Syntax and Semantic Errors

Since I am only on page 384, this will be a short(ish) post, but I wanted to put this idea out there and see if it connected with anyone else. In my non-school life, I work for a software company and spend a lot of time programming, so I glance over the Anwar stuff with an eye for bugs, but not too critically (I am trying to get through the book after all). But I did catch a syntax error in the code presented on page 89:

//          int main()
//          {
//        std::cout << ‘My thoughts unaloud look like this!\n’
return 0;
//          }

This is c++ code and the “//”s mean that what follows on the line is a comment (until the next carriage return, which is why I included the output as one line), but the return line is not commented out. If you were to try to run this through a compiler, you would get a syntax error. When I first saw this, I didn’t think it was intentional, but I didn’t have enough of the book read to feel like I could associate it with something. But while flipping through the book today after having read about the bug in the scene loading code on page 382 something clicked. “Bugs” in code are semantic errors, problems in meaning, where the error above is a syntax error, an error in the grammar of the language (grammar in the linguistic sense, the rules of language; possible sentences versus impossible sentences). You know who makes a lot of semantic errors in their speech? Xanther. But jingjing’s narrations make a lot of syntax errors, which makes the sections harder to read, your brain can’t compile correctly, and you have to debug the sentences.

I got to thinking, couldn’t the syntax and semantic errors run through all different layers of the book? That seems to me to be sort of the idea of the signiconic. It’s sort of a syntax error in the language of books, so we have to stop and debug it, figure it out.

It could also be that I am just very sleep deprived.


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About Trevor Byington

English Major, CW Emphasis @ Weber State University, Linguistics Minor

3 responses to “Syntax and Semantic Errors”

  1. melindaborchers says :

    Yes. Wonderful. I don’t know any coding, but we have characters in Anwar’s narrative dedicated to working out the “bugs” that they encounter as they develop Paradise Open. In Xanther’s narrative we have Anwar and Dr. Potts at the very least attempting to decode her language or correct her in a way that she can accept. What role does that leave the reader in? As we can observe the way these characters are thinking, even when we have to decode, are we trying to gain a deeper understanding of those characters? I think this is a deliberate move on Danielewski’s part to draw the reader’s attention very self consciously to the act of reading and all the implications thereof.
    Or I could be sleep deprived as well.

  2. smartysloan says :

    I don’t think you are sleep deprived, I think your brilliant. EVERYTHING in this novel is intentional and it is the mental work that most frustrates me and attracts me to this novel. What is the computer tech saying, garbage in garbage out? I think Danielewski considered every single word and symbol as well as their placement. That kind of care and work ensures quality output. The thing that has kept me from rage quitting this novel is knowing as hard as I am working he worked a million times harder to get me there.

  3. logan72015 says :

    The error you will receive is an “undefined reference to main”. The compiler will look for main, but since it does not see a function named main it will end and return that error. I saw the return 0; was not commented out and he is also missing an include statement for the iostream.h. With out that, the cout statement will not function. I read these particular lines as Anwar’s desire to express himself, but instead choosing to keep them internal. The program is written as though he wanted to act out the declaration, but instead just turns them into comments. The syntax errors or the missing include aside, the program was doomed to not run.

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