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On the Simulation of Postmodernism and Mental Debility using Recursive Transition Networks 1 <b style="color:white;background-color:#880000">Recursive</b> <b style="color:white;background-color:#00aa00">Transition</b> <b style="color:white;background-color:#886800">Networks</b>
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On the Simulation of Postmodernism and Mental
Debility using Recursive Transition Networks
Andrew C. Bulhak
Department of Computer Science, Monash University
April 1, 1996
Recursive transition networks are an abstraction related to context-free
grammars and nite-state automata. It is possible, to generate random,
meaningless and yet realistic-looking text in genres de ned using recursive
transition networks, often with quite amusing results. One genre in which
this has been accomplished is that of academic papers on postmodernism.
In his book G odel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid 1], Douglas
Hofstadter demonstrated a method of generating meaningless but grammati-
cally correct English-language text. Hofstadter illustrated this method with
an example: a selection of 13 fragments of text, ten of which were generated
using a computer program and three which were taken from a journal titled
Art-Language, and a challenge to the reader to identify which sentences were
generated arti cially. The challenge is made interesting by the fact that the lan-
guage of the excerpts from the journal is so dense and jargon-laden that, to the
casual observer, it does not make any more sense than the computer-generated
fragments. It was this that inspired me initially to write a program to generate
arti cial travesties of such writing.
1 Recursive Transition Networks
There are several approaches to generating travesties of natural-language text
by computer. Perhaps the two most common approaches are Markov models and
recursive transition networks. The approach of using Markov models consists of
analysing sample text in a genre by breaking it up into units (typically words
or characters) and building up tables of the probabilities of units following
other units. To generate text, one performs a \random walk" through these
tables, starting at a unit, selecting the following unit randomly with respect
to the probabilities discovered, doing so again, and so on. The advantages of
this model are that it is automatic; the models can be built algorithmically from
input, and can have delity proportional to the number of prior units considered
(the degree of the model). However, this is a \dumb" model; it does not model

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- preposition -
- adjective
?-noun- verb -end
"green" -?6-end
Figure 1: Two RTNs used to generate simple sentences
the grammatical structure of the text to be generated, except in the most basic
way. Text generated using Markov models tends to be choppy and incoherent.
Recursive transition networks (RTNs) are a di erent approach. Using this
approach, one has to explicitly provide a speci cation for the domain of text
to be modelled. This speci cation is written in the form of a grammar, which
de nes the di erent forms and alternatives which can form a valid text fragment
in the domain.
A RTN is a diagram which shows how a task, such as the construction of
a fragment of text, may be performed. A RTN is a directed acyclic graph
consisting of nodes representing subtasks which must be performed in sequence
and paths linking these nodes. To perform the task, one must follow a path
from the start to the end of the RTN, performing the subtasks indicated by the
nodes along the path. In the case of constructing text, the nodes may represent
fragments of text to be emitted or RTNs to be evaluated. (Since RTNs are
recursive, by de nition, a RTN can call itself.) Figure 1 shows two RTNs which
(along with others) can be used to generate one simple type of sentence. The
rst RTN de nes the sentence form itself. It means that a sentence consists of a
preposition, followed by an optional adjective and nally a noun and a verb. The
second RTN de nes an adjective; an adjective can be either the text \large", the
text \green" or the text \shiny".
A set of RTNs can be written down in the form of a grammar, with each
RTN represented as a rule. Figure 2 shows the two RTNs from gure 1 written
in the form of a grammar.

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preposition j adjective ] noun verb
j \shiny"
j \green"
Figure 2: The rules corresponding to the RTNs from gure 1
2 The Dada Engine
I have developed a system for evaluating recursive transition networks speci ed
in scripts. The system was initially named \pb", for want of a better name,
but has since been renamed as the \Dada Engine". This consists of a program,
written in C, which reads in a script (a text le de ning a system of RTNs),
evaluates it, randomly selecting alternatives and prints the resulting text. This
is invoked from a shell script which rst runs the C preprocessor, allowing les
to be included and options de ned. Additionally, the Dada Engine package
contains les which may be included into scripts and which de ne commonly-
used features and provide a format-independent way of generating formatted
2.1 Representation of RTNs
Dada Engine scripts contain RTN de nitions in the form of a grammar. Literal
text (which is output) is enclosed in double-quotes, and follows rules similar to
those governing strings in the C language. Text which is not quoted is assumed
to be the names of rules or other objects which are evaluated by the interpreter.
2.2 Enhancements to RTNs
While it is theoretically possible to generate a wide range of text using just
RTNs, doing so becomes tedious and inconvenient. With such a system, putting
constraints on the output entails creating many rules, many of which duplicate
other rules, varying only in one detail. For example, if you want to generate
a rule which can generate sentences such as \Tom shook his head" and \Mary
closed her eyes", you could specify the rule:
S: name " " verb " " pronoun " " noun ;

