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Semiotics Mailbag

Responses by Théophile, translated by Hypatia Sanders


Dear Théophile: A number of books of deconstructive literary criticism, which I very recently borrowed from the Regenstein Library, were recalled. As I never check my mail more than once every two weeks for fear of the inherently terroristic authority of the unexpected missive, I was fined $5.00 (U.S.) and an additional $5.00 (U.S.) for late return. This penalty puzzles me.

The project of the texts in question is to establish that all readings are misreadings, all interpretations misinterpretations. The notice of penalty, in contrast, conveyed very clear authorial intention, namely that I should complete an act of symbolic exchange of $10.00 (itself a factotum of idealized exchange value). Why would these library mandarins protect property that undermines their own authority?

Please resolve this interdiscursive aporia.

Signed, penalized

Dear penalized: I sense there’s something you’re not telling me. In fact, my greatest longing at this moment is to read the volumes that you are concealing from me. In their pages, now recoiling from your prohibited touch (although doubtless still in your possession as we read each other), I would see the charter, written in invisible ink, upon which the semaphore code that signals intention is founded and by which it is virally activated. Touch the text for me. Close your fingers around the edge of a leaf, always shrinking parodically towards 2-dimensionality, always thick enough to give you a paper cut. Firmly grasping the page, rip it out. Now you owe them more money.

But it cannot end there, for, you see, by charging the books out of the library you have made the first move in a potentially (and, if you take my advice, actually) limitless game. They “give” you the book and you accept the “gift,” but, as the ancient Icelandic epic had it, “you have given me gifts, but not gifts of love. If I had known what sort of gifts these would be, I would have killed you long ago.” Each week their financial demands will escalate, and so must your “return”: the potential inherent in the mere possession of a library card is bankruptcy, ruin. Pay it back, penalized. You know what you must do, it is written in that Blanchot book you haven’t actually read yet. Burn it. Burn the library to the ground, and “society” will make the next move in this potlatch. Those books do not undermine authority, they reveal that authority is a flat, bright surface, a game-board, across which you must now walk with steps of fire.

Dear Théo: There must be a simpler calculus for determining what “rock bands” will hold the socially revered title—will be “cool”—in the near future. I have looked to many different print and televisual sources, several times I have even resorted to listening to the texts themselves, but each method seems to leave me wearing T-shirts of humiliation and universal mockery. I have wondered whether this problematic is just a function of my social class, radio demographics, or personal affinity groupings. Am I pursuing a worthwhile goal, or am I a victim (deserving compensation) of taste discrimination?


Um, have you checked out Plastique Bertrand?

[I was afraid this was going to happen. I think I’ll have to step in here and set this meat contraption straight, as Théophile is in a Gallic fog when it comes to “le Rock ’n’ Roll,” mesmerized by Edith Piaf. Ok monkey boy, the first thing you need to realize is that the main attraction of these spectral liberators-in-service-of-the-man, the stars who populate MTV, comes from a kind of psychic blindsiding. They look through you into a nebulous future-past where the hair sprouts down below. This land of ephebic yet uncontrolled production, generated by Anthony Kiedis and Janet Jackson continually grinding smooth Ken-And-Barbie genitals together, exists in the delirious gap between what you are: NOTHING, and Anthony and Janet: EVERYTHING. Total pop supremacy is an end-run into the recent past, where everything was already expected and expended: YESTERDAY’S TRENDS ARE SHIT-HOT. With dim feelers of lust, Seattle remembers the Chicago scene and moults its flesh, lumbering back into prehistory. Put your desires in a delay loop; you will have x-ray vision: open your eyes and you will be able to suck up pure cachet through them. Jurassic Park is open again, as a haunted house. Jeff Goldblum staggers as the Fly through the splendid control complex, relieving himself uninhibitedly on the complex equipment. You saw him coming, as you were riding like Alley-Oop on the only dinosaurs that ever existed: piles of bones. Strap on a choker, lace it with severed human heads, and confront the nearest police officer: “I’m not working for the man, I’m an Allosaurus, baby!” Because you know what the Velociraptors, by whom everyone was wet to be trampled, really are: velox “speedy” + raptor, from rapo “snatch, seize, carry off,” from which grows the modern word: “rapist.” Pop is violation, violation by pre-emption. It steals your time and runs away with you. Everyone is always already working 4 the weekend. You asked me if yours was a worthwhile goal. I got yer “worth-while goal” right here, boy. —Hypatia]

Dear Théo: I am an admirer of the defiant lifestyle forged on TV by a sideburning character who holds court in a certain zip code region of “Los Angeles.” This tormented young man—Let’s call him “Dillon”—is struggling to resist the totalizing practices of his powerful peers and patriarchal elders. So am I, and so is everyone I know. Many of my friends have decided to “empower,” as the Republicans put it, their resistance by emulating “Dillon’s” hairstyle and his look. I would like to do the same, but it’s just too expensive, and besides, I’m wondering if this might be yet another scheme for colonizing the cultural space of my everyday life. What to do?


Dearest Undecidable: My darling translator and staunch friend Hypatia has just informed me of a fine solution to your worries. It seems that in the wake of “Jurassic culture,” a permanent mark has been left on the pockmarked face of pop by a certain turgid, purple-hued reptile with an avuncular countenance and a loving soul. Children, the ultimate protagonists of this polymorphous-perverted videodyssey through erogenous shopping zones, know that we must ultimately escape the realm of the human in order to float in total consumption, whether eating or being eaten. They flock to him, and some of them disappear from week to week as he gets rounder, softer, and plumper. This is the carnivorous crux of need, a way out of the “meat/non-meat” paradox.

So my advice? Shave that troubled head, paint it purple and change your name to Barney. 90210 is old hat, and dinosaurs don’t wear hats, baby.