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Story of Your Life NOTES.pdf

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Mike Johnstone

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Chiang, “Story of Your Life” Reading Notes - examines the simultaneous rather than sequential apprehension of the passage of time - plays with narrative consciousness - story abut the nature of language; about causality and choice - if you knew the future but could not change it, would you do anything differently? - story is about the common tragedy of the human condition: we all know that we are going to die - the “present tense” for this story is on the porch, right before their daughter is conceived - Dr. Banks is called in as an expert linguist when the first aliens arrive - Gary Donnelly is her physicist partner - the government doesn’t want to reveal too much about the aliens, and doesn’t want the aliens to know much at all about Earth - he doesn’t want anyone to interact with the aliens at first - Louise says that it is necessary - he is happy to learn that the aliens couldn’t have learned English by listening to broadcasts - he doesn’t want her to let the aliens learn English - the interactions with the aliens are all told in the past tense; this is the “before” of her life - other “memories” are told in future-tense - 112 of the alien “looking glasses” were on Earth - Gary and Louise work together to learn from the aliens - the aliens look like barrels surrounded by limbs - radially symmetric (symbolic of their way of seeing time?) - called “heptapods” - they don’t have a “forward” or “backward” - they seem to be able to communicate, although their ways of speaking are radically different - the beginnings are very slow; it takes a while to learn the language - the Colonel is reluctant to let them do too much - Louise thinks that communicating through writing will be easier than communicating through speech - many of the stories have to do with language in some way - their writing, unlike ours, is logographic - she calls them Flapper and Raspberry - the writing doesn’t seem to match up with the speech - in some cases it looks like the logograms attach together for a sentence - there isn’t consistency in their writing - the sentences don’t always follow the same internal structure - could be a consequence of their body symmetry? - the heptapods are cooperative and don’t demand to learn English - “colleagues seemed more remote than the aliens” - “the familiar was far away, while the bizarre was close at hand” - the colonel thinks that the heptapods may not be teaching their true writing, some people think that they may be primitive, but it is possible that they use a nonlinear system of writing - Louise realizes that there is no correlation between their language and speech; it is like looking at a no parking sign and realizing that it means no parking - they have two different languages; one written, one spoken - grammar is different in both - similar to mathematical equations or musical notations - they use a separate language for writing - “anticipation makes it more fun when you get there” - a “sentence” for them is just a giant conglomeration of semagrams - as time goes on they try to learn physics and math from the heptapods - the heptapods do not have any set word order in their speech - the heptapods say that they came to Earth simply to observe - they don’t seem to be very curious - “living with you will be like aiming for a moving target; you’ll always be further along than I expect” - the first breakthrough they have is with Fermat’s Principle of Least Time - the heptapods’idea of simple doesn’t match with humans - light always follows an extreme path - almost every physical law can be described in this way - Louise and Gary then go out for dinner together - Louise’s emotions are intricately linked to those of her daughter - is there a preferred word order for writing in
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