Saturday, February 28, 2015

seemingly semiotic: two reader responses

no matter what, I'm only ever saying to you
what has already been said.
2/16: To acknowledge the author of a text is to attach an authority to it. The notion that meaning may be ascertained according to the will of its presenter -- the author -- invites the rebuttal of Roland Barthes, author (or rather, writer, owner, or dictator) of “The Death of the Author” and “From Work to Text.” In the first essay, Barthes transfers responsibility and credit from the writer of a work to its reader; in the second, he differentiates between the work (the tangible text, the gravity- and establishment-obeying component of a text) and the text (the dormant dimension that requires reader production). Put neatly by Barthes, “the work can be held in the hand, the text is held in language, only exists in the movement of a discourse." 

Barthes writes that giving a text an Author “[imposes] a limit on that text," subjecting it to absolute interpretation. Is it not more comfortable and valuable to turn to the Author, the arranger of past thoughts and experiences into a bouquet (flowers borne from previous flowers, but which are nevertheless unique flowers), for truth? For a truth that may elaborated/improvised upon by the reader? That “a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination” does resonate with me; yet Barthes’s criticism calls for the emptying of the reader: “the reader is without history, biography, psychology."

What distinguishes the Text from its Work is, apparently, “its subversive force in respect of the old classifications.” Does this mean that the Text evades all labels and definition? Attempts to impose a single meaning onto a Text are futile. The Text’s “plural” identity draws from Barthes the words of a previously-possessed man: “‘My name is Legion: for we are many’” (Mark 5:9, 1329). How do Barthes’s musings, which so clearly challenge absolutes, apply to and undermine monotheistic beliefs? Then, Barthes describes the discourse that occurs in the “methodological field” between reader and writer, proposing that unconscious, “bored” consumption of a text is a result of one’s reluctance to “produce the text, open it out, set it going." Like a music score, the work remains dormant until it is “completed," not merely expressed, by the performer.
2/24: What Heidegger presents in “Language” is a reversal of order. Man speaks language into being, like God his creation; rather, language speaks man into being. What use arises from shuffling man and language, A and B (what was the consequence of “man speaks language” -- C -- to begin with?). Heidegger dissuades us from seeking out a “generally useful view of language that will lay to rest all further notions about it” (986) and claims that “we do not want to get anywhere. We would like only, for once, to get to just where we are already.” Where we “are,” perhaps, is that place of “being,” escaping the endless conversion of past to future for the usually unsticky present. By thinking of our thoughts as by-products of the speech once attributed to them, do we draw closer to that state of simply being, where “we leave the speaking to language” (986).

If man and his world are the products of language, this must mean that language preceded man in existence. From where, then, did language originate? Proponents of language-preceding-man assent that “the word of language is of divine origin” (987). Thus, God begot word; word begot man. Heidegger accepts this answer for the sake of liberating the “question of origin” from logical “fetters” (987), and consults what he considers the purest form of speech: the poem. Apparently, poetry best captures the interplay between what we think and what language tells us. But poems are the most meticulously planned and precise presentations of language -- why does Heidegger consider that which was creatively crafted and manipulated by its producer to be the best representative of language’s control over man?

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