that p may occur or not
Let's say: “that p may or may not occur.”
Is “that” a demonstrative pronoun pointing to the proposition p; a conjunction lacking an introductory clause which it itself would link to the predicate; a grammatical or semantic anaphora (more euphonic than “substitute”) representing a noun; a blank to be circumstantially filled; a conventional notation to advance a hypothesis; or a synonym of “let's say”?
“p,” isolated in its visual singularity, an unknown given, could carry along multiplicity and calls beingness in question, its italics denoting a very thing in its absence; an illustration; a title; or an emphasis.
“may,” a modal verb subsidiary to its follower although preceding it, introduces potentiality and keeps that sense in its negative form, its meaning opening on a vista of possibilities (even when negated).
“may or may not,” a binary opposition with the rigidity of a digital switch, the two verbs mutually incompatible (perhaps a redundancy), agonistic, each denying the other, a conundrum that can't dissolve into dialectical fusion.
“or,” so slight yet instrumental, a pirouette, a roundabout, a cornucopia of promises, a promissory note.
“not” is adding weight to the verb which it pressures into its reversal.
Then “occur,” (“running toward” in its Latin source) at the same time temporal and localized, here in a conditional mood that could evoke the future or the brusk emergence, the punctuality, of an overflowing event.
While a tautology for being always logically true and therefore necessary, the phrase itself, perhaps becoming an oxymoron, oscillates to speak of latency, transience, or mesmerizing catastrophe hanging in upended abeyance. Held on a vanishing point or the tip of the tongue.
“. . . asked by his wife whether he wants to have his bowling shoes laced over or laced under, Archie Bunker answers with a question. He asks, ‘What's the difference?’ . . . ‘What's the difference’ did not ask for difference but meant instead ‘I don't give a damn what the difference is.’ The same grammatical pattern engenders two meanings that are mutually exclusive: the literal meaning asks for the concept (difference) whose existence is denied by the figurative meaning.”
—Paul de Man
At the hazard of a fortuitous coincidence, Nadja, André Breton’s enigmatic character (she, or “a written symbol that is used to represent speech,” or an embodiment of the word's psychological meaning) encounters a situationist like her wandering through the streets—an anachrony lingering in the suspended time of fiction. Fate’s serendipity as well: coalescence of strands in knotty amalgams or resolutely parallel. For each instance of a Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s candy piece, whose weight is the sole constant, the size and shape vary according to that installation. The accumulation of piled candies, cornered or strewn, delineates the undulation of the sculpture on the floor, or its slope, modulated by the subtraction of an eaten quantity, as the work gradually dematerializes . . . before once more being renewed into another configuration, in a perpetuated transience, each work fluctuating in the wake, the comet’s tail, of a temporal transfiguration of ephemera, somewhere and for here now, or nowhere. With each proposition, each offering, gentleness dissipates in the air.
“Being a reader of sublime simplicity, his wife replies by patiently explaining the difference between lacing over and lacing under, whatever this may be . . .” and Bartleby was inclined to not-to.
Bewildered, haphazardly for as long as it lasts.
ContributorChristine de Lignières
Christine de Lignières is an artist who lives and works in New York.