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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Slipperiness of the Signifier

If a word can represent in a sentence any other word in the category of things or concepts to which it belongs or the whole of that category (metonymy), and if a word can represent anything that in anyway can be analogically similar to it (metaphor), or can be arbitrarily substituted for any other word (code), there isn’t anything any word can’t mean. At every level, from individual word up to narrative this holds true: phrase, clause, story, each can be metonymic or metaphoric or coded. Coded narrative we call allegory. It’s easy to see why a poststructuralist would consider literal meaning at best one possible effect among many and not one that is necessarily essential or indeed that has necessarily any part in particular instances of language. In coded utterances literal meanings can be particularly distracting, can function as noise if perceived at all. (To say it has no necessary part is not to say it is ever not potentially present.)

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