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   Re: [xml-dev] Objections to / uses of PSVI?

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Hi Ron.

Ronald Bourret wrote:

> I now understand Rick Jelliffe's comment about separating the future into
> PSVI and XML worlds.
> Assuming the PSVI is read/write (and there is no reason to believe that it
> shouldn't be), I can do things like using the DOM to create schema-less
> documents with typed nodes. Since serializing this accurately means (as
> you point out) serializing the type information, we've just lost XML.

Is this another monk achieving zen? ;-)

Seriously, though, if we are to *save* XML it's going to mean rooting out
all of the infoset-think. I was last engaged in this precise controversy
more than twenty-five years ago. At that time, in the field of philology,
the definitive statement of the other side's position was Michael Nagler's
_Spontaneity and Tradition: A Study in the Oral Art of Homer_ (University of
California Press, 1974). In a careful and nuanced argument, Prof. Nagler
built his case for primacy of an impetus behind the expressed syntax of the
instance. He labeled that impetus the 'fluid preverbal Gestalt', a
juxtaposition of three words which has ever since been my exemplary
definition of scholarly bulls*. Those three words are so carefully chosen as
in practice to define absolutely nothing, but in theory to appear to explain
everything. And though 'infoset' may be the fpG's manifestation to the
current age, the argument itself is in fact two millennia older. As a
technical term of the Sanskrit grammarians, artha (sorry, Len) signifies
what is usually meant by 'semantics' in xml-dev discussions:  a 'meaning'
expressing the 'purpose' or 'intent' of the author. Thus understood, artha
is the product of vivaksa, the impetus to utterance. The 'syntactic' school,
if I may anachronistically call them that, built a competing understanding
of language around the term sphota, literally a 'bursting' or
'blooming'--the instance manifestation.

Like many of today's infoset-thinkers, Prof. Nagler was very uncomfortable
with the notion of the unconstrained sphota. In fact, because the simple
understanding of sphota could not be hedged by a particular vocabulary, even
a metrical one, Nagler went so far as, effectively, to attempt redefining
sphota not as the expression of (or in) the instance, but as some Platonic
Form of that expression--the argument being that since the instance could
manifest itself as pretty much anything, it was insufficiently concrete to
have its own identifiable reality other than as the manifestation of its
archetype:  "But any one Gestalt or sphota beggars definition, for it is
itself undifferentiated with respect to any describable phonological
feature. The given word, phrase or sentence is only a kind of hypostasis of
this entity--an allomorph, as I have been using the term--as a particular
geometrical shape is a hypostasis of its Platonic Form." (loc. cit. p. 14)
Call me paranoid, but the precise argument has been used against me
repeatedly by the infoset-thinkers. They argue that I don't really mean bare
syntax when I say bare syntax, because I won't limit that bare syntax to a
particular vocabulary. Therefore, they argue that what I really must mean by
bare syntax is a manifestation of the Platonic Form of that syntax which, to
their way of thinking, makes my sphota as abstract--and therefore really the
same thing as--their fpG.

The PSVI debate, and particularly its XQuery/XPath Task Force manifestations
is as good a demonstration as we are going to get of where the choice of
infoset-think leads and, more crucially, what it leaves behind in the
unexplored and unrealized syntactic possibilities of XML.


Walter Perry


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