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Regards croisés sur les Afro-Américains

Claude Julien

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The Devolution of Nuclear Associability

Percival Everett

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1We are all too familiar with Saussure’s

2and likewise all too familiar with the notion that the line separating the signifier and signified is somehow sliding or shifting. And finally, we are as familiar with the instructional icon:

3As elementary as these concepts might now seem, I begin with them as Semiotics begins with them.

4So, I ask you to imagine a character Adam. Adam is deficient in a singular linguistic way. He is never quite able to say what he means. Adam often gets very close, but never realizes his intention. Adam might attempt to explain the Pythagorean Theorem, but can only manage to get across that the sum of the squares of two sides of a triangle equals the square of the third side, being unable to make clear that the third side in the hypotenuse. Likewise, if Adam means to draw our attention to a right angle, he can only manage triangle. So, that space or gap between the signified and the signifier is never quite crossed. We get:

5Since nature abhors a vacuum, something must fill that space. To say that it is nothing merely begs the question. For if Adam, with his peculiar problem were to intend to mean triangle, he would only be able to convey geometric shape. We have then:

6If we place above this Adam’s attempt to offer the Pythagorean Theorem, then we see a ladder of sorts, which we might consider bounded on either side by some associative thread:

7We can well imagine how this disability of Adam’s can prove frustrating, specially when he attempts to, say, summon help to his burning house, he being capable only of directing the firefighters to a house near his or to one which looks much like his, his meaning becoming twisted in his frantic efforts, much as our meaning often twists.

8Meaning is difficult enough without metaphor and metonymy. But imagine Adam undertaking to say something subtle and metaphoric. His meaning will not only fall short, but might, in fact must, be misconstrued by misdirection. His ladder of meaning breaks:

9And depending on the situation in which his attempt is made, his broken meaning can accept (un) intentional connotational import, which we’ll call contextual clutter, and so looks like this:

10That new meaning cannot be denied (whether acquired randomly or designedly), but it was not, in fact, Adam’s intention to make that meaning. Too heavy for his initial chain, the new meaning falls off and becomes an attempt at meaning all its own which might in turn be defended, regretted or repeated and certainly twisted.

11The picture is yet another familiar one. I submit that it is an accurate and even a final representation of meaning. This is the stuff of meaning. Meaning is what we are and we are meaning. Meaning is molecular.


University of Southern California at Los Angeles, writer

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2003

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