels. By spelling the sentence out. and instructions are given to cut the strip and fold it in such a way that it becomes an endlessly continuous sentence. the stronger the effect of infinite recursion. and so on. such as the famous cocoa tin on which is painted a girl holding another such cocoa tin. from which the concept of logical levels derives. However.. )))))) (Breuer 1976: 229).. and so on. The effect of infinite recursion is thus inherent in the intact logical level-producing boundary. it is important to remember that what is repeated are tokens of a type. (Identity. since every metalevel. . and different from the real tin and from each other in size. In the example from Barth. it is embedded in the level a. creating a level we may call 3." except in the sense of being tokens of the same type. Not even a row of such tins coming off the production line would be "the same. and perhaps full of cocoa. as I have done. not the type itself. a Mobius strip. On the other hand. the analogy is maximal and the effect therefore very strong: The sentence of one level is repeated verbatim on the next. The first "Once upon a time .6 strikingly illustrates this strong effect: "Once upon a time there was a story that began 'Once upon a time there was a story that began "Once upon a time there was a story that began . but the tins painted on the real tin are even more clearly different from it. the concept of infinity is intrinsic to Russell's idea of logical typing and Tarski's distinction between object language and metalanguage.. . in addition to the multiplication of the boundary itself. not identity. I have converted it from a self-engulfing structure into an infinitely recursive one. A rewriting of the Mobius strip called "Frame-Tale.. as we shall see." is on a level which we may call a. . the words "Once upon a time there" are written on a strip on the right-hand side of the first page and the words "was a story that began" on the other side. The other tins are twodimensional. made of metal. on which is painted a girl. The next time it is repeated. The real tin is three-dimensional. In the book. and anyone wishing to create such an effect need do nothing but use such an intact boundary.

this involves translating spatial clues given in the flat. This continuation is not. for instance. we focus on the similarities and gloss over the differences. the first of the potential shields expanding the recursion. That is. there is a switch to the next logical level. as distinct from repetition on the same logical level. foreground them. as it were. B. sameness (lines and colors) is translated into distinct logical levels. These structures. in order to perceive not only repetition but recursion. and interpret them. included in shield B. In other words. painted tins into three-dimensionality and ignoring the differences in size. Here. Here. the lower logical level fulfills a structural function on the higher level. what is required is both an abstraction of similarity and punctuation of the continuum in such a manner as to emphasize the difference between the logical levels (the "willing suspension of disbelief" mentioned above). but. In this case. The perception of recursion. As in linguistic subordination. when the point is reached at which the object would have to repeat itself. we see. a "real" artist painting an object (an artist) which. never "bottom out. The reason they cannot include themselves in them- . thus completing it. seems to involve a step in addition to the abstraction of similarities. on the next logical level. Take. in the middle of which is another shield. by inserting boundaries we give different logical status to what in reality are areas of similar lines and colors. We have no way of knowing what is "behind" shield B. is in turn a subject painting an object (an artist). but we assume it to be the continuation of shield A. nor does shield B include itself. this completion is never achieved. and cannot be. an absence. we need a combination of distinct logical levels (difference) separated by a potentially infinite series of boundaries (sameness) and some analogy between the levels (sameness in difference). since the lower level itself here is incomplete. a painting which depicts a painter painting a picture of himself painting and so on. At the heart of recursion there is thus a hole. whereas in repetition the whole unit can be repeated. In other words. In the heraldic device which Lucien Dallenbach (1977: 143) thinks suggested the idea of mise en abyme to Gide. The recursion resulting from the multiplication of the intact boundary differs from repetition not only in involving distinct logical levels. we select certain features as more significant than others. in the middle of which is an imaginary shield C. material. like the sentence from Lost in the Funhouse. in recursion it cannot." to borrow a term from computer programming. and the like mentioned before. and so on. although it too is part of shield A.752 Poetics Today 10:4 same tin" even in the sense of being analogous to one another. the first frankly artificial painted canvas. thereby multiplying the boundary and creating the effect of infinite recursion. we see a shield A. as with the tins painted on the metal tin.

