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The Rhetoric of Error from Locke to Kleist$
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Zachary Sng

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780804770170

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: June 2013

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804770170.001.0001

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Conclusion: A Dirty Word

Conclusion: A Dirty Word

Chapter:
(p.161) Conclusion: A Dirty Word
Source:
The Rhetoric of Error from Locke to Kleist
Publisher:
Stanford University Press
DOI:10.11126/stanford/9780804770170.003.0007

Regulation of error's ambiguity is tied to narratives of risk and promise, including a reliable history of language and thought, a coherent model of subject-formation, and a rigorous critical philosophy. The impure rhyme that seals the fate of both Penthesilea and Achilles in Heinrich von Kleist's tragedy implies a complex interaction between dirt, error, and the production of meaning. Mary Douglas's Purity and Danger, with its analysis of pollution and taboo, offers a structuralist answer to a paradox about uncleanliness: objects that are considered “dirty” or “unclean” by a culture are sometimes revered in the holiest of rituals. This chapter examines the neutralization of dirt and its conversion into symbolic power in Purity and Danger. It also explores how an indelible dirtiness persists in the texts of Herodotus and Kleist, and argues that a similar anxiety about hygiene and waste disposal occurs in John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

Keywords:   error, dirt, Heinrich von Kleist, John Locke, Concerning Human Understanding, Herodotus, Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger, uncleanliness, hygiene

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