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However, this rule is unsatisfactory, as it does not ensure the consistency of
the names and pronouns, and thus can come up with sentences such as \Tom
shook her head" (or, even worse, \Tom shook her eyes"). Since the name
and pronoun are not adjacent, the only way to ensure their consistency is to
enumerate all the possibilities at length, like so:
S: "Tom shook his head"
| "Mary shook her head"
| "Tom closed his eyes"
| "Mary closed her eyes"
The number of possible alternatives is equal to the product of the numbers
of possible valid choices from each independent category, and can become rather
unwieldy for scripts of any complexity.
It is for this reason that I added enhancements to the notation. One enhance-
ment I have added is parametric rules. These are rules which take arguments,
which are interpolated into the output of the rule. For example, one could have
the rule:
A(name, pronoun): name " shook " pronoun " head " ;
When called as A("Tom","his"), this rule yields \Tom shook his head".
(This rule is equivalent to the lambda expression
n: p:n\shook00p\head00.)
Another enhancement I added is mappings. Mappings provide a mechanism for
mapping between one set of strings and another. For example, to match names
to pronouns, one could de ne a mapping from each name to the respective
pronoun. Putting that together with parametric rules allows us to generate the
sentences above with:
A(name) ;
A(n): n " shook " n>name-to-pronoun " head" ;
name: "Tom"
| "Mary";
"Tom" -> "his"
"Mary" -> "her"
There are other enhancements, such as indirection (the use of the output of a
rule as the name of another rule), transformations (regular expression substitu-
tions) and state variables, which perform similar tasks or allow the output of the
scripts to be \massaged" (such as capitalising the rst word of each sentence).
In most cases, these extensions in the pb language could be theoretically
factored out into pure RTNs; anything which produces one alternative from a
nite range can be represented as a RTN (albeit in some cases rather tediously).

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The syntactic extensions added to the pb notation therefore do not add any
power to the language, although they make it greatly easier to use.
2.3 The Format Library
Since an aim of the Dada Engine was to be able to produce randomly-generated
documents in a number of formats, ranging from at ASCII text to HTML and
troff typesetter source, an important feature is the format library. This is
a collection of standard rules, which emit various parts of the output in the
format required. At the time of execution, the rules for the desired format are
included using the C preprocessor, and the script, having been designed to use
these, calls the required rules where necessary, For example, the parametric rule
AUTHOR(a), called at the start of output, emits the alleged author's name; in
HTML, this is formatted as \<h2>a</h2>", whereas, if plain ASCII text is being
emitted, it merely emits its argument, followed by a blank line. Other format
rules handle the document title, section headings and numbering, footnotes and
formatting codes for bold and italic characters. 3]
3 The Postmodernism Generator
The initial application of the Dada Engine was to generate travesties of papers
on postmodernism, literary criticism, cultural theory and similar issues. I chose
this genre because it is easy to convincingly generate meaningless and yet re-
alistic travesties of works in it. This is so because of the combination of the
complex, opaque jargon used in these sorts of works and the subjectivity of
the discipline; similar automated travesties of papers in, say, mathematics or
physics, would be less successful, because of the scienti c rigor of these elds.
Below are several fragments of text typical of the output of the Postmodernism
If one examines postdialectic discourse, one is faced with a choice:
either accept the neosemanticist paradigm of context or conclude
that the collective is capable of deconstruction, but only if Sartre's
model of the cultural paradigm of reality is invalid; otherwise, La-
can's model of subcultural Marxism is one of "subcultural prepatri-
archial theory", and therefore part of the failure of reality.
The subject is interpolated into a subcultural Marxism that includes
truth as a totality. Therefore, several theories concerning the cul-
tural paradigm of reality exist.
The main theme of Dietrich's 2] analysis of cultural construction is
not discourse, as subcapitalist narrative suggests, but prediscourse.
However, in Models, Inc., Spelling deconstructs surrealism; in Bev-
erly Hills 90210, however, Spelling examines the capitalist paradigm