g. As pointed out above. 7. a series of 3s). It is a remarkablecraftmanship. The play itself constantly subverts the notion that the castle is "real" and the model only a replica. taken from embedding-embedded objects in the field of drama.. and reduced even further when the third one begins.. that is. .... In contradistinction. as in the third subtype. another room like this. Thus in Massinger's (1912 [1626]) The RomanActor. Albee (1971) has a character deliberately and explicitly stop the recursions. with yet a tinier model within it. and within and within and within and . the increasing of analogy between the logical levels will only enhance an effect inherent in the intact logical levelproducing boundary as such. Remarkable. if the outermost embedding level of a literary text includes God.Furedy * Phenomena with Embedding in Literature 753 selves and thus bottom out is the same reason that eliminated paradoxes from Russell's theory of logical types: Self in the different occurrences of the word itself refers to objects on different logical levels...: 26)7 A series of embedded objects on the same logical level (e. I shall mention only a few. BUTLER (a shy smile): You don't suppose that within that tiny model there. as a futile-but perhaps necessary?-attempt to fill in the hole. ? No. JULIAN (laughs): . if one wishes to diminish or stop the recursion... Each time the edge of the abyss is reached. also reduces the effect of infinite recursion.. In a room in Miss Alice's castle. 9] on the return of paradox. Reversal of the downward or inward movement of the intensional recursion ("popping" instead of "pushing.. e. another level created. does the structure finally bottom out and the "sameness" of analogy become transformed into the sameness of identity. as long as the boundaries of the recursive structures remain intact. 7.) Therefore. Similarly. parallel rather than embedded one within the other.though. Only when the boundaries are erased.g. there is a model of the castle which even includes a "model of the model of the castle" in the room of the model corresponding to the room of the castle in which the model stands. the absence at their heart will also continue to exist. the dialogue "Little Harmonic Labyrinth" in Hofstadter 1980). . rather doubt it. Beavin. (Ibid. the potential of the first play-within-the-play to suggest infinite regression is reduced the moment the next play is put on. another boundary is quickly inserted. Thus. in which much of the action takes place. active measures have to be taken." to use computer terminology again) also undermines the feeling of potentially infinite recursion (see. there is . I . in Tiny Alice. and Jackson [1967] and Fuiredy [1983: chs. and within . (But see Watzlawick.

McHale 1987: 115). It is as if. In other words. as in Richard Brome's (1968 [1641]) A Jovial Crew. The fact that they are acting out a representation of their own lives. there seems to be something paradoxical about the first and. What would happen if an object were truly. the sine qua non for its infinite multiplication. it would push to a lower. but the embedding-embedded object as a whole would dit belongs not be closed. Each embedded level would be surrounded by an intact and well-functioning boundary. the runaway children of the outer play put on a play for their elders in order to obtain their pardon. the boundary seems to be less clearly marked in this case and therefore not as suggestive of recursion. thus also decreasing the elements analogous to the outer play. though not. . only enough to make it more difficult for it to multiply. especially if it is a play acted by lay characters from the outer play. further narrows the gap between the discontinuous levels and thus weakens the boundary which is that gap. it would literally never end. e. although paradox proprement to the second subtype. though they become incomplete and undecidable entities. one which demands an effort of imagination rather than happening. we have a more sluggish process..g. not only hypothetically. theoretically. as we shall see. The Intact but Reified Boundary The first of the two types of boundary which may be described as "malfunctioning" (in a descriptive rather than evaluative sense) still preserves the logical levels created by it as separate. as it were. Although logically there is a clear distinction between the characters of the outer play and the roles they are playing in the inner. explaining why Oldrents' daughters have run off to live with beggars and at the same time providing the solution to a prophecy that they would be reduced to begging. the third types as well. When the play has achieved its purpose. instead of the dizzying multiplications of the well-functioning boundary. 2. hierarchically discontinuous level (in computer language. and that the play has a practical function within the plot of the outer play. by itself.754 Poetics Today 10:4 extensional multiplication of the boundary is rendered improbable. Such an object would never bottom out. This kind of boundary is transformed from a mediating absence into an obstructing presence. and so on forever. In it. that level in turn would have a similar hole. Although the hole of each level would be closed by the next level that came to stop that gap. it would "call on" another object like itself). A diminishing of the feeling of infinite recursion also occurs when the embedded text fulfills a plot function within the outer. impossible (see. Oldrents interrupts it. infinitely recursive? Each time it came to the point at which it had to repeat itself. The inner play repeats some of the action of the outer. albeit not sufficiently to cancel its function.

