Basics -- by Little Red

1. Any atomic proposition is in itself a wff (well-formed formula).

I remember (miss) her hair most of all. At first it was long, ironed into flat submission, treated with mayonnaise and always smelling a little bit like smoke and incense. After she stopped smoking it shortened with the times and, within reason, she let it curl up. It was always blonde, in varying degrees of intensity. It’s strange that I remember her in pieces like that, like she has been dissected, her properties splayed out in her absence for my memory to pick and choose from.

Inevitably, it always chooses her blonde hair, which is strange because she very easily could have cut it off and left it behind her.

example. John loves Mary.

Her name really was Mary, something my classmates found so amusing that they would tear examples out of their textbooks and pass them to me in class with clever things like John’s screwing you’re (sic) lady, man! written in the margin. For supposed students of language, none of us knew how to spell for shit. Mostly we composed our thoughts in trees and equations. Whenever I had to submit actual written work, Mary read it over for me.


2. If p is a wff, then ~p, such that p is negated, is a wff.

"‘Everything that matters is in the basics,’" Mary said around the smoke, quoting her three o’clock philosophy lecture. "‘The rest... everything else... is just details.’"

Mary smoked all the time; I only did when the logical nature of a linguistic puzzle had eluded my sober mind far too long. "I thought God was in the details." I played with the brittle ends of her long hair as we talked.

"That’s ‘the Devil,’" she corrected.

I spent our upperclassman years consumed by details, but that was the nature of the work I was doing, of the man (grad) (postdoc) (professor (emeritus)) I was becoming. I was charged with the (bold) (grand) (holy) task of codifying language -- representing everything humans could say or think about the universe into logical equations. Mary, the philosophy major, worked away at unraveling the neat system I was building, expanding my precious immovable ones and zeroes into broader and broader concepts.

Her field struck me as ridiculous as she struggled to produce new complications, to prove that not everything (life) (hope) (love) could be explained in a matter of true or false, presence or absence, one or zero. I added pages to my thesis, anticipating that when all the last pieces were accounted for, God would rise up out of the once chaotic ether and the universe would snap into place. Occasionally, I had (have) delusions about how decoding the logical secrets of language, becoming able to account for every possible truth-condition on paper, would give me the power to change the nature of true and false in the real world.

example. p = John loves Mary

~p = John does not love Mary

I wrote my name, David, overtop of every John in the textbooks I worked from, even on library books. It was the 70s and no one had yet decided that the overt sexism advocated in linguistics textbooks was the root of all real-world instances of domestic abuse, so most of the sentences were still variations on John (David) hits Mary. Mary thought it was sweet anyway.


2a. (semantic corollary) V(~p) = 1 iff V(p) = 0, such that:

p = John (David) loves Mary is false

if and only if ~p = John (David) does not love Mary is true.

At some point after they rewrote the field for content, someone realized that it was unfair that the woman, Mary, should always be the patient of the action, like being the object of a sentence objectified women in some very real way. Fingers pointed up at all theoretical linguists from academic journals, crying that every one of Chomsky’s papers strengthened the chains between women and their passive lives in front of the stove. While I had thought I was merely trying to puzzle out the language with formulaic sentences, I was destroying my real-life Mary’s ability to take any independent action of her own. By that time, I was far beyond the basics, but I tried writing a few basic examples using atomic propositions based on Mary loves John (David). They never felt right.


3. If p and q are wff, such as:

p = John (David) loves Mary.

q = Mary left.

then (p and q), (p or q), (if p then q) and (p if and only if q) are also wff.

Sometimes I wake up and for a second, things smell like Nag Champa. I think, sometimes, that when we first lived together and Mary smoked all the time that particular brand of incense managed to burn its way into my sense of smell the way a solar eclipse fries the retinas of unwary onlookers (worshippers, maybe) so they can never stop seeing it for the rest of their lives.

I loved her more later, after the textbooks started letting her be a subject, when her hair was short and curly. She loved herself more then, too, but she liked me the best when I was still young, before the hotly debated papers, the tenure, the letters after my name, when I plotted out all my sentence trees on her bare back with my fingers, formulating the logical nature of language by connecting the beads of sweat on her skin.

example (mine). David loves Mary and Mary left

David loves Mary or Mary left

If David loves Mary, Mary will leave

David loves Mary if and only if Mary left

are all true.


4. Nothing else is a wff.

Sometimes I think I am consciously regressing (undoing) (erasing). I can’t bring myself to destroy all the pages, the truth tables, the syntactic trees copied onto paper from the invisible lines first mapped on the skin of the (once) beloved, but I take her advice and start again at the beginning. I struggle with concepts considered retarded for a man of my status (prestige) (credentials) (age) and wait for the one missed example, the truth table, the syntactic incontrovertability that will tell me how the logical nature of the language universe will force her to come back.



*send thoughts to little red*
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