“El Dinosaurio” by Augusto Monterroso
Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio todavía estaba allí.
That, right up there in italics, is the world’s shortest story.
When one thinks of writing a story, a short story, or any story whatsoever, we probably do not think of the above.
If we were to write those words, in that order, all of a sudden, we probably would just consider it the first part of something, a sentence that is neither here nor there, maybe even a possible ending. But, a full story? In just ~66 characters?
Now, I would like you to consider this: Was Monterroso able to create this short story, a complete short story in 10 words, because the cultural context had developed in such a way that it was accepted by its peers as a short story? Had this story been written by, say, Shakespeare, do you think it would have counted as a short story? What if it had been written by an old Babylonian priest? (Assuming that a Babylonian priest would know what a dinosaur is/was or maybe substituting the word dinosaur by lizard or alligator or some other animal known to such hypothetical priest)
My own, personal, answer is… I don’t know.
One possible way to view reality is via semiotics: the current state of affairs that we call the world is composed of a series of symbols whose meanings change constantly, via paradigm shifts – I am totally abusing Kuhn’s original interpretation – the old symbols being replaced by new ones, and probably becoming a mystery to us, in other words the whole signifier/signified/sign/symbol thing.
I can always play around with the idea that I understand what Leibniz, or Mercator for that matter, meant by infinitesimals, but my mental constructs are already “infected” with other parasites that make the – original – concept of infinitesimals nothing more than philosophical ramblings. I cannot change this. (See also limit)
Now, I am not saying that it is not possible, all I am saying is that through my experience I have found that it is impossible for me to exactly know what was meant by infinitesimal in Leibniz’s time. What I think I am trying to say is that his contemporaries might have had a clearer grasp of what the concept meant for Leibniz himself than we will ever have. The accumulation of – more accurate, more precise – concepts via science – and, by all means, science is awesome – has created a context that permeates everything else. No way to go back really.
Can you think of a way?