I remember when I was studying for the selective high schools tests, at about 11 or so. My sat down to help me grasp some mathematic principles. We had been focusing on how if you had three pencil sharpeners and took away two, how many would you have left.* All of a sudden, we crossed over into something else.
"If you have three, and take away two, what do you have left?" my mum read aloud.
"...Three of what?"
"...Three... of what?"
I kept repeating that question, increasingly mystified. I later learnt that the number was referring to a 'pure abstraction', and I went with it because it was what I needed to do to score high on the exam, but some part of me never accepted this strange, context-free 'three'.
Many years later, whilst writing essays for that school I gained admittance to, thanks to my results on the test, I discovered that a good example was the key to a good argument. A specific example which must be drawn on to illustrate a point. This discovery led me to believe that no example should go without a wider theory being developed out of it, and further intensified my belief that no abstract notion should be stripped of its practical muse(s).
Creating an abstract three, an abstract that applies to all sets of three and yet to none, never struck me as resonant. It struck me as an impossible arrangement.
I can see, from my vantage point, three copies of 'Lonely Planet Thailand' in my room. One was published in 2004. One was published two years later, and yet another was published in 2008. However, I could argue that it is really only one book that I possess - The 2008 edition is the condensed version of the last two, with some improvements and innovations. It is a continuation of the processes of information captured in 2005, and as such it cannot be said to be a book distinct and different from all the rest.
Or are there really many books within each book? How is a 'book' to be defined? Lonely Planet allows you to 'pick and mix' your Guidebook information if you purchase the chapters you desire over the internet. Is not then every section for every state in Thailand (Central Thailand, Isan, Chiang Mai province, etc) a book in its own right, possessing the information necessary for it to be an independent entity?
So how many books do I have again? 1 or 100?
The moment you recognise your examples, that's when pure abstraction fails, and things get more interesting. So no, I can never take two away from three. It's not pure and simple. It's not postmodern.
Would Baudrillard say that all mathematical formulas are simulations? Mathematics is just one more way in which experts on disappointment attempt to introduce universal systems which preclude the possibility of postmodern thought.
Don't be taken in. Deconstruct. Re-flower. Cross-pollinate. Love.
*Not exact question.