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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Poof! (John Mullan's Review of Michael Chwe's "Jane Austen Game Theorist")

In the Janeites yahoogroup this morning, Michael Chwe wrote the following:
“Hi all---my book "Jane Austen, Game Theorist" has been reviewed by John Mullan in the Guardian:

To which I replied:
Bravo once again, Michael Chwe!
I have one comment about Mullan’s review, where he opines that Michael was wrong, but actually he is inadvertently exposing his own cluelessness:
Mullan wrote: “More strangely, [Chwe] persuades himself that many of the minor characters in Persuasion – Mrs Croft, Charles Musgrove, Captain Harville – are conspiring to bring Anne and Captain Wentworth together again. In fact, the novel's high voltage comes from their ignorance of
feelings, of which the reader is sharply aware. Chwe's error is telling: he always wants to turn motivational complexity into rational strategy, the sine qua non of game theory.”
In my opinion, there is nothing strange about Michael Chwe's (as Mullan puns) persuading himself that secondary characters scheme offstage in Persuasion, in fact the contrary is true—Michael is entirely correct.
It is Mullan who is doubly wrong—first, wrong on a textual level, in that he is unable to see the textual clues which hint that many of the minor characters in Persuasion do, under one plausible reading, indeed conspire to bring Anne and Wentworth together again.
And second, Mullan’s also wrong on a meta level, because he cannot imagine a Jane Austen who would intentionally provide more than one valid way of reading the same novel text.
Like that wonderful moment in the current AT&T commercial, with the 6 year old kids being led in “discussion” by a man, when one kid points out that says “infinity  times infinity” is larger than "infinity plus infinity" ---the man simply points to his head and says “Poof!” to signify his brain
exploding at the kid’s brilliance.
Similarly, Mullan’s brain explodes when he reads Michael’s suggestion, because he cannot conceive that, in the case of JA, bigger (meaning more than one valid interpretation) is better.
And anyway, the idea of secondary characters playing matchmaker in Persuasion is not new, it has been out there for twenty years, courtesy of my friend Jim Heldman who wrote the following article in the JASNA journal Persuasions in 1993...

...presenting ideas which I have taken further in more recent years:

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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