Thursday, March 03, 2005


Not an introduction of my self, but an introduction of my essay on Calvino:

Archaeologists have discovered clues about the origin of writing in an 11,000-year-old Ishango (central African) bone with lines scored into the surface. The short parallel lines look like human fingers, the corresponding “words” for counting. Hence, one can equivalently read the strokes pictorially as standing for fingers held up or scriptorially as standing for a certain numeral. The signifier and the signified in both cases remain the same and remain linked. However, the signifier changes when humans began recording sixty sheep by means of one “sheep” sign followed by sixty strokes to recording the same information by means of one “sheep” sign followed by a second sign indicating “sixty.” In other words, a “token-iterative” sign-system, which is in effect equivalent to a language which is restricted to messages of the form “sheep, sheep, sheep, sheep…” progresses to an “emblem-slotting” system, which is equivalent to a language which permit messages of the form “sheep, sixty.” The former system conflates the signifier, viewed as a visual image, and the signified, viewed as a mental image, whereas the latter system condenses the signifier and the signified. Token-iterative lists are, in principle, lists as long as the number of individual items recorded. With a slot list, on the other hand, one gets no information simply by counting the number of marks it contains. The slot-list system conveys information so long as a reader knows the symbol for sixty and the “grammar” of the system. In other words, the reader must understand the significance of each slot because, unlike the token-iterative system, the meaning of each slot is not necessarily the same.
Therefore, to read a slot list, one must be able to read symbols as such. Instead of reading multiple marks, each representing one sheep, we must be able to read marks as symbols (numbers) without a material basis. For numbers are things no one has ever seen, heard, or touched. Yet, somehow, they exist, and their existence can be confirmed in everyday terms by all kinds of everyday procedures that allow mere mortals to agree beyond any shadow of doubt as to “how many” eggs there are in a basket or “how many” loaves of bread are on the table. This magical quality reveals the slot-system’s power because writing is possible when one can manipulate signs to “slot,” or identify anything whatsoever.


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