TOPPeirce NEWS at other sitesVia ARISBE:FAQsPapers by PeircePeirce-related PapersSpecial Resources

Friday, September 5, 2014

My Wife the Metaphysician, or Lady Murasaki's Revenge

The Peircean linguist Michael Shapiro wrote a novel My Wife the Metaphysician, or Lady Murasaki's Revenge.

Publisher's description:

In My Wife the Metaphysician, or Lady Murasaki's Revenge, Michael Shapiro devises a storied diary that views the world through the eyes of an inimitable woman whose being and essence are determined by her superlative and penetrating intellect. Inspired by the great Japanese literature by upper-class women writers of the mid-Heian period, eighty-four masterfully woven sections alternate prose, poetry, social commentary and haiku-like vignettes to tell a fascinating tale of betrayal, revenge and undying love. Cruelly and unjustly exiled, Lady Murasaki, accompanied by her consort, Prince Towa no Ai, is the virtuoso author of learned discourses on the Western literary heritage, especially the Divine Comedy and Provençal poetry. The narrator's skein moves the characters along a topography that has them migrating asynchronously between contemporary California and interwar Tokyo, Budapest and Moscow, ancient Israel and the medieval Romance world, Freiburg and New York, rural Alabama and Vermont. Characters and chronologies are scrambled and reconstituted, real and imaginary events and places commingled, as Lady Murasaki brings her vast knowledge of art and literature to bear on explorations of medieval and Renaissance literature and the labyrinthine fictions of Dostoevsky, Bulgakov, and Nabokov. Her dialogues engage interlocutors that run the gamut from Satan and Pontius Pilate to Dante himself, as well as a giant humanoid cat. Through it all and to the end, including her final attainment of retributive justice, Lady Murasaki is wedded to Prince Towa no Ai, and it is their real-life love story that animates everything.

Vincent Colapietro:

When academics or intellectuals turn their hand to fiction or even narrative forms such as memoirs or histories, all too often character, scene, and drama are sacrificed to abstract ideas and theoretical positions long defended in some disciplinary context. Characters tend to be thin illustrations (often utterly eviscerated examples) of preconceived theories, scenes artificially staged confrontations in which human drama is more or less absent. Michael Shapiro has, in marked contrast to this, proven himself to have a storyteller's ear and a novelist's eye for the seemingly insignificant, yet ultimately fateful detail. One has the sense, when confronted with his portrayal of persons, of being in the presence of singular, complex, and indeed palpable beings whose lives are dramatically intertwined. For this imaginative and erudite scholar and theorist to be as well such a keen observer of character and adept narrator of events seems hardly fair. Should one person possess, at this level of mastery, such diverse and demanding talents?

Vincent Colapietro
Liberal Arts Research Professor
Department of Philosophy
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA
[Comment left on June 24, 2009 at 7:44 pm in the Guest Book at Shapiro's website.]

In addition, the novel contains a character "Charley Peirce," which I take as an additional excuse to post about the novel at the Peirce Blog.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Michael Shapiro keynote - "Style as a Cognitive Category" (update)

Originally posted on January 28, 2014, 6:49 p.m. E.S.T.

UPDATE: Keynote address has been re-scheduled to April 11, 2014. End of update.

Michael Shapiro (Professor Emeritus of Slavic and Semiotic Studies, Brown University;
Adjunct Professor, Society of Senior Scholars, Columbia University)

"Style as a Cognitive Category"

Keynote address, panel on "Semiotic Perspectives on the Arts and Cognition"
Winthrop University, February 14, 2014


Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) is the modern founder of the theory of signs, otherwise known as SEMIOTICS. This theory takes signs as anything that is capable of signifying a MEANING, thereby placing meaning (what Peirce called semeiosis) and COGNITION at the center of human inquiry. Peirce's whole philosophy, of which his semiotics is the capstone, is an immense synthesis of the key ideas of modern science with the classical logical paradigm that traces its origins from Aristotle through the Stoics, Locke, and Kant. Peirce's great achievement is the addition of the THEORY OF INTERPRETATION, of which his conception of the interpretant as a law or rule, invariably instantiated in individual signs, is his most radical advance and provides a systematic understanding of the way signs signify.

Although Peirce was a mathematician, logician, and scientist, his sign theory recognizes the importance of feeling, emotion, sensation, sentiment, action. Put another way, his semiotics not only enables us to understand science as a human enterprise but offers us an approach to literature and the arts, to religion, to society, to the whole of the world that lies between the private incommunicable interior and the vast spaces of the exterior universe.

Peirce's concept of the interpretant, with its emphasis on significative effects, provides just the conceptual bridge necessary for style to be understood in a global sense encompassing all its manifestations. Style suffuses so much of what it means to be human and has been the subject of so much analysis that in order to move style away from problems of introspection and self-awareness one needs to redirect the age-old discussion into a more public arena where the contrast with custom allows insight into the STRUCTURE OF HUMAN ACTIVITY IN GENERAL. This can be accomplished when style as a phenomenon that cuts across disciplinary boundaries is viewed TROPOLOGICALLY as a fundamentally cognitive category.

About the speaker

Michael Shapiro was born in Yokohama, spent World War II in Japan, and grew up speaking Russian, Japanese, and English. He earned degrees in Slavic Languages and Literatures at UCLA (A.B., ‘61) and Harvard (A.M., ‘62; Ph. D. ‘65). Besides Brown and Columbia, he has taught at UCLA, Princeton, UC Berkeley, and Green Mountain College, in a career that now spans half a century. He is the co-author, with his late wife the medievalist and Renaissance scholar Marianne Shapiro, of Figuration in Verbal Art (1988) and The Sense of Form in Literature and Language (2nd ed., 2009). His 2007 book, Palimpsest of Consciousness, is a set of authorial annotations of his only work of fiction, the novel My Wife the Metaphysician, or Lady Murasaki’s Revenge (2006). His most recent book, The Speaking Self: Language Lore and English Usage, was published in 2012.

[more information at and ]