It shows a sheet of paper nailed 8. constantly referring to the other level for completion. we have the structure of paradox. a perpetual series of encounters with the reified. for which the distinction between logical levels and the concept of an inviolate metalevel (see below) are highly illuminating. obstructing boundary. Escher's (1971: drawing 69) lithograph Drawing Hands. and one is permitted to recross it only if one immediately re-recrosses it and so on. C.. the distinction between higher and lower levels. Though the logical levels remain clearly separate. Once the boundary between the two levels has been crossed and we are obliged to recross it. At the first encounter with the phenomenon in question. what is undecidable is the direction in which we are moving: whether we have returned to the original level of entry or gone on in the same direction as that of the first crossing. Different types of paradox which are not accounted for with this method may exist. what characterizes this category with the reification of the boundary is its concomitant effect of undecidability and infinite oscillation. for example. even prohibited. I was pleased later to find a similar approach and a delightful anthology of mind-boggling paradoxes in Hughes and Brecht 1978 [1975]. If the main characteristic of the first group of objects is the multiplication of the boundary with its concomitant effect of a sense of infinite recursion. status or reference or logical level for which no process of decision which would resolve it is known) actually occurs twice in these objects. The boundary allows one to cross it on condition that one immediately recross it. a or p. whereas my concern is to describe the structure of the unresolved paradox. extrasystem metalevel. a "repetition-compulsion" is created-perhaps a re-petition to be allowed to cross the boundary in the proper one-directional and unconditional way-and oscillation results. My way of anatomizing paradoxes is based on Watzlawick's (1967) account of pathological and therapeutic paradoxes.Furedy * Phenomena with Embedding in Literature 755 a boundary drawing attention to itself rather than facilitating passage across it. It should be noted. there is no safe and oscillationfree place outside the system or object with the reified boundary and the contradictory. and when there is simultaneously a conflict between them." Consider.8 In paradox. Undecidability (ambiguity as to. as will be discussed in more detail below. an additional factor is the denial of access to an inviolate. in perpetual oscillation between the two logical levels. thus loses much of its normal significance. M. however. Free passage from level to level is thus prevented. When the levels distinguished by this type of boundary are incomplete. for example a paradox.g. e. When the passage is disturbed in this way. incomplete levels from which the system can be regarded "objectively. . what is undecidable is which level we are confronted with. that the aim of philosophy is to resolve paradoxes and to rid logic and mathematics of them.

the LAWYER shrugs. Hofstadter (1980: 690) suggests that this can be done by imagining Escher'shand drawing both of the hands in the lithograph. The butler mentions that the real castle once was in England.) In a scene in Albee's play. At the upper end of this sheet. thus being undecidable. or the replica? .) Ah well... pointing first to the model. the characters are assembled in the room in the castle in which the model of the castle stands. each hand is simply a slightly odd. I had thought it was a replica. in turn become part of an oscillating structure with a reified boundary. on different levels: The hand drawing is on a logical level immediately above that which it draws. then to the room): Do you mean the model . logically. JULIAN: LAWYER: Oh no. that would have been too simple. Out of this cuff emerges a "three-dimensional" left hand holding a pen and drawing a two-dimensional cuff on the right side of the paper. Though it is a replica . it was! Every stone.) These hands are. in its way. JULIAN: Of? LAWYER (pointing to the model): Of that. and vice versa.." conflict with each other. necessitating yet another inviolate metalevel. it is also and at the same time subverted. two-dimensional/three-dimensional hand-but the assignation of one of the hands to one of the logical levels is impossible.756 Poetics Today 10:4 diagonally with drawing pins onto a darker background.. did your up?. that is.. "drawing" and "drawn. (JULIAN laughs a little. Although this distinction is preserved in the lithograph in the sense that the levels are still separable. The paradox can be escaped only by 'jumping out" of the system. and the two levels. BUTLER (to JULIAN.. put JULIAN (to MIss ALICE): Did your father .. (This level may. Neither is complete without the other. with which I began the description. father have it . marked and shipped. there is a "three-dimensional" right hand holding a pen and drawing a two-dimensional cuff on the left side of the paper. by moving to an inviolate metalevel separated from the oscillating levels by a boundary of the first type. It can be assigned to either level.. thus creating a paradox. The following conversation ensues: Miss ALICE (as if suddenly remembering): Yes... (The ambiguous title of the lithograph expresses the same paradox. and so on.. of course. Not only is each level by itself incomplete-without the other level. because neither would exist if it were not drawn by the other and because neither would be a "drawing" hand were it not drawing the other. Oh. Out of this cuff emerges the upper right hand. The right hand thus draws the left and is drawn by it.