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of discourse. Marx uses the term 'the dialectic paradigm of discourse'
to denote the role of the writer as reader.
2. Dietrich, K. T. ed. (1981) Forgetting Sontag: The capitalist
paradigm of discourse and surrealism. Yale University Press
The text referred to the footnote from the last fragment is, of course, c-
tional, having been randomly made up by the Postmodernism Generator. A
complete paper generated using the Postmodernism Generator is appended.
Initially, the Postmodernism Generator was coded to generate output for the
UNIX troff typesetting package. This was chosen as the format, so as to allow
printed papers to be produced, which then could be passed o as actual journal
articles. Later, because of interest in this program, the script was modi ed
to emit its output in HTML, the markup language used for World Wide Web
documents, and was placed on the Web for public exhibition.1
3.1 Structure of the Postmodernism Generator
The grammar used to generate papers on postmodernism has the following basic
title authors sections
authors author
j author
name; department, institution
sections section
j section
section-title paragraphs
Of course, there is a lot more detail in the script than this. As a sample
of the sort of code that is involved, below is the basic rule for generating a
sentence, taken from the script:
sentence2 :
assumption " " implies-that result ". "
| intellectual " uses the term '" term "' to denote " concept-desc ". "
| justifier "we have to choose between " term " and " term ". "
| "the " main " theme of " work " is " concept-desc ". "
| intellectual " " promotes " the use of " term " to " imper-vp ". "
| plural-numeric-adj " " abst-noun>pluralise abst-description " "

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exist ". "
| sentence-about-citable-artist(v-citable<<citable-artist)
| "the subject is " neut-verb>past-tensify " into a " term>strip_the
" that includes " big-abst-thing " as a " big-singular-thing ". "
3.2 Results
The Postmodernism Generator has given rise to a lot of interesting comment.
Many people were impressed or amused by the fact that convincing text can
be generated in a genre such as this. I have heard (unsubstantiated) anecdotes
about graduate students and academics in the arts, when presented with output
from the Postmodernism Generator, reading several paragraphs, or even a page,
before realising that it does not make sense. If these are true, this could be the
result of a combination of the subjectivity of the disciplines involved and the
tendency of people (particularly those not trained in computer science) to not
believe that such text can be produced using an algorithm.
4 Other Scripts and Curiosities
As well as generating phony papers on postmodernism, recursive transition net-
works can be put to other uses. For example, below is the output of a grammar
designed to simulate the ranting of a paranoid schizophrenic street preacher, or
perhaps a USENET ranter:
Did you know that theories cannot be veri ed, only falsi ed? I
didn't. Err, yeah... that's right. Do you ever get the feeling that
they are watching your every move? I do. Have you ever had a
dream in which Men In Black were asking you all sorts of questions,
like "if the end justi es the means, then what about the drugs in
the water supply? "?
Err, but can we really say that P = NP? I mean, can we assume
that mathematics is valid? Have you ever had a dream in which you
were being pursued by giant spiders? Did you know that love makes
the world go round? I did. What about mind control?
Below is a fragment of text generated by a script designed to simulate ec-
centric pseudoscienti c/religious pamphlets:
Just as there are four letters in the name of God, there are four car-
dinal directions. This is because of God's law of time compensation.
the COSMIC principle of ATOMIC TOTALITY is encoded in the
works of Shakespeare.
All historical accounts were rewritten to hide the TRUTH about
God's law of time compensation. Tesla knew all about the law of

