Logical Investigations: Everything Everything, “Fortune 500” (2015)

truth table

In Aristotelian logic, you can get a result this way:

If p, then q  (suppose it’s true that “where there’s smoke, there’s fire”)
p (there’s smoke)
Therefore q  (there’s fire)

or this way:

If p, then q  (suppose it’s true that “fire always makes smoke”)
Not-q  (there’s no smoke)
Therefore not-p (there’s no fire)

The first way is called modus ponens, the second modus tollens. In a certain kind of great song lyric, a savory irony can be achieved by riding these rails of logic. Here’s an example in “Time the Avenger” by The Pretenders:

Nobody’s perfect
Not even the perfect stranger

The implicit “p implies q” is “A perfect stranger must be a perfect person,” strangers being in every case persons. But line 1 says there’s no perfect person. Therefore the people whom we regard as perfect strangers are not really perfect (and maybe, underneath the wordplay, the point is that they’re not really strangers either — after all, they’re imperfect like we are). The idea of “perfect” has been shaken and stirred with a modus tollens-based irony.

For modus ponens, here is an exhibit B:

Amidst the early violent imagery in “Fortune 500” by Everything Everything, a modus ponens-based irony flashes out in the third line, which could be a motto for all the doomy songs in the world:

I’m at the gates, I’m climbing over the wall
To trepan the Queen and burn the dogs in the hall
A trail of destruction, but at least it’s a trail

“Trail” (p) implies ability to find one’s way (q); thus “trail of destruction,” a case of p, implies ability to find one’s way, q, despite chaos and loss, so despair flips to hope (but only sarcastically?).



About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
This entry was posted in Rock, Rock Aesthetics, Words and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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