Thursday, November 10, 2011


Text is not just comprised of words or even images; it can be inherent in objects. But whether word, picture, symbol or object, text is not semantically transparent. The slippery nature of the Sign is clearly evinced by the custom among many British people (for a number of decades now) of wearing a red poppy in remembrance of those who have lost their lives fighting wars. (It's sold on behalf of the British Legion, who support veterans In these times of democratic sensibility, poppy-wearing can elicit a silly and pseudo-liberal response like this, but on the whole the poppy is simply shorthand for the conscious and personal memorialisation of lives lost. In America, though, the wearing of a poppy is not part of the heartfelt Veterans' Day tradition, and I have worn a poppy this week to the bemusement of some of my students, a few of whom have openly wondered why I'm wearing a paper flower. It's not something they had come across at all. So, what seems so obvious and clear to me--a text symbolising national sadness at loss and admiration of courage--means nothing in another context, showing how all kinds of texts are, effectively, dialectal and socio-culturally contingent.

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