For a case involving "the interchangeability of narrative levels. there is the same undecidability and the same paradoxical oscillation between the levels. In the set of embedding-embedded drama. I mean . In the case of extended texts. In plays with plays-within-the-play with a reified boundary. and so on-are "part of the game. what we are in. The two levels. which is a replica of which." not "small-sized copy") are incomplete and refer us to the other as part of their meaning. as in Escher's drawing. Which play is "inner" and which "outer." or subject to undecidability. The universe consisting of these two alternatives is exhaustive. . the inner play "imitates" an action which has "really" taken place on the logical level of the outer play. access to an inviolate metalevel has been barred. see Rimmon-Kenan 1982. Thus. The scene thus has all the ingredients of a paradox." in this case whether the narrator creates the character or vice versa. in Pirandello's play. except by refusing to watch the object altogether. To break through to it requires a deliberate repunctuation. though undoubtedly separate. what is undecidable is. Is the model the object-level model of which the real castle is a metalevel representation. and they conflict with each other. And which is that? (Albee 1971: 58-59) 757 arises.. . something in the content of one of the levels will send one to the other level for completion. what is incomplete is not something in a particular word. . actions. a play can only be either inner or outer. and thus paradox In the two dramatic examples. or is it a metalevel replica of the object-level real castle? The concepts "replica" and "model" (in the sense of "real object to copy. tertiumnon datur.9 It is perfectly obvious which is a room in a real castle and which is a model. When no such repunctuation is effected. keep changing places in a process of infinite oscillation. in this case between the inner play and the outer play. The challenge to decide the undecidable and the inescapability of the challenge 9. events. and the two "real" people in the outer play whose previous actions are acted out in the inner play in turn "imitate" an action performed by their counterparts in the inner play which had not taken place in outer-play reality. there is a conflict between the two levels of the play. BUTLER: Ah-ha. Pirandello's (1952 [1923]) Each in His Own Way. We are thus faced with an illusion of alternatives which we cannot escape.. sometimes very difficult to imagine. and because of this oscillation their status as inner or outer plays is undecidable. as in the previous example. Rather. within the limited "set"or "universe" of the play as a whole." which object level and which metalevel? Whether we look at it in terms of content or structure. for instance. and vice versa. all messages-assertions.Furedy * Phenomena with Embedding in Literature JULIAN: I mean the . and it must be one of them.

rather than an erased one. something always multiplies: either the boundary itself or our encounter with it. The boundary functions like a revolving door to which one is chained. and this is the reason I prefer to call it a transgressed boundary. which it evokes plays an important part in the discovery procedures for boundaries of this type. (The feeling of peculiarity. Almost. order-creating "full stop"-a point which. in the case of the transgressed boundary every notion of infinity within the structure itself (except in the case of self-engulfment. characters from different levels. as we have seen. The new entity created when the boundary is transgressed and the hitherto discrete logical levels collapse is completely different from entities not created in this way. or play and seems to involve the concepts themselves rather than their fictional manifestations. the interaction of characters across a previously intact boundary is only one of the most frequent markers of this transgression. Logical levels can be subverted only . For a boundary transgression to be perceived as such. As opposed to the first two kinds of boundary. the original distinction between logical types or levels is canceled. however. to use Hofstadter's term referring to Russell's theory of logical types. the boundary can almost be said to disappear. It should be noted that the "transgressions" take place between logical levels. this typeless unit is a "futile attempt at 'reconciling' the two levels. but eternal. but not quite: Traces of the original. can exist only outside the system to which one is chained inside the revolving door. One's knowledge that there are distinct logical levels is of no avail. with no hope of escape. hope of arriving at some final. untangling. remaining only as the backdrop against which this "composite" or. In Breuer's (1976: 230) formulation. intact boundary remain." Instead. rather than like the normal opening of the "gap that bridges. novel. infinite oscillation is set up between the "composite level. belonging to the logical system in which such composite levels cannot occur and no rock bottom can be reached. "typeless" level is perceived.758 Poetics Today 10:4 produce the characteristic of the phenomena with two logical levels separated by a reified boundary: infinite oscillation in a game without end.) Within this entity. see below) is eliminated. In the case of the third type. and the "inviolate level" beyond it. The TransgressedBoundary In the case of the first two types of boundary. 3. not between." created when a boundary is transgressed. it bottoms out and reaches an end-or a beginning. mentioned before. one is forced to shuttle back and forth in the vain. The "infinity" here thus moves out of the painting. for example. an intact boundary must also be perceived." Since each side or level is incomplete and thus unable to exist without the other level to which it refers for completion.

