Wednesday, February 25, 2009

NEVER MIND THE SIGNIFIER

Walter Benn Michaels’s little, but intriguing book, The Shape of the Signifier (2004) comes to my mind as Vincent talks about reference today. Michaels is interested in the function of the materiality of the sign for reference, precisely as it relates to the distinction between affect and cognition. In other words, as he says: “to understand a text is one thing, to feel its force is another” (9). When Vincent says that it helps little to know how language works when the meaning ascribed to objects signify different things for different people, he suggests the same as Richard Rorty: “The world does not speak. Only we do” (On Contingency, 6). By the same token, language does not speak itself, only we do. Ultimately this is in fact precisely what explains the mistake that students at Roskilde U make when they believe that what they work on in their report, namely the original Lutheran works, has anything to do with Martin Luther King, whom they see as the originator of these works. The five minute talk ends with a speechless gesture that indicates mind boggling.

For Michaels, what is at stake in following the consequences of replacing ideological difference (based on belief in different things) with identitarian difference (based on our speaking different languages) is a process of ontologizing the argument. As it is a common given that, to begin with, professors and students speak different languages, and that in spite of their beliefs, referentiality works performatively only as a means of indulging, or as Rorty has it, as “redescription.” Thus we are able to better understand what Gottlob Frege means to say when he says this: “sometimes I seem to see a difficulty, but then again I don’t see it.”


And so it goes, ra-ra-ra-ra-ra. I signify here that there is more to say, but the less noise one makes at such hours the better.

3 comments:

Bent said...

Bach yellow autumn
autumn yellow Bach
yellow Bach autumn
Bach autumn yellow
autumn Bach yellow
yellow autumn Bach

lamb lamb lamb

Bach autumn yellow
autumn Bach yellow
yellow autumn Bach
Bach yellow autumn
autumn yellow Bach
yellow Bach autumn

Miele Miele Miele

Bach yellow autumn
autumn yellow Bach
yellow Bach autumn
Bach autumn yellow
autumn Bach yellow
yellow autumn Bach

Miele lamb Bach
yellow yellow yellow
Bach lamb Miele
autumn autumn autumn
lamb Miele Bach

yellow Bach autumn Bach
Miele autumn lamb
Miele Miele Miele
Bach yellow lamb
Bach Bach Bach
autumn

Camelia said...

This is what I call keeping it simple. Thank you thank you thank you.

Anonymous said...

We need a title for Bent's wonderful biographical poem, don't you think...?! Here are a couple of suggestions, but the list can go on of course:

1. "Five Faces of Simplicity"
2. "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Compulsive Hedonist"
3. "Variations, Calypso, and Fugue on a Theme by Camelia Elias"
4. "A High-Toned Old Jewish Woman"
5. "Nuances of a Theme by Camelia Elias"
6. "Cy Est Pourtraicte, Madame Ste Camelia"
7. "The Comedienne as the Letter C"
8. "The Romanian Sublime"
9. "Autumn Refrain"
10. "A Postcard from the Volcano"
11. "Parochial Theme"
12. "A Thought Revolved"
Etc.

(Thanks are due to Wallace Stevens and John Ashbery for the original titles)