I bought a book about ten years ago. Today I decided to read it and reminded myself why I hadn’t.
The value of a sign derives from the fact that it is different from adjacent and all other signs.
Ok, I can go with that. If there are two traffic lights at a road junction you (a) get irritated and (b) don’t pay as much attention to them because you keep looking from one to the other so when it goes green you don’t move off promptly but check the other one first. Got it.
Difference incorporates this but it also indicates that the value of a sign is not immediately present; so here I’m going to assume they mean that when someone at school walked through a road junction and his feet started sticking to the road because it turned out he was walking through a pool of blood from a car crash, the pool of blood isn’t going to be there all the time. See, I can follow this stuff.
..it’s value is deferred until the next sign in the syntagm modifies it. Take the syntagm from the English song Ten Green Bottles Ok. Let’s do that now.
Ten And Counting
As we read from left to right, the ‘ten’ gets transformed from “ten what?’ to the answer ‘ten green somethings.‘ But does it though? Isn’t that only true if you want it to be? It’s still ten, whether or not you define what it’s ten of, unless you’re actually saying ten doesn’t mean anything unless it’s something. Or something.
But anyway. ‘The answer to ‘ten green what?’ is then modified to ‘ten green bottles.’ Ok. Go on.
“There is, therefore, (once again)‘ oh mais oui, d’accord, encore une fois et tout ceci ‘ a retroactive construction of meaning. So far so good.’ I’m really not making this stuff up. And I didn’t put the once again and so far so good in. Because it really does strike me that the response to this bit is well, yes and no. If you want there to be. Not if you don’t, it seems to me. But let’s go on. If we do this at a run we might get through.
‘If we extend the syntagm to: Ten green bottles standing on a wall then further modifications take place. The ten items become items that are standing on the wall and the answer to ‘ten what?’ (the question I didn’t ask, you did, you said that, I didn’t say that) is deferred again.’
But only if you asked it, obviously. It’s just a song, you know?
‘By the time we get to the “wall” and clearly not Pink Floyd’s Wall, (OR IS IT!?!?!? Discuss, with reference to Levi-Strauss if not Levi-Schumann) having deferred our answer to what the bottles are standing on, we envisage the wall not as a bare one but as one with ten bottles standing on it.’
I like to think I’m not particularly dim, so let’s go with this for the moment. For me, if we’re doing walls, the song ends with no bottles standing on the wall, all ten having accidentally fallen. Makes sense? Stuff happens, what happens next is an ever rolling stream, you don’t know what you got till it’s gone, the Pink Paradise put up a parking lot. See, I said I could do this. I went to university, you know.
‘The sign ‘wall’ therefore bears the trace of previous terms in the syntagm.’ See? I said it first though.
‘(Namely ‘ten green bottles.”) Derrida.
Now, I don’t know Derrida. I’ve heard the name, but if this is what he said then he never actually listened to Ten Green Bottles. It doesn’t end with ten. It ends with none. There were no green bottles standing on the wall, Derrida. If the sign ‘wall’ bears the trace of previous terms in the syntagm, and for the sake of getting to the post office for a book of stamps and some fresh air I’ll accept it does, what I’m not going to accept is ‘namely’ the wrong number.
As I said. It could be me. Or oxygen starvation. Or an overwhelming sense of ‘what?’ followed by ‘how do you get paid to come up with this stuff?’ But maybe it’s me.