the offstage spectator knows the correct punctuation. crying. (I shall also add something I call "pseudotransgression. after retroactively being seen to have existed. the onstage spectators perceive an intact boundary where none exists. self-reference and self-engulfing. 1582-92]) The Spanish Tragedy.281-82). or even.My Masters. Some cases of mispunctuation are reversible. if we wished to escape the oscillations (an equally deliberate decision to preserve the sense of paradox rather than resolve it can. we had to take deliberate steps to reach an inviolate metalevel. When confronted with the paradoxes created by the reified boundary. the clues encoded in an object with a boundary of this type are instructions to "mispunctuate.2. Gerard Genette (1972: 245). at least.Here. From the point of view of "normal" punctuation. Within the subtype of embedding-embedded objects with a transgressed boundary. to which I shall add another two. further subdivisions can be made. is going to hang himself. They are the result of misleading clues or mistaken conclusions as to the place or nature of the boundary. we paradoxically obey the injunction of the object to disobey the rules we are used to regarding as inherent in embedding-embedded objects. As a result of this mispunctuation. as in Joseph Heller's (1967) WeBombedin New Haven. watching a play in which the lover. thus erasing a boundary which is." a phenomenon which." Whether a boundary is to be regarded as transgressed or not usually depends on "instructions" for punctuation encoded in the object. of course.when Domitia. as in the case of the "real"deaths in the plays-within-the-play in Elizabethan and Jacobean revenge drama. "all boundaries cannot be transgressed all the time. In these plays. "Restrain him.Furedy * Phenomena with Embedding in Literature 759 after being established or. then. intact and thereby revealing something about herself rather than about the nature of the boundary. such as Kyd's (1959 [c. In other words. as you love your lives!" (3." When reading such a text or regarding such an object. in fact. we just as deliberately have to unlearn the punctuation previously used. In the case of the transgressed boundary. The opposite occurs in Massinger's (1912 [1626]) TheRomanActor. as in Middleton's (1965 [1605]) comedy A Mad World. thus reversing the more frequently occurring type of gap of knowledge. with whom she is beginning to fall in love. rises from her seat. less than. Usually it is the intratextual characters who make such mistakes. in his discussion of narrative levels in Figures 3. but there are plays where he knows as little as. be taken by refusing this option of escape). though structurally dif- . acted by the outer-play Roman actor Paris. to insert an intact boundary around the two levels created by the reified boundary. the analogy between the two logical levels created by the intact boundary is transformed into identity. discusses three such subdivisions. namely. some of the onstage characters. on the other hand. that is.

my own "taxonomy"may not be exhaustive. or the other way round. mentioned above.3) quotes his school history teacher." (The technique of showing something which has happened or will happen elsewhere. apart from the temporal ones. constitute a structural counterpart to the moral transgressions of which he is guilty. answers the comments of the World. the transgression serves a further. The scene from The Roman Actor. 1607]) The Knight of theBurning Pestle. in the form of a "magic show. all his narrative metalepses. characterizing function: The Peasant is churlish and insolent. mentioned above. has a similar effect. although I add some metaleptic phenomena to Genette's list.. It is not clear from this formulation who should be the possessor of "the knowledge of another situation. and the boundary transgressions. as when the Peasant in Calderon's (1976) The Great Stage of the World. it involves the transposition onto the embedded logical level of something which "really" 10.. but in reverse." as in Corneille's [1961 (1636)] L'Illusion comique. reader. Although Genette does not make this subdivision explicit. LevelOutwards Metalepsisfromthe Inner Genette gives the example. . belong to one of two categories: Either the transgressive transition takes place from the inner level outwards. for instance. either.) Genette (1980 [1972]: 236) defines boundary transgression in narrative. It should be noted that.760 Poetics Today 10:4 ferent from the others. which he calls metalepsis. This imaginary act would be a metalepsis from the outer level inwards.a character in the inner play. the knowledge of another situation. a member of the onstage audience."but presumablyit is the reader. 11. In this play. Examples taken from plays include characters (but not actors) speaking to their audience. is another example. which he is the only character in the play to commit. the status of an object as embedding-embedded is defined by the spectator. the act that consists precisely of introducing into one situation. Shandy to bed. Metalepsis (Genette 1980: 235 n. or the means "takinghold of (telling) by changing level" like outside that object.1 Inwards Metalepsisfromthe OuterLevel An example mentioned by Genette (1972: 244) is Sterne's narrator's asking the reader to help him put Mr. of a story by Cortazar about a man murdered by a character in the novel he is reading. as are several of the interventions of the merchant and his wife in the inner plays of Beaumont's (1969 [c.seems to be a relative of this particular form of metalepsis. Metalepsis Temporal Genette (1972: 245 n. In my model. by the narrating. as any form of transition between narrative levels other than that "achieved . who produced the following metalepsis: "Nous allons etudier maintenant le Second Empire depuis le Coup d'Etatjusqu'aux vacances de Paques.1). by means of a discourse."10 His theory is admirably simple and elegant.

