There are no endless catalogs of opposites in Counterpoints, nor does the book attempt to account for every theory of opposition. Instead, the search is for what might be intrinsic to the concept, whether it is a fundamental and fundamentally simple organizing principle, and, if not, how the concept might still have a rich application to ethnographic evidence.
The cartoon by Steinberg provides a focus for the investigation. The picture shows a three-dimensional capital letter E, resting upright among some foliage, with a potted plant, a dog, a cat, a chick, and two hens as companions. There is a bubble above the E, the kind used by cartoonists to indicate thinking or dreaming, and inside the bubble is a two-dimensional stylized capital E with an acute accent. Recalling that Aristotle in the Metaphysica (335-323 b.c.e.; Metaphysics) says that the Pythagoreans (dating as far back as the sixth century b.c.e.) arranged their “first principles” in dyads (for example, limited/unlimited, odd/even, one/plurality), Needham adopts such a table of oppositions for analysis of the cartoon. Though there are elements in the drawing that do not fit into the table (there are three fowl), many seem to fit handily. With the assumption that the three-dimensional E is the subject of the cartoon, such opposed terms as upper E/lower E, above/below, slender/squat, imaginary/concrete,...
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