Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Tidens tecken

Rigorous Intuition (v. 2.0)
What You Don't Know Can't Hurt Them.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Signs of the Times

Semiotics is concerned with everything that can be taken as a sign. A sign is everything which can be taken as significantly substituting for something else...thus semiotics is in principle the discipline studying everything which can be used in order to lie. If something cannot be used to tell a lie, conversely it cannot be used to tell the truth: it cannot in fact be used "to tell" at all. - Umberto Eco, Theory of Semiotics

I think the only people entitled to be shocked by the commuting of Scooter Libby's sentence are those who were shocked that Libby was sentenced in the first place. Or rather, that it was a second-tier player like Libby and not Rove or Cheney who appeared trussed and basted as the suckling pig of Democrats' scandalously disappointing Fitzmas. It's those constantly incredulous types who deserve the saucepan eyes at Libby's predictable catch and release.

Even so, the Internet reaction is as rich as it is predictable, and ineffectual. Instead of America's streets, America's chatrooms are filled, because its citizens have been given them for the appearance of a commons, and clatter with indignant typing. But 10 million people posting We're not gonna take it anymore! isn't a revolution. It isn't even a Twisted Sister song.

That's the bad news. The good news is it's a Leonard Cohen song.

What hath Bush wrought? If nothing else, he's made semiotics everybody's business, whether everybody realizes it or not. Under the Bush years, the signs by which Americans and much of the Western world have lived have become so evidently estranged from what they allegedly signify that they now suggest little more than the lies told by Power to maintain itself. "Freedom," "democracy," "justice": Everybody knows. Among other things, Bush is the Deconstruction President.

In The Trickster and the Paranormal, George Hansen has this to say:

It is commonly assumed that there is a simple, objective correspondence between the signifier and the signified even thought they are separate entities. It is assumed that language is only a set of names for things, events, and concepts. These assumptions are incorrect, but few recognize the extent of the implications. This lies at the heart of deconstructionism, and magic.

There is power in the act of naming, because it imbues meaning to a thing - or to an event or a concept - that has no necessary correspondence to the thing itself. This was evident even on the morning of September 11, when the event of the attacks receded behind their purported meaning even as they were still under way. And then soon after, the breathless reporting of Bush's confirmation that this means war, albeit against an abstract noun which would nevertheless cost at least hundreds of thousands of actual lives.

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