In the case of undecidability. the entry referring to itself. I sometimes also use the term "boundary transgression"in this wider sense. in the wider sense of "creating a unit with composite logical levels. The effect is clearly metaleptic. we do not have an intrusion of the index into the text or vice versa." violating the rule that the item referred to must be on a logical level distinct from and immediately below the level of the referring item. the buildings are enlarged and come closer to the spectator. To the right. 735" refers to a page in the text or a page of the indexone simply has to look at the page numbers of the text and the index. in other words a mispunctuation consisting of the insertion of an intact logical level-creating boundary where in "reality" there is none. is not a case of undecidability and oscillation between two levels. for example. we have a metalevel becoming its own object level. Our index entry. only to be immediately erased. The problem is therefore not that it is undecidable but that such a reference is "improper. but also to the page of the index entry" (Breuer 1976: 229). Self-Engulfing In Escher's lithograph Print Gallery (Ernst 1976: Fig. however. dividing the index into two levels. thus collapsing the logical levels. the two are quite different. and." ." 12 At this point. of a reified boundary rather than of boundary transgression. because of the gaps between the spiraling strips. This print shows a harbor with a ship in the foreground and buildings on the shore in the background. In the 12. In spite of the apparent similarities. in the index.13 we see a boy standing in a picture gallery. 56). Instead. it refers to names and concepts occurring on the object level of the text of the book itself. looking at a print on the wall. one can see the "tail"inside the "entrails.Furedy * Phenomena with Embedding in Literature 761 belongs on the embedding one. one found references not only to those pages where a name or a notion occurs in its actual usage. whether "p. that is. When the index refers not to the text but to itself. The index of a book has a metarelation to the book to which it belongs. becoming bigger and bigger. See Ernst 1976: 98 for a reproduction of Escher's Spirals which beautifully illustrates the structure of self-engulfing: They look like a snake swallowing itself. self-reference is possible only when a boundary has been transgressed. the question may arise whether the index reference to its own entry. no procedure exists for finding out whether what we are dealing with is a metalevel or an object level. in other words. It is as if a boundary had momentarily been inserted where it did not belong. 13. however. is not undecidable: There is a procedure for deciding.) Self-Reference Self-reference is what would occur "if the title of a book were included in the book's own bibliography or if.

actually there are two essential differences between these phenomena. Below her flat is the entrance to a picture gallery-which turns out to be the same gallery in which the print hangs of which the house forms a part! The gallery is "in" a picture. is the first act of the outer play in which these same "spectators" appeared as characters. The second difference is that recursive structures are 14. p. . nothing can enter the "space" of the hole. it belongs to an extrapictorial level. They are late and afraid that they have missed the first act. In this play. Unlike us. The first is that the hole in the recursive structures is created by the "legal" transition from one logical level to the next-the multiplication of the intact boundary-and. here. to achieve total self-engulfing (ibid. Pirandello 1932 [1930]: 82ff. this is the only kind of embedding-embedded object with a transgressed boundary in which an effect of infinity is created within the structure itself. in Pirandello's play TonightWeImprovise. It is not part of the world of the content of the print at all. the blank space in the middle in which Escher's signature appears. a woman is standing at a window looking out. There is one part of the print which does not participate in the engulfing movement. but by a spectator and a watched one or an author and a character-in-his-work and the like. although the next level in the hierarchy is also incomplete and therefore unable to make the recursive structure bottom out. The first act. as we have just seen. however. The selfengulfing metalepsis seems to be marked not by the interaction of any two characters across a boundary. They hurry offstage and after a moment appear in the real auditorium. Similarly. it is logically and mathematically impossible to fill that space.) This is not a case of a lower level invading a higher level or vice versa. there is self-engulfing at the boundary around the play as a whole as well (see the interlude in the lobby). and thus all logical levels collapse and intact boundaries are transgressed. the boy in the print cannot see it. namely. the level of Escher's Print Gallery. 33).towards the end of the first act we see the characters of the play on their way to the theater. on the other hand. 59. (As already pointed out. each hole is filled by the infinite series of logical levels.762 Poetics Today 10:4 building closest to us. In the self-engulfing structures. and the logical level is a typeless one.14 Although the blank space in the self-engulfing structures may seem to resemble the "hole" in the recursive structures discussed above.: Fig. They have thus come to watch themselves go to the theater to watch themselves go to the theater and so on. noisily entering a box. which has indeed just ended. one level is engulfing not only the next but also itself (or perhaps both levels are invading and swallowing each other?). and the play thus engulfs itself. The space was not left blank by chance or because Escher needed a place to sign his name. which is itself"in" the gallery.

