Monday, September 26, 2011

Words As Fiction

In my critical discussion I expanded Ong's theory of a fictional audience to include also a fictional author and fictional text. Now, after reading Locke and understanding the imperfections surrounding the communication of words, I would like to take my thesis even further. Not only is the text a fiction, in that the work as a whole can mean different things to different people depending on the cultural codes and historical context of the time, but every single word in a text is a fiction.

Words were derived to signify ideas for recording and communicating towards a better understanding, but once these words become communicated the obvious imperfections begin to arise. This is due to the nature of words as signs and sounds, sounds having "no natural connection with our ideas, but have all the their signification from abritrary imposition of men" (Essay concerning Human Understanding, 817). For example, the word horse does nothing more than signify the animal horse in our minds, signify our idea of a horse. And since we all may have different ideas not only about what a horse is but also what it represents to us (summer fun at grandmas, a scary childhood accident or tragedy, etc.), even a simple word like horse will have slightly different significations to various people.

Because words are merely representation, one can dissect a sentence word by word and each word can vary in it's meaning of significance. That is what causes so many discrepancies in language, especially as you change from one episteme to another. And in the same way that Ong says reading, as opposed to spoken word, is an individual task involving more fictionalization, the reading of and finding coherent meaning in arbitrary sign-words is much more difficult than finding coherent meaning in spoken word. Think of the inflections one uses when speaking to denote frustration, glee, sarcasm. The same words can't be inflected this way when written or read (I'm sure we've all had this problem with lost sarcasm through text messages...). In fact, that may be why text emoticons are thriving today, to attempt to excite an understanding that can't be communicated as well through words. The point is thus, that when communicating through words the reader/listener is facing a constant challenge and dissection of each sentence and must fictionalize meaning to each and every s/he reads/hears.

Finally, something I was wondering. How does the desensitizing of profanities fit into Locke's work? The meanings of words are constantly fluctuating through epsitemes by cultural influence. The desensitization of profanity is a big part of this. In the early 20th century fuck was hardly ever used to signify anger, even more rarely in literature. Back then it was extremely shocking and even mid-century it still carried extreme connotations. And yet today's reader would pass over the word fuck barely even noticing it. What does this say about language and words-as-signs? If we continue to dull ourselves to emotional language, will past texts still be able to carry the same extreme emotion? And how will we signify this kind of emotion in the future? By creating new words? This is a sort of tangent but interesting to think about nonetheless.

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