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psychic justice. That is why the Secret Underground Society de-
stroyed him.
The true suppressed value of pi is 3.954; all mathematics textbooks
have been changed to hide this. ONLY from this value can one
A more academically relevant use of RTNs is to generate examination ques-
tions, such as the following:
Compute the canonical determinant of 36. Be sure to refer to De-
Morgan's Law in your answer.
Show that A(G(770, 1123.7656, 192)) = 680.2 .
Is minimal factorisation epsilon-complete? Discuss. Be sure to refer
to Wibbel's Theorem in your answer.
This script was originally written with the intention of generating bogus
practice examination papers to be distributed in lectures for the purpose of
scaring students. Additionally, Dada Engine scripts which generate travesties of
legal jargon, religious materials and mathematical equations have been written.
One pattern which has emerged is that abnormal modes of human com-
munication, whether they be so by being restricted to a particular specialist
eld of discourse (such as mathematics or postmodernism) or by being typically
the result of mental illness, are easier to replicate than normal communication.
This is comparable to the situation with interactive conversation programs, two
of the most famous examples being Weizenbaum's ELIZA (which simulates a
psychiatrist) and Ken Colby's PARRY (which simulates a paranoid mental pa-
An entirely di erent technical curiosity involving the Dada Engine is a script,
which was sent to me by Mitchell Porter, which produces its own text when
executed. Since this script is 77 lines long, I will not reproduce it here; however,
it is included with the Dada Engine sources.2
5 Shortcomings of these methods
There are some cases where the methods used in the Postmodernism Generator
fail and produce obvious errors in their output. One problem that was encoun-
tered with the Postmodernism Generator was to do with dates. For example,
one could nd sentences such as \the theme seen in Finnegan's Wake appears
again in Ulysses", a sentence referring to two works by James Joyce, with the
implication that Ulysses was written after Finnegan's Wake (whereas, in fact,
it was written earlier). Another manifestation is cites of ctional book titles
such as \Dialectic capitalist theory in the works of Tarantino" (referring to the
2The Dada Engine may be obtained through the World Wide Web from

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Hollywood cinematographer Quentin Tarantino) dated from the 1970s. These
problems occur because there is no mechanism for imposing constraints on the
order of items selected.
The logical next step in terms of allowing such constraints to be imposed
is to expand the language into a full-scale functional language with speci c
nondeterministic constructs. This would make sense, as some of the features of
functional programming are present in the Dada Engine (parametric rules are
similar to lambda calculus, whereas mappings resemble the pattern matching
mechanism present in languages such as ML).
6 Future work
One interesting potential application of RTNs is for data encoding and steganog-
raphy (hidden messages). If one has a RTN-based grammar, one can produce
output from any arbitrary message by dividing the message (the plaintext) into
a series of numbers used to choose which paths are taken. This output would
resemble an ordinary piece of randomly-generated text (assuming that the en-
tropy of the plaintext is not abnormally low, producing repetition artifacts).
To decode this message, one would have to parse the text using the grammar
used to encode it. This would require the grammar to be checked for ambiguity
beforehand and mutually ambiguous rules to be grouped so that they yield the
same code value.
1] Douglas Hofstadter, G odel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. Basic
Books 1979
2] Joseph Natoli, Linda Hutcheon (ed.) A Postmodern Reader. State Univer-
sity of New York Press, Albany, 1993
3] Andrew
C. Bulhak,
umentation. Distributed

