Friday, October 31, 2008

Thanks to Ken Rufo for his guest post on the central blog. Baudrillard is certainly dense, but you've put forth a wonderful and thorough walk through on the subject.

I'm especially fascinated with the ideas of commodity and integral reality in relation to currency. In our culture fueled by "tap-and-go" credit cards and debit accounts, we detach ourselves from the type of consumption that involves the exchange of currency for a commodity. Now when we needlessly consume, it does not seem like we're actually exhanging anything for goods. As Ken says, "we're not really spending it". I know that most of the time I myself forget exactly how many times a day my debit card was used, or how much I spent, or even what I purchased.
Yet the debit system at least is somewhat of a simulation. Debit retrieves the cash from your account and forwards it to a business. The credit card system is more similar to an "integral reality", because it's not even a simulation--After all, it has no real model or value backing it. It's not quite mimicking the traditional nature of consumer transaction because no "pure commodity" is exchanged. We merely make a promise to return a certain amount of money to some shady organization at an unnamed date. The entire system of fiat currency that credit operates fades into the background, is not being simulated, and is in fact being eliminated. Of course, we seldom think of this because this integral reality acts on so many levels that it confuses our entire notion of money and currency in the first place. We might have a thousand dollars of debt on card....but did any actual money change hands at all?

This idea becomes even more headache-inducing (and simultaneously more interesting) in relation to the concept of impossible exchange. This term describes theory's inability to capture reality, as well as reality's resistance to being so easily dissected and understood. Essentially, our feeble simulations of simulations that have no model are actually valueless, and ultimately confuse our reality rather than illuminate it.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Death of a Blogger

Barthes presents some challenging ideas in "Death of an Author", some of which I still don't fully understand. But perhaps his most interesting suggestion is that writing is "the destruction of every voice". Such an assertion is easy to balk at, especially given the general consensus that writing is an instrument though which we create and amplify our unique voices. Am I somehow shattering my own voice by recording it?
What I take Barthes to mean is that the essence of writing is illusive--i.e. there is NO singular meaning or interpretation to a text. He agrees with many theorists when he claims that language is ambiguous and works to decenter our reality. In this way, we are not able to designate an origin of meaning within any work of literature simply because language is arbitrary. Words cannot successfully capture reality in any meaningful way, so how can literature--hundreds and hundreds of pages filled with these subjective words--have a concrete message? He takes this post-structuralist line of thought even further, claiming that this lack of center destroys all voices. The "voice" is shattered because such a concept implies unification and intent. In Barthes world, the "author" does not have a will or wisdom to imbue upon a text, let alone a distinctive voice.

I find Professor Zero's ideas about blogging identity and personal identity interesting and pertinent to Barthes' suggestions about voice and authorship. El Professor speaks about having separate voices that contrast between his personal/professional writing and his blog persona. He claims that he has made this anonymous blog "to escape my other writing voices and develop a new one". This idea of separate voices (let alone unified voice) is directly antithetical to Barthes. He would argue that neither of these voices are an authentic or valid idea, due to the fact that these perspectives have no intrinsic uniqueness or value due to the nature of writing.

I guess we're not all unique snowflakes, but that's something we can live with, right?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Signifier and the Signified

"The bond between the signifier and the signified is radically arbitrary" Page 35

Structuralism, especially the brand that Sausserre promotes, suggests that the language we use to describe ourselves and the natural world is completely and utterly without logic or base. My first thought upon hearing this suggestion was frustration. Immediately I mentally protested, thinking of all our complex linguistic systems--Latin and Greek roots, systems of grammar and syntax. But then the realization dawned on me--Just because something is perceived as a system does not make it any less arbitrary. We've constructed these absurdly specific rules to follow when we speak and write, but they just don't have any rhyme or reason.
This proposition becomes a lot clearer when we take concrete examples into consideration. My favorite is the use of the word "tree". Saussere calls our words and ideas "signifiers" and separates this concept from the actual object and deems that "signified". He complicates things farther when he makes the bold assertion that there is no real correlation between these two. Just because we use the word tree to describe the tall, leafy structure outside our windows does legitimize the usage of the word. Nothing about the letters t-r-e-e speaks of the essence of that which it describes. We have somehow consented, through social contract, to acknowledge these relationships and perpetuate their significance.
Such an assertion warps our perception of reality and art, but Post-structuralism challenges us to take this idea further. Post-Structuralist admit that Saussere's idea are in fact true, but that this implies an even greater subjectivity. They claim that the arbitrary nature of signifiers also means literature is devoid of meaning.
While it may be radical, Post-structuralism seems like the logical conclusion of Structuralist theory. I might not agree with this particular school of thought, Post-Structuralism is a great aid in in understanding its predecessor. Certainly, though, it leaves a lot to ponder.