Sunday, October 16, 2011

Every Letter Is A Fiction

Inspired by the essays of Barthes and Ong, I used my first short critical discussion as an attempt to prove the fictionality of the; every text is a fiction. I built off Ong's idea of a "fictional audience" and compared it with Barthe's concept of "every text is eternally written here and now" to prove that, because every text is a product of its time (and subjectively judged by the time it was read in), the meaning of a text can't be factional and must be fictional.

After reading Locke I expanded this "fictionality" thesis to include "every word as a fiction" (Barthes, 870). Locke's statements about the arbitrary meaning given to words (and thus the varied meanings among humans) made me realize that each word within a text can contribute to the whole subjectivity of textual significance. Because words are arbitrary signs, they can't possibly always possess a fixed meaning.

And then Derrida came along and pushed my thesis one step further, in a way I had only previously joked to myself about. But it makes sense; every letter is a fiction. There are so many words (especially in the English language) that mean very different things while only differing by one letter. For example, desert is a dry, hot, and sandy landscape (not the place you'd quite want to be), while dessert is a rich, wonderful treat. The extra s holds extreme difference and drastically changes the meaning of the word. (This brings up ideas that words have very little meaning by themselves. Only in context, supported by other words around them, do they really have meaning.)

Homonyms, when spoken are another great example of the "fiction" problems through spoken language. When relaying things like "to", "too", and "two" you physically can't tell the difference between the way the words sound. The same goes for Derrida's "difference" and "differance". Both words mean very different things and only because of one letter; "this graphic written or read but not heard" (Derrida, 280). If every word has arbitrary fictional significance, then every letter (especially in cases like Derrida's) is just as arbitrary, just as fictional. Every single letter of a text can drastically change the meaning or significance of the text as a whole.


  1. I really like this theory of every letter being a fiction, because it is honestly very true. That is what language itself is, a fiction of reality. Something that people use to signify what is not present at the time. Your last paragraph really speaks to the limitations of language in regards to what it attempts to achieve and what it is really capable of. The world and all that encapsulates and surrounds it is extremely complex, and language is what we use to attempt to discuss and describe it. Letters and words can only go so far, and Derrida's differance theory really fleshes this matter out. Your example of "to, too, and two" really hits the nail on the head. The only way you would know which meaning the word was trying to stand in for would be to literally see it written out or have someone describe it for you. Words can only partially signify when they stand alone. They need to be coupled with other pieces of language in order to signify as efficiently as possible. The least amount of explanation is normally the best explanation, at least in terms of getting the idea across that one is trying to present. The less explanation one must give, the more successful the language. Just a thought.

  2. I think in order to claim every word is a fiction, fiction needs to be defined. In the sense that every word is a representation, sometimes glamorized, (there's a use of echolalia in "The Great Gatsby" that makes a reader think it's a flower-- it's not), sometimes minimized, sometimes exact, such as when a word sounds like what it is...(the word 'water' kind of flows)...of what it represents, then I would agree that every word is a fiction in its' similarity to a novel.

    Is this kind of what you mean?


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