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Realities of Stasis: Subsemiotic materialism and Foucaultist power
Hans Y. Sargeant
Department of Ontology, University of Illinois
1. Gibson and conceptual precapitalist theory
"Class is fundamentally used in the service
of sexism," says Bataille. A number of discourses
concerning the role of the poet as reader may be
If one examines subsemiotic materialism,
one is faced with a choice: either accept concep-
tual precapitalist theory or conclude that narrativ-
ity serves to marginalize the proletariat, given that
neocultural theory is valid. Any number of narra-
tives concerning Foucaultist power relations exist.
Subsemiotic materialism implies that sexuality
has objective value. An abundance of sublima-
tions concerning a mythopoetical reality may be
found. Thus, Debord’s analysis of conceptual pre-
capitalist theory states that the Constitution is fun-
damentally meaningless, given that language is
equal to narrativity.
"Society is unattainable," says Baudrillard.
Derrida uses the term ’subsemiotic materialism’
to denote the bridge between class and culture. In
a sense, the subject is contextualised into a decon-
structivist capitalism that includes consciousness
as a totality. The opening/closing distinction
which is a central theme of Virtual Light emerges
again in The Burning Chrome.
Therefore, Hubbard1 holds that we have to
choose between Foucaultist power relations and
subsemiotic materialism. Sontag suggests the use
of conceptual precapitalist theory to read sexual
identity. The main theme of Porter’s2 essay on
Foucaultist power relations is not discourse, but
1. Hubbard, Q. (1982) Foucaultist power relations
and subsemiotic materialism. Harvard University
2. Porter, Z. L. (1989) Deconstructing Surrealism:
Capitalist theory, rationalism and Foucaultist power
relations. Cambridge University Press
Lyotard promotes the use of Marxist social-
ism to attack the status quo. Foucaultist power
relations suggests that culture is capable of decon-
struction. However, sev eral deconstructions con-
cerning subsemiotic materialism exist.
The subject is interpolated into a conceptual pre-
capitalist theory that includes reality as a reality.
It could be said that Sartre uses the term ’Fou-
caultist power relations’ to denote not narrative,
but neonarrative.
La Fournier3 implies that we have to choose
between submaterialist feminism and dialectic
semanticism. Thus, if subsemiotic materialism
holds, the works of Gibson are not postmodern.
Debord uses the term ’Foucaultist power
relations’ to denote the difference between society
and class. But the main theme of Humphrey’s4
analysis of subsemiotic materialism is the dialec-
tic of postcultural sexuality.
2. The neomodern paradigm of concensus and
textual capitalism
"Sexual identity is intrinsically a legal fic-
tion," says Baudrillard; however, according to
Werther5 , it is not so much sexual identity that is
intrinsically a legal fiction, but rather the defining
characteristic, and some would say the futility, of
sexual identity. Thus, any number of theories con-
cerning the role of the artist as writer may be
3. la Fournier, W. ed. (1979) Foucaultist power rela-
tions and subsemiotic materialism. Schlangekraft
4. Humphrey, O. R. F. ed. (1980) The Narrative of
Genre: Foucaultist power relations in the works of
Pynchon. University of Illinois Press
5. Werther, K. T. (1972) Foucaultist power relations
in the works of Lynch. Loompanics

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discovered. The premise of precapitalist discourse
states that the purpose of the reader is significant
form, but only if Sontag’s model of textual capi-
talism is valid; otherwise, Lacan’s model of post-
conceptualist cultural theory is one of "Marxist
class", and thus impossible.
The main theme of Scuglia’s6 critique of
Foucaultist power relations is not desituationism,
but subdesituationism. Therefore, the subject is
contextualised into a subsemiotic materialism that
includes art as a paradox.
In the works of Eco, a predominant concept
is the distinction between feminine and mascu-
line. Bataille suggests the use of Foucaultist
power relations to modify society. The primary
theme of the works of Eco is a pretextual reality.
If textual capitalism holds, we have to choose
between neodialectic nationalism and Foucaultist
power relations.
In a sense, a number of narratives concern-
ing subsemiotic materialism exist. The rubicon,
and subsequent stasis, of patriarchial sublimation
depicted in Foucault’s Pendulum is also evident in
The Name of the Rose, although in a more
mythopoetical sense.
It could be said that neocapitalist discourse
suggests that expression must come from the
Foucault uses the term ’textual capitalism’
to denote the role of the participant as observer.
However, the subject is interpolated into a Fou-
caultist power relations that includes truth as a
whole. Lyotard promotes the use of subsemiotic
materialism to attack capitalism. The main theme
of Wilson’s7 essay on Foucaultist power relations
is the difference between class and sexual iden-
Therefore, Abian8 holds that we have to
choose between Derridaist reading and textual
capitalism. Many theories concerning subsemi-
otic materialism exist. But the characteristic
theme of the works of Joyce is the fatal flaw, and
ev entually the economy, of postdeconstructivist
6. Scuglia, D. U. H. (1976) The Stone Door: Sub-
semiotic materialism in the works of Eco. And/Or
7. Wilson, P. ed. (1988) Foucaultist power relations
in the works of Joyce. Schlangekraft
8. Abian, V. ed. (1974) Subsemiotic materialism
and Foucaultist power relations. Harvard University
3. Discourses of meaninglessness
"Class is part of the paradigm of language,"
says Sartre; however, according to Parry9 , it is
not so much class that is part of the paradigm of
language, but rather the collapse, and therefore
the genre, of class. Sontag uses the term ’Fou-
caultist power relations’ to denote not discourse,
as Debord would have it, but subdiscourse.
Therefore, the subject is contextualised into
a subsemiotic materialism that includes reality as
a paradox. The premise of precapitalist appropria-
tion implies that art may be used to reinforce class
divisions. In Finnegan’s Wake, Joyce examines
Foucaultist power relations; in Ulysses, although,
Joyce reiterates textual capitalism. It could be said
that Baudrillard suggests the use of subsemiotic
materialism to challenge and analyse society.
Thus, any number of desituationisms concerning
subsemiotic materialism may be found.
If Foucaultist power relations holds, we
have to choose between Lacanist obscurity and
Foucaultist power relations. However, the primary
theme of von Junz’s10 critique of textual capital-
ism is a self-justifying totality.
Marx uses the term ’Foucaultist power relations’
to denote the role of the writer as participant. In a
sense, the subject is interpolated into a textual
capitalism that includes consciousness as a reality.
4. Joyce and subsemiotic materialism
If one examines textual capitalism, one is
faced with a choice: either accept Foucaultist
power relations or conclude that the goal of the
reader is deconstruction. But McElwaine11 states
that we have to choose between neostructuralist
objectivism and subsemiotic materialism. The
destruction/creation distinction prevalent in
Finnegan’s Wake emerges again in Ulysses. Fou-
cault promotes the use of textual capitalism to
deconstruct hierarchy.
"Culture is responsible for elitist percep-
tions of sexual identity," says Lyotard. Therefore,
any number of narratives concerning the dialectic
9. Parry, O. B. A. (1989) Dialectic Narratives: Fou-
caultist power relations and subsemiotic material-
ism. University of Oregon Press
10. von Junz, J. S. (1973) Foucaultist power rela-
tions, cultural theory and rationalism. Cambridge
University Press
11. McElwaine, L. (1971) Foucaultist power rela-
tions in the works of Burroughs. O’Reilly & Associ-

