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Thursday 24 June 2021

The pleasure of the senses Other infections: mnemonic cryptography

Other infections: mnemonic cryptography

Author of the content

In France, the crossword game also infected Georges Perec, the author of Life instructions for use and The Disparition, the novel written without ever making use of the letter 'e'. Among the many literary genres practiced by him there is also this "cross-writing", which he, author of very valuable crosswords, he treated very carefully. The merit of Perec is to have introduced in this game, totally arid in its formal appearance, a certain element reviving and ennobling:

... What ultimately characterizes a good definition of crossword is that the solution is obvious, as evident as insoluble as the problem may seem until it is solved. Once the explanation is found, one realizes how it was already expressed in the text of the definition itself, without being able to see it clearly ...

Beyond, in fact, the formal phase of the game, that which consists in identifying the best way to make words cross, the search for definitions invests a fluid activity, likely to become real puzzles; "Texts" of fascinating ambiguity which also interested Greimas, who devoted an entire chapter of his to the subject Du Sens (Essois sémiotiques). It deals with the definitional aspect of the question: the analysis of the various types of definition distinguishes the "frastic", the "sub-frastic", the "metalinguistic" definitions and so on, even identifying the "semantic isotope" ”Found in a certain type of definitions, those that play on the different meanings of words.

Attention is justified when, for example, to define GUILLOTINE, the expression "the French capital" or even "provocative cleavage" is used; when a "sum collected" is used to define the REVOLUTION and, to indicate the DEFROST, mention is made of an "end-of-season liquidation" or, finally, when FEVER (not the crossword puzzle, of course) is unpredictably defined as "a warm manifestation of affection ».

The invention of a crossword puzzle comprises two different phases: one is that of the word boxing, carried out in such a way as to achieve the best combination of crossings, such that it ensures double horizontal and vertical reading; this is an exclusively formal fact. On the contrary, the search for definitions is a fluid, suggestive work, it is a search in the world of language aimed at discovering fascinating ambiguities. This other phase is the one that in the eyes of the riddlers justifies and makes the Perec cruciverbist appreciated: this is the one that leads to rehabilitate the operation of the crosswords and to glimpse their linguistic interest, even if developed in the context of the game. If substantially the crosswords are based on more or less simple definitional questions, playing with the letters of the words to build a formal, horizontal and vertical double-reading mosaic, the search for definitions can lead to a different result achieved through the use of bisensis and semantic expansions: double meaning stories, double reading sentences.

The "phenomenon", in fact, gives rise to what represents the quintessence of the enigmatic real and aroused the interest of semiologists such as Umberto Eco, Patrizia Violi and Giovanni Manetti who were infected, "forced" to read a infinity of examples from which to draw a systematic treatment, a real systematic of ambiguity. The topic occupied an entire issue of "Versus", with the captivating title de The grammar of wit which illegitimate the serious semiological discourse. In it the various logical paths that allow to connect the two parts of this sort of game defined by the illustrious name of "mnemonic cryptography" were rigorously analyzed.

Ambiguity is made possible thanks to the multiple bisenses, the surprising homonyms and the various articulations of our vocabulary and develops according to different structural modalities. We say "bare plants" and it is not known whether to think of an autumnal landscape or poor corpses subject to tears; we speak of a “full cupboard”, but it is uncertain whether we should refer to a well-equipped kitchen cabinet or to an absolute, unshakable faith; it is named "the Olympic stadium" and it may be that sport has nothing to do with it, since we only want to allude to a situation of serene imperturbability. Will a "shaded drawing" be a figure with uncertain and sloping contours or a project that has gone up in smoke?

These ambiguous expressions (of extreme interest to scholars of semantics, rhetoric and generative grammars) are mostly "made sentences", in which it is possible to see the alternation of two possible readings, just like in a game of fading; they fully show the lexical, metaphorical and semantic possibilities of our language and its surprising abilities to produce and generate a plurality of meanings.

It is clear then how "mnemonic cryptography" attracted the attention of linguists, an interest analogous to that aroused in Greimas by those particular enigmatic writings for which the Lithuanian semiologist had to speak of "deferred communication" and therefore comparable to other communications aesthetic; enigmatic writing is, in fact, characterized "by the presence of a mediated message-object, interspersed between recipient and recipient, a message that requires, precisely for this reason, the implementation of particular reconversion procedures".

All of the above can probably affect the reader, even if not immediately, at least after the due incubation period; and then the course of the disease can also be pleasant and tempting.

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