February 4th 2008

the thinking aloud issue

Just had a quick fiddle with flash experimenting with a mini idea I had earlier. i've shape tweened all from times new roman to arial and back again. it works reasonably smoothly. some of the other fonts I tried (a rough looking calligraphy font called gutenberg textura and current flavour of the happy home catalogue, century gothic) I couldn't get to tween so well.
anyway, here it is.

all animated between times new roman and arial

One of the things that interests me about meaning is the way people have subtly different ideas about what something can mean. Have you ever watched two people having an argument only to slowly realise they're trying to get at similar points. But then, stranger than that, I've sometimes found myself, after such an argument, still resenting another person for not quite getting the full texture of what I mean (I know. stupid reaction). It's hard to get away from this sense that everyone has slightly different readings of the full meaning of words, especially when you're trying to talk about the parts of life that tend to get lived on the undercurrent of everything else that's going on.

We all have increasingly developed associations of what anything means. Whenever I hear the word butter I feel slightly, indescribably, more at home. I think it's something to do with images of nice farm kitchens with evening sunlight giving the table and hob a slightly warm, yellow tint. And also a girl at playgroup putting a buttercup under my throat when I was about three or four, to see if I liked butter. That idea of yellowness has stayed with me. It is now a residual part of my feeling for the word butter that sits alongside memories of ripping perfectly good slices of toast to pieces with cold butter, and all the other stuff that's just built up inside of me over time.

Which of these associations are stored in the collective cultural consciousness, bullied in to existence by the dancing lurpak trumpet player? which are not? which are mine alone? With this principle applied to all of language, I quickly find myself feeling a little like we're all speaking subtly different languages. It's true that butter will always be butter (I hope), but there are underlying meanings unique to all of us that subvert any straight forward reading of it.

Multiple meanings of single words are also interesting. Consider the words left and right, which I thought of looking at instead of 'all'. another example is 'work'. The word work is a very simple word but also has a whole set of possible meanings.

ie – 'does the radio work?'
'does this combination of yellow and green work?' (unlikely)
'when do you finish work?'
'I will work very hard to ensure the blue hand gang don't go to work on my work, as their boss is a nasty piece of work' – which reminds me, what about when you pronounce work as 'woik' in the manner of certain movies. How does that change the semiotic drift?

Then, after all that, we have the thought of taking the word and attendant concept(s) of work to an old people's home in former Soviet Russia. What do they make of it there? I wonder if it has similar double meanings.

I've been reading 'Introducing Semiotics' lately. that talks a lot about these developing ambiguities. Saussure thought a stable definition of signs would be possible; that it would be possible to state that a symbol could be fixed on meaning one thing, for everyone. Derrida blew that idea out of the water. It's interesting, though, that Saussure thought this stability would be found in what he called difference (similar to Derrida's idea of the trace, funnily enough) that things are defined by their difference from one another: the word 'big' is defined as different to the word 'pig' due to the difference in the first letter, and the flow of difference stops there. Big and pig are both defined and the battle is won.

Derrida spoke of différance, which, among other things portrays sign reading as an ongoing process in which everything that has gone before defines everything that follows it. Our reading of any given word or sign is in a constant state of flux. Obvious really. but I can't help but feel that Derrida's own approach is restrictive as well, in that it doesn't allow for the dimension of truth that exists in Saussure's thinking. (butter is still butter, after all) when we accept derrida's version, we get stuck on a track set by him, and need to break free of it. I get the impression he knew that very well. I like that. It's almost as if a disproving of his ideas confirms them, and the world will continue to refuse concrete definitions.

Every lazy researcher's favourite starting point, Wikipedia has this to say on the matter of différance:

In the essay "Différance" Derrida indicates that différance gestures at a number of heterogeneous features which govern the production of textual meaning. The first (relating to deferral) is the notion that words and signs can never fully summon forth what they mean, but can only be defined through appeal to additional words, from which they differ. Thus, meaning is forever "deferred" or postponed through an endless chain of signifiers. The second (relating to difference, sometimes referred to as espacement or "spacing") concerns the force which differentiates elements from one another and, in so doing, engenders binary oppositions and hierarchies which underpin meaning itself.

So how does this relate to the history of the word all? Well… i didn't call this the thinking aloud issue for nothing. Though come to think of it, I do think it goes to show that the history of any word is bound up by every single (mis)use of that word, by every person who's (mis)used it. Some of these uses and abuses are just more famous than others.
Anyway, this is the landscape that my project is planted in.

ps – here's a link i just found: www.visualthesaurus.com
here's the result for the word of my own enquiry:

visual thesaurus result for the word all.

Category thinking aloud | Tags: ,,,


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2 Comments so far
  1. by Thesaurus

    On June 8, 2011 at 8:03 am

    Looks like Google Wonder Wheel. Am I right?

  2. by Dan Fone

    On June 29, 2011 at 9:46 pm

    No it isn’t. I hadn’t heard of that but just looked it up. Interesting. Will have to have a play.

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