I am always startled when semiotic codes surrounding style stand in stark contrast to the ideology a person espouses. For example, recently we have seen how certain movements in the Christian right have embraced counter-cultural forms of style found among skaters, punks, goth, and hard rock for very conservative ends. Where many of these movements are implicitly forms of critique of cultural hypocrisy and capitalist consummerism, these semiotic codes instead get redirected to the most normalizing, conformist, reactionary ends. Along these lines I was today depressed to read one of my goth students argue that Michael Savage and Glenn Beck are Socratic figures, speaking truth to power, and undermining the injustices of the powerful elite. How can it not be immediately evident that such figures are apologists for social and economic injustices, distorting the true nature of things through their rhetoric and constant appeal to arguments from outrage? I suppose this is one meaning of Lacan’s aphorism that the big Other does not exist. We would like there to be stable codes, for the signifier to be intrinsically attached to a particular signified, but the signifier can come to be attached to any signifier (functioning as a signified), such that we can never infer from the manifestation of a signifier what signified it is attached to. Nonetheless, I find the way in which codes are reterritorialized, the way in which deterritorializations are snatched up by various forms of capture that redirect them towards exploitation and normalization, to be deeply depressing. Or perhaps, in a more optimistic vein, it could be said that insofar as the signifier enjoys a life of its own– isn’t this the meaning of the agency of the letter? –that perhaps these mismatched codes are traces of an unconscious desire to draw a line of flight and escape such sad passions. In that case I wish such a desire could coincide with a conscious will, rather than being contrasted with the dark forces of ressentiment.
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