as in recursive structures but not oscillating ones. the movement. are represented by the same unrepeated objects-the gallery entrance and the picture in the gallery. In self-engulfing structures. If we begin looking at Print Gallery at the bottom. it is thus a level 3 entrance and the pictures exhibited in the gallery are on level y. the oscillation is two-directional. seems to create undecidability. Since. whereas self-engulfing. in this example-not by a series of recursive analogues like the girls with the cocoa tins. then. however. the movement is spiral (Figure 1)." concomitant with the "mispunctuation" of the transgressed boundary. The other difference is that in the oscillating structures. one of which I have just discussed. as shown by the word self. the logical levels a.y. The second time we get to the entrance.Furedy * Phenomena with Embedding in Literature 763 Figure 1. and in that the exclusion of the "inviolate" level of Escher's signature from the structure. like all boundary transgressions. the underlying "correct" spiral movement in effect collapses into a circular one (Figure 2). like the barring of access to the inviolate metalevel in the oscillating structures. f3. and so forth. This is actually a "mistranslation. is in one . The self-engulfing structures also remind us of the oscillating structures created by the reified boundary both in that we keep returning to the same place. based on analogy. With "correct" punctuation. Self-engulfmentcorrectlypunctuated. back and forth between the same two logical levels (Figure 3). Although the undecidability of self-engulfing and oscillating structures may be the same (I am not certain it is). however. translates analogy into identity. we may consider the gallery entrance as belonging to level a and everything depicted in the picture exhibited in the gallery as belonging to level P. there are two important differences between them.

(Massinger 1912 [1626]: 2. to judge by the effect). Fabian's wellknown lines in Twelfth Night are a case in point: "If this were played upon a stage now.1. (objectlevel) direction only. comments. Caesar. I had held The fiction for impossible in the scene.4. Parthenius. "If this were a detective story. speare 1975 [1601]: 3. in The Roman Actor. The effect of the self-engulfing structure. I could condemn it as an improbable fiction" (ShakeSimilarly. Parthenius' miserly father. such and such would hap- .128-29).764 Poetics Today 10:4 Figure 2. we keep coming back to the same place (with the proviso about the underlying spiral structure). Pseudotransgression A "metaleptic" effect without actual boundary transgression is created in verbal texts when attention is drawn to the normally invisible intact boundary. Had I not seen the substance. before the showing the cure of a miser: play-within-the-play Can it be This sordid thing. boundary x y (metalevel) Figure 3.268-72) Like those detectives and policemen in detective fiction who are fond of saying. is thy father? No actor can express him. on seeing Philargus. Oscillation at the reified boundary. but unlike recursive structures and like oscillating ones. which is then foregrounded and "made strange" (but apparently not actually reified.

the nature of latter is affected by the transgression of the boundary within the unit. which. a recursive series of transgressable boundaries is created whenever . what is suggested when a boundary is transgressed is that at any moment the next boundary may in turn be transgressed. they are firmly entrenched in it." The essence of a work of art as such depends on the existence of a boundary between it and reality. However. To return to embedding-embedded objects with a structural metalepsis. If what is transgressed is the boundary between level a and level t3. giving rise to a metaleptic effect emphasizing its artificiality.. But even if the boundary between level a and extradramatic reality seems to be transgressed. Everything that can be said about transgression of the boundary between a work of art and reality must therefore always be understood in the context of this proviso. but since it is not . when this object is a work of art the composite level is further circumscribed by an untransgressable boundary. hypothetically. they are unaware of the analogy between the object referred to and their own "reality. if. although at no point can all boundaries be transgressed simultaneously. this is a threatened boundary which seems peculiarly temporary. although the composite and typeless unit with the transgressed boundary is surrounded by an intact boundary. Evidently. The moment such a transgression takes place. because we are so used to it.the boundary between level a and the reality of the reader or spectator of course remains intact.Furedy * Phenomena with Embedding in Literature 765 pen. because at all times there will be an intact boundary around the composite unit. In other words. This boundary between the work of art and reality can therefore be transgressed by analogy only. by a boundary transgression within the "script. . furthermore. . on the contrary. the one around the work of art as a whole remains intact. is not always clearly perceived as such. it is part of the script of the play and as such is distinguishable from the reality beyond the boundary of the script." these characters are speaking about a hypothetical logical level embedded in their own. it would self-destruct (Aspelin 1977). Unlike the intact boundaries discussed in section 1. when spectators interrupt a play or interact with characters in a play.what was or seemed like reality becomes part of the a level of the play. It is the reader's or the spectator's perception of the analogy between the fictional nature of the objects referred to and the fictionality of the characters' own existence which draws attention to the normally invisible boundary between the two levels. for example. in opposition to the characters' intention to establish the reality of their existence. it would really succeed in erasing this boundary. as in Beaumont's The Knight of the Burning Pestle or Pirandello's Tonight We Improvise. thus. not only a metaleptic effect." They are not stepping out of their own existence into another reality on a different logical level.

