the viciousness of circles (1998)
the viciousness of circles | for piano | dedicated to Kathy Stott | 10 minutes duration
A self-perpetuating process which returns to its starting point with no improvement from when it was begun.
A vicious circle was the name given by 18th-century logicians for a fallacious proof in this form:
A depends on B
B depends on C
C depends on A
This was alluded to in Edition 3 of The Encyclopedia Britannica, in 1792:
“He runs into what is termed by logicians a vicious circle.”
A wider use of the expression was taken up by the medical profession and there are several examples from the early 19th century of it being used to describe conditions where one symptom affects another and the health of the patient steadily deteriorates.
The more general meaning of the phrase refers to any process where one event feeds off another but which seems trapped in a loop and eventually returns to its starting point, with no benefit gained. This imagery was employed in the 18th and 19th centuries to denote the circle of life and death. The emblem of a snake eating its own tail was commonly used in the iconography of Georgian and Victorian cemeteries – as in this example from Sheffield’s General Cemetery.
The figurative, i.e. not specifically logical or medical, meaning became established in the middle of the century; for example, this piece from Henry James’ Notebooks, 1892:
“The whole situation works in a kind of inevitable rotary way – in what would be called a vicious circle.”
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