northanger (northanger) wrote,

différend in a bottle

{continued from here (What Next in the Long War?)}

[+] On board each of the unmanned spacecraft Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 is a plaque with a pictorial message from mankind. The plaque shows the figures of a man and a woman along with several symbols that are designed to provide information about the origin of the spacecraft. It serves as a kind of interstellar "message in a bottle".

[+] The process of commodification often has negative connotations for the individuals who discuss it. Karl Marx extensively criticized the social impact of commodification under the name commodity fetishism. A criticism of commodification is that it ignores individual agency and the individual's ability to resist the never-ending spread of the market. Commodification itself became popular during the rise of critical discourse analysis in semiotics — the study of signs, both individually and grouped in sign systems. It includes the study of how meaning is made and understood.

[+] Semiotics for Beginners

In 1972 NASA sent into deep space an interstellar probe called Pioneer 10. It bore a golden plaque. The art historian Ernst Gombrich offers an insightful commentary on this:

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has equipped a deep-space probe with a pictorial message 'on the off-chance that somewhere on the way it is intercepted by intelligent scientifically educated beings.' It is unlikely that their effort was meant to be taken quite seriously, but what if we try? These beings would first of all have to be equipped with 'receivers' among their sense organs that respond to the same band of electromagnetic waves as our eyes do. Even in that unlikely case they could not possibly get the message. Reading an image, like the reception of any other message, is dependent on prior knowledge of possibilities; we can only recognize what we know.

Gombrich's commentary on this attempt at communication with alien beings highlights the importance of what semioticians call codes. The concept of the 'code' is fundamental in semiotics. Whilst Saussure dealt only with the overall code of language, he did of course stress that signs are not meaningful in isolation, but only when they are interpreted in relation to each other. It was another linguistic structuralist, Roman Jakobson, who emphasized that the production and interpretation of texts depends upon the existence of codes or conventions for communication (Jakobson 1971). Since the meaning of a sign depends on the code within which it is situated, codes provide a framework within which signs make sense. Indeed, we cannot grant something the status of a sign if it does not function within a code. Furthermore, if the relationship between a signifier and its signified is relatively arbitrary, then it is clear that interpreting the conventional meaning of signs requires familiarity with appropriate sets of conventions. Reading a text involves relating it to relevant 'codes'.

[+] Baudrillard argues that when speech and writing were created, signs were invented to point to material or social reality, but the bond between signifier and signified became eroded. As advertising, propaganda and commodification set in, the sign began to hide 'basic reality'. In the postmodern age of 'hyper-reality' in which what are only illusions in the media of communication seem very real, signs hide the absence of reality and only pretend to mean something.

[+] Where Baudrillard seems to yearn for a (cultural and semiotic) space transcendent of code – which he nevertheless grants it is impossible now to access – Deleuze-Guattari emphasise the way in which all code includes its own margin of decoding. Decoding is not so much a matter of translating – or understanding, comprehending - code, as dismantling it. “Let us recall that ‘decoding’ does not signify the state of a flow whose code is understood […] (deciphered, translatable, assimilable), but, in a more radical sense, the state of a flow that is no longer contained in […] its own code, that escapes its own code.” [+]

Tags: nasa, semiotics

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