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I'm trying to remember a technical term that I encountered in literature class. It's a word probably of Greek origin, but possibly Latin. It describes an error that an author has committed in the creation of a scenario.

The example we came across was in The Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Piggy is repeatedly referred to as short-sighted, and he indeed appears to be myopic (for example, he wears his glasses continuously, whereas long-sighted people only put them on for close work like reading). Yet his glasses are used to start a fire by concentrating the sun's rays like a magnifying glass. If he were myopic his glasses would be diverging lenses, and could not be used in this way.

This could be accurately termed an "internal inconsistency", but I'm sure we were given a particular technical term to describe it.

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  • You might find your term in this TV tropes list Many of the terms were created by TV Tropes, but some may be from literary criticism. tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Consistency Aug 11, 2023 at 14:50
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    Are you drawing a distinction between some deliberate move by an author and a plain old mistake?
    – Spagirl
    Aug 11, 2023 at 17:53
  • Yes, I specifically mean a mistake by the author (like Golding not knowing that glasses for short sight do not converge light). Aug 11, 2023 at 18:04

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This has been called aporia.

Collins dictionary defines it as:

a difficulty, as in a philosophical or literary text, caused by an indeterminacy of meaning for which no resolution seems possible,

In his novel Nice Work, David Lodge, a former literature professor, uses aporia to describe Wordsworth's line:

Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change,

which Wordsworth wrote when he mistakenly thought trains ran in grooves rather than on rails. (See this review of Nice Work on Goodreads.)

Let me note that aporia applies not only to a mistake on the author's part but also to a deliberate internal inconsistency.

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  • Post Derrida, the term aporia has a very specific technical meaning that would preclude its being used in this way, I think. It would surprise me if Clara's instructor used aporia to describe something like the error in LoTF. As the definition you quote says, aporia specifically refers to an indeterminacy of meaning, one caused by the nature of language itself, and not to an inadvertent error.
    – verbose
    Aug 12, 2023 at 2:25
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    Yes, this is exactly the term he used, I remembered it as soon as I saw Peter's answer. "Aporia", Greek for "without a path". Aug 12, 2023 at 9:36
  • @verbose Of course, if there is a more precise term, I'd love to know that too Aug 12, 2023 at 11:08
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    @verbose: This is more or less why I wrote "This has been called aporia," rather than "This is aporia." Aporia seems to have been used for at least four somewhat different things: (1) logical inconsistencies and paradoxes, like Zeno's paradox and "All Cretans are liars," (2) authorial errors that lead to contradictions, like the examples of Wordsworth and Golding above, (3) a rhetorical strategy involving feigning doubt or uncertainty, and (4) Derrida's use in deconstructionism.
    – Peter Shor
    Aug 12, 2023 at 12:20

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