Viktor Shklovsky : Bowstring - Image and Riddles: An excerpt

Hegel wrote in his Lectures on Fine Art that 'the riddle belongs to conscious symbolism.' What is the riddle's answer? It is derivation of meaning. According to Hegel, the riddle consists of 'individual traits of character and properties drawn from the otherwise known external world and, as in nature and in externality generally, lying there scattered outside one another, they are associated together in a disparate and therefore striking way. As a result they lack a subject embracing them together [as predicates] into a unity . . .' This disparity of signs hinders the immediate solution as to which whole they all belong to.
 In veiling the whole, the riddle forces us to rearrange the signs of a given object, thus showing the possibility of diversity, the possibility to combine the previously irreconcilable in new semantic arrangements.
 The great realist Sancho Panza said that he would rather be given the answer first and the riddle afterwards.
 But Sancho Panza amused himself by constructing his own riddles and then solving them himself.

His short term of governorship itself appears to be a program of solving riddles. The riddles and their solutions are folkloric.
 The trials of Tom Canty, whom Mark Twain turned from pauper to prince, also represent a collection of folkloric riddles and solutions of a free simpleton. Tom learns the great art of solving riddles in Offal Court, one of the poorest districts of London.
 Folkloric riddle solvers—the paupers and the peasants, sometimes turn out to be great decipherers and mystery solvers when they appear on the hill where the great decipherer Solomon's throne was buried.

Translated from the Russian by Shushan Avagyan

Read more: Bowstring - Asymptote


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