Re: terra incognita
"Champion, Mike" wrote: > I'm not sure what to call this perspective (and no big company seems to > advocate it), how about the "native XML dataflow/transformation" > perspective??? (A better label is humbly solicited from anyone who sees the > world this way). John Cowan and I (not accustomed to beginning from a posture of agreement) started a similar discussion at lunch on Tuesday which, as happens IRL and away from the xml-dev arena, was interrupted and never resumed. The appreciation of a syntactic dataflow/transformation perspective is not new, and in Homeric studies--or, more broadly, studies of formulaic oral poetry--has been the central question since the 1920's. Beginning with Wolf in 1798 the 'learned Germans' meticulously constructed a poetics, and indeed an all-embracing and self-consistent aesthetics, of Homeric epic based unfortunately on an understanding of 'literature' which is alien to the compositional necessities and therefore to the expressed nature of oral poetry. For the first century and a quarter of modern scholarship it was presumed that the text was an author's particularized expression of both widely-shared myth/legend/history (the Trojan War) as well as of deeper, universally human impulses--Platonic forms, if you will. These are, of course, key assumptions of Romanticism, which values most the individual's expression of the universal and permanent. The vast edifice of such scholarship was destroyed by Milman Parry's seminal discovery in the 1920's that the formulaic phrases of oral poetry are the compositional mechanism for providing the terms needed to narrate the story, in the combinatorial matrix of the grammatical inflections required versus the metrical patterns of the verse. Internalizing Parry's explanation of oral composition allows us to understand the distinction between the 'underlying meaning' and the 'surface serialization' in an entirely different way. In the first place, it is the expression, and not the semantics behind it, which has a demonstrable and concrete permanence--these phrases survive for centuries as the fundamental material of the poet's craft. This means that in the practice of such poetry it is from these formulaic phrases that the semantics are developed--not the other way around--and if new meaning is to be expressed it must be done through old syntactic forms. In fact, because this syntax consists of forms it is itself abstracted from any particular instance of rendition. Instead of a duality of semantics and syntax we have a tripartite distinction of semantics, syntactic form, and instance. In our world of XML markup, the first time that I have seen consciousness and appreciation that this is a three part distinction was last week at XML2001, where that realization seemed to be popping up all over. I was particularly struck by Rick Jelliffe's felicitous expression "rhetorical structure", describing the schematics of the instance as distinct from either the semantic or syntactic schemata which it might express. Rhetoric is about nothing but rendition, so there is no room to argue that the rhetorical structure might consist of anything more than can be derived from the empirical observation of the instance. > I dunno, this may be simply my personal clustering into things that I find > overwhelming and confusing and things that I find simple and natural. But > it's not really about one perspective being "better" than the other; I will > very happily admit that there are PLENTY of good use cases for the "XML for > smart serialization of RDBMS or objects" perspective. Nevertheless, a clear > alternative seems to be taking shape, and I think the distinction, and the use > cases in which one or the other is more appropriate, deserve exploration. I'll do some clustering of my own: as I see the process (and I am not a disinterested observer) it is a unique instance operating upon, or processed by, a unique observer or recipient on a unique occasion which is the only nexus for transaction or conveyance of semantics. This is far, far from a tightly-coupled system, and we would hardly expect specific semantic intent of an author to be transmitted efficiently and intact through such a mechanism. Yet the assumption that the semantics travel untouched in their fully-realized objects is at the heart of the OO philosophy. By contrast, perhaps we can begin to think of XML's very different assumptions--grounded in the primacy of syntax--as embodying a source-code rather than object-code view of the world. In that world there is no guarantee that I as recipient of your code will compile it--and therefore execute it--as you expect. Such differences between us will not prevent our executing transactions, but those transactions will consist of one of us taking 'as is' what the other offers, with no promise of how it will then be used. Because of the asymmetry of our purposes, the transaction is not reversible, though it might be offset with an additional transaction. Most important, the substance of such a transaction is not our agreement (which would be an abstract and semantic substance), but the stuff itself which is passed between us (which is concrete and syntactic). Agreement on semantics opens the door (through explicit congruence of purpose, if nothing else) for the original author to seek to maintain those semantics, and therefore to control far downstream the use of his 'property'. In a 'source code' view of XML as the means of transmission and propagation, such claims are absurd as well as unrealizable. If at the moment of transaction the goal of whoever controls the receiving end of the process is not to maintain the semantics as the transmitter intends, there is no way that the transmitter can enforce downstream control, except by refusing the transaction itself, which hardly accomplishes the goal. Respectfully, Walter Perry
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