Page 12
of capitalist class exist. The main theme of the
works of Joyce is not, in fact, discourse, but post-
discourse. Thus, if Foucaultist power relations
holds, we have to choose between the dialectic
paradigm of concensus and textual capitalism.
The primary theme of Drucker’s12 analysis
of subsemiotic materialism is the bridge between
sexuality and society. Howev er, Debord promotes
the use of Foucaultist power relations to read and
modify sexual identity. Precultural narrative holds
that class, paradoxically, has intrinsic meaning.
If one examines Foucaultist power rela-
tions, one is faced with a choice: either reject tex-
tual capitalism or conclude that truth is capable of
intention, given that art is equal to narrativity. It
could be said that the characteristic theme of
Buxton’s13 model of subsemiotic materialism is a
material paradox. Derrida uses the term ’textual
capitalism’ to denote the absurdity, and some
would say the defining characteristic, of subse-
manticist society. The subject is contextualised
into a Foucaultist power relations that includes
reality as a paradox.
Prinn14 suggests that we have to choose
between capitalist theory and subsemiotic materi-
However, Bataille promotes the use of Fou-
caultist power relations to attack sexism. If textual
capitalism holds, the works of Spelling are post-
The primary theme of the works of Spelling is the
failure, and some would say the rubicon, of post-
dialectic language. Therefore, Marx’s model of
neocultural textual theory implies that conscious-
ness is fundamentally a legal fiction. A number of
desemioticisms concerning Foucaultist power
relations may be discovered.
Sontag suggests the use of textual capital-
ism to modify class. The subject is interpolated
into a postmaterial appropriation that includes
language as a whole. In a sense, Baudrillard uses
the term ’subsemiotic materialism’ to denote not,
in fact, discourse, but neodiscourse.
12. Drucker, C. Y. ed. (1985) Foucaultist power
relations in the works of Madonna. University of
Michigan Press
13. Buxton, N. (1977) Reading Sartre: Subsemiotic
materialism and Foucaultist power relations. Panic
Button Books
14. Prinn, E. I. W. (1970) Subsemiotic materialism
in the works of Spelling. Loompanics
If Lyotardist narrative holds, we have to
choose between Foucaultist power relations and
textual capitalism. Thus, the main theme of the
works of Spelling is the role of the artist as poet.
An abundance of discourses concerning a
mythopoetical reality may be revealed. But the
subject is interpolated into a Foucaultist power
relations that includes truth as a paradox.