The Gaze of the Sign


(This post follows Gater’s role in Body/Language: Barthes-Foucault vs. Gater’s Taboo)

“The signs exist insofar as they are recognized, i.e. insofar as they are repeated”.

Through this simple definition Barthes introduces the concept of the other (used as a technique in the philosophical discourses of the past [the Greek friend, see D&G]; used as an existential condition in Buber, Barthes and others).

We’re all signs. Think about concepts. Each concept has a never ending trail of other concepts, and behind each concept there’s a human – that human who gave life to the concept in the first place; that human who revived the concept after it has long been forgotten. With every word we pronounce, and every sign we digest, it’s the history of humanity mashed between our teeth.

We’re all signs, and hence our existence is dependent on recognition and repetition – repeated recognition by other signs.

If God is the first Word and words are signs, then God needs repeated recognition just the same. This can probably explains why we, the other signs, have been originally created, and in his own image.

Sometimes, we like to create our own recognition signs – we can then play and replay them again and again – an endlessly repeating loop of recognition.

“I like to do it with my friends; sometimes we videotape it, then we watch it…”.

This is a cry for meaning – a desperate need for recognition. For whatever reason, a new sign is created for this purpose: a videotape in which the original sign is captured. Then, the original sign plays and replays the secondary sign, the videotape, gaining through this repetition the so wanted existential recognition.

But then, something else happens. While watching the secondary sign affirming our existence, we do it again. This time, the original sign is the one affirming and recognizing the existence of the secondary sign.

This is the potlatch: one affirms our existence and we reaffirm back his/her own existence, in a looped process that can potentially persist for a while. The more this process continues, the more respectful and ‘full of life’ the two signs become.

Only, the inhuman sign not only cannot become ‘more full of life’, but it is found to have very strange effects, when used as an affirming sign: the potlatch is canceled!

Here’s an example: you’re giving your friend a present. Your friend is very happy. She then wants to repay you for making her happy and so she gives you back a present: only, it is the same present you gave her in the first place. Evidently, this will not make you happy, for by that act, your friend has canceled your act. It is a canceling exchange, because it’s an echo.

Whatever echoes, mirrors, cannot be considered as an existential affirmation and recognition. Whatever echoes cannot be used as a potlatch, for the echo cancels the potlatch. Gater’s video should be seen as a cry for a meaningful existence. But the inhuman videotape gives no salvation: it’s a static dancing.

There’s no replacement for the human gaze.

The Gaze of the Sign

3 Responses to “The Gaze of the Sign”

  1. ecko4inc Says:

    Interesting post, muli. The analogy of the potlatch and semiology reminds me of a critical analysis I did on Burroughs’ “Cities of the Red Night,” concerned with the problem of intepretation, hermeneutics and the meaning of the work of art. Especially given the problematic nature of Burroughs’ writing style in terms of a stable meaning; “an innaresting sexual position”.
    What is literature? the voice of a people? profundities? It is a machine – but the machine is dead, lifeless, without a reader. Writing (in the general sense such as videos could be considered ‘writing’ as reiterable signs for recognition, a composition) gives itself up to the gaze of the sign. The eye feeds; the sign is the potlatch (which also means “to feed, to consume.”)
    What makes an authentic reading? Is critical analysis anything more than an echo of the writer’s moral/sentiment/ethos? In other words, the potlatch being the total services rendered in an agonistic relation, what is an authentic gift?
    In Mauss’ work on the Gift economy, I always liked the word, v’yagha, which is a curse upon those who fail to return the gift in its value. There is no direct substitution in a Gift economy – the crucial element here being time, the present as presence, ephemeral and fleeting. One always riskes a v’yagha. And only a miser fears presents.
    (Comments on a weblog could be returns to a gift, an answer for the v’yagha. Which is why I am emale agonises over them.)
    And this may be what is most crucial to this thinking of authenticity and the Gift: the economy of time. What Marx calls the first object of capitalism in the Grundrisse.
    And to continue on my wayward tangent, Foucault in “What is enlightenment?” talks about the attitude of modernity as one of invention (modernity for Foucault is not restricted to a temporal definition or epoch, but as an “attitude”); the modern ‘man’ does not seek the true (authentic) self but invents himself. He (or she) is interested in capturing what is eternal in the fleeting moment, not to maintain the present, but to give it something new, being both faithful to the present (reality, given to the senses) and at the same time, violating it.
    What motivates Mauss in his tremendous book (for its intention, if not for its execution) is the price we moderns pay for our liberal societies – a loss of the authentic social bond he sees in so-called primitive societies. The Gift economy is by no means extinct from modern society, but from what I gather in “x=f(human)” is endangered by a calculated rationality in a exchange economy as opposed to a modern art in a gift economy; “it compels him to face the task of producing himself.” (Foucault)
    I recognise your signature in this scene from Reservoir Dogs. Very nice…
    The meaning of the sign is never a “given.” Even eckoes have their authentic striving, cursed as we are by the gods: sit venia verbo. How we identify ourselves for recognition, defines I as an other: I am emale. I give myself up to language, anon, in a gift economy. The difference is in writing, made visible and no longer simply a cry…
    In this sense, there’s no replacement for the human gaze, the critical experience of the cogito. Or to ecko Deleuze :
    “If exchange is the criterion of generality, theft and gift are those of repitition.”

  2. neath Says:

    Interesting blog!Will be back.

  3. muli koppel Says:

    Dear Ecko
    The text being the battlefield, extending itself on an axis of Time, I have coped with one tiny Time capsule, in which I have found a delightful gift. Thank you, anon. And the exchange continues.

    Two more things: I have 8 posts around this text of Foucault. I might publish them (beware). This text has it all. Maybe all texts have it all, like monads do. The Time Capsule, of course, comes from this text, Constantin Guys being a collector of those rare moments.

    But, the important thing is not the detection of those fine moments, or the detection of the sublime in those; the important thing, according to MF, is to extremely respect any Time Capsule, even those (and even especially those) explicitly stating the absence of the sublime.

    Life is tough and so are your texts, ecko. Rest assured, though, I fight with every line.

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