The boundaries which multiply when a boundary is transgressed. which permeates our thinking but leads to infinite recursion. perhaps the "ultimate" system. as we have seen. one of which. the model of embeddingembedded objects with different types of boundaries seems to become self-engulfing. The first. in the latter case. well-functioning boundary into a continuum already implies its possible reification or transgression. the boundary which is added whenever one is transgressed is not yet transgressed and thus does not yet belong to the level-less system (this is the logical reason why the transgressed boundary will always be fictional. it forms. is within the system of the embedding-embedded object. Not only religious metaphysical systems have been based on such a typeless level. it may in turn become the basis for a system which may be either typeless or not.this contention itself is. which can become recursively expanded. 26). meaningful)statementsexcept those in the field of the naturalsciences. thus escaping infinite recursion by bottoming out. as it were. on the other hand.e." Which system.766 Poetics Today 10:4 one boundary is transgressed! At this point.if correct. never reaches the "first cause"? Does 15. there are only n-1 transgressed boundaries here.) . he neverthelesswrote: "Logicmust take care of itself. of course. makes the intriguing suggestion that logic itself may bottom out in this way: Wittgenstein's thesis had been: there are no verifiable(i. however hypothetical. Nevertheless. Interestingly. Rolf Breuer (1976: 234 nn. in which at least two logical levels have collapsed into a typeless unit. not a statementof this kind and thereforemeaningless. or n meetings with the boundary in the oscillating ones. However. If there were n intact boundaries in recursive structures.15 The oscillation at the intact but threatened boundary around the level-less unit is thus between the whole system based on logical levels. although the insertion of an intact. an axiom of the system with logical levels. there is still an important difference between the multiplication of intact boundaries and the multiplication of transgressable boundaries. (What we have n of here is transgressable boundaries. is always outside the system. 25. "part of the script"). Although Wittgensteinknew that a statementcannot refer backto itself. although the typeless unit is outside the logical level system. referring to Wittgenstein. and another system. It is also interesting to note that the "infinity"of the system itself is here limited in a way which is not the case with the other two types of boundary. are the boundaries separating the levelless system from the system with logical levels. the rock-bottom typeless system or the system with logical levels which never bottoms out. Although as soon as a boundary is transgressed it becomes part of the typeless unit within the object. is theoretically stronger. then.

"in Final deljuego. Dallenbach. Weinstein. .edited by Maurice Rat. Both decisions are equally "right" or "wrong. Aspelin.p.: Edward Arnold). Brandt (Manchester: Manchester University Press).edited by Michael Hattaway (London: Ernest Benn). after all. the "correct" way of perceiving and thinking? Whether one ultimately decides in favor of subversion or preservation of the system of logical levels is largely a matter of taste and temperament. Barth. 1607] TheKnightof theBurningPestle. Pierre 1961 [1636] L'Illusioncomique." in Teaterarbete."PoeticsToday 2(2): 41-59. Breuer. Rioch and E. so much of Western thinking is founded? Or does the fact that there is always a part of the system with distinct logical levels which is not swallowed up by the typeless system indicate that it is. Williams and Wilkins). Lucien 1977 Le recitspeculaire: Essaisur la miseen abyme (Paris: Seuil). edited by Kurt Aspelin. Beaumont. Kurt 1977 "Till teaterhandelsens semiotik. Don Pedro 1976 The GreatStageof the World. Cortazar. as we have in part seen. Edward 1971 TinyAlice. John 1969 Lostin theFunhouse(New York: Bantam Books).in Thdctre choiside Corneille. 550-618 (Paris: Garnier Freres). 37-60 (Stockholm: PAN/Norstedts). 270-83 (Baltimore: Communication. Disordersof edited by D." in ResearchPublicationsof the Association for Researchin Nervousand MentalDisease. Gregory. Brome.Furedy * Phenomena with Embedding in Literature 767 the very notion that every boundary is potentially transgressable imply the collapse of Russell's and Tarski's distinction between logical levels on which. References Albee. Jackson 1964 "Some Varieties of Pathogenic Organization. Francis 1969 [c. Bal. Calder6n de la Barca. Richard 1968 [1641] AJovial Crew.Vol." because both are made by an arbitrary act of punctuating an essentially dialectical continuum. in which both systems continuously and simultaneously subvert and reinforce each other.edited by Ann Haaker (N. Corneille. translated by George W. 42." 225-36. Mieke 1981 "Notes on Narrative Embedding. Bateson.Boxand Quotations MaoTse-Tung (Harmondsworth: fromChairman Penguin). M.9-11 (Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana). Rolf 1976 "The Solution as Problem: Beckett's Waiting ModernDrama 19: for Godot.Julio 1970 "Continuidad de los parques. and Don D.

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