I have been taking two incredible seminars at Messiah College this week, under their School for the Humanities. The one course was focused on a semiotic response to Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. I have enjoyed it for many reasons, not least of which is the philosophical survey review, from Sausurre to Derrida to Bakhtin among others, philosophers whose work I have appreciated in years past, but who have slid off my radar. I appreciate how these thinkers are as applicable to this historical moment as they are to literary theory.
Sausurre theorized about how we are all embedded in our own culturally-generated worlds of perceptions, and how these worlds (he called them langue) are defined and marked by signs and symbols that further enculturate us and embed us within their realities. This kind of talk is fairly easy for someone who comes out of a Mennonite context and has spent her life trying to think through the signs of her Mennonite sub-culture and how those signs are transformed (or rejected) as the individual grows and Becomes. Dr. Downing, the professor, kept saying–If you want to change someone’s mind, you can’t just tell them differently, you have to change their signs. Or perhaps get them to look at different signs. This was a powerful statement in terms of Sausurre’s philosophy, which can tend to see the individual as static, so permanently situated within cultural contexts that change is virtually impossible.
Derrida, in particular, reacted against the binary nature of Sausurre’s philosophy, proposing that rebellion against the binary is simply a reinforcement of it, switching the dominant for the secondary binary. For example, a child who reacts to the parents’ binary belief in the evils of cigarettes by choosing to smoke is only reinforcing the parents’ binary view, not escaping it (I am going to maintain my particular binary that asks my children and students to look on cigarette smoking as unhealthy). To change systemic perceptions, then, becomes a matter not of flipping the binary, but of escaping it–or, to use Derrida’s words, of deconstructing the binary.
In terms of some of my own current rebel rages, I wonder how we can culturally begin to deconstruct some of our weighty binaries. Today, I am acutely aware of the issue of gun control in our country. I think that most of us who would like to see AR-15s and their ilk off the streets are trying to deconstruct the binary that the NRA keeps trying to enforce with an incredibly effective campaign of signs and symbols. The NRA claim that it’s a dire binary–either there is no gun control whatsoever or Obama is coming to take all your guns away–has been effective beyond any sense of logic. If you take a breath and look at the true story, most of us just want to deconstruct that binary. Most control advocates I know, including myself, are not seeking to gut and destroy the Second Amendment. We just want murderers to have less access to their weapons of choice. Talking and raging about it has not broken through the fortress of illogical signs that the NRA has set up. What signs do we need to develop and create in order to bring sense to this story?
My own response continues to be that we need to destroy the NRA. I still think that, but I think that somehow we’ve got to be publicly deconstructing this binary in a way that reaches the most fearful buyers-in to the NRA lies, creating new signs that reach that set of people. I don’t know how that happens, if the images of people gunned down by these machines of death have only produced further strengthening of the NRA’s positions. But I know that it has to happen. Now.
Today’s poetry prompt is to write a Place poem. (I am skipping the Concrete poem for now because my grasp of the html/CSS/whatever coding is not strong enough to figure it out on this page.
Day 7 of All the Things I Wish I Had Said (While You Were Still Here)
It Is Always There
Every poem I ever write
will be about this green bowl,
set in the side of the ridge,
the way rains last for hours
after the clouds have passed
and the slow drip-drip
from laden leaves continues
as the mist dissipates.
It is there, even in the raging poems:
the alarm call of the wren, unspoken
perhaps, but present in the shadows
of the green leaves of my words,
or the cracking of a branch
and its fall through the wood,
or the wild rush of the creek
when it has overflown its banks.
In every word of comfort or blessing,
listen for the rustling of the breezes
over grassy patches filled with plantain,
with wild chamomile and clover.
Listen for the murmur of a bluebird,
for the silent and masterful weaving
of a spider at her careful work.
When I walk into the room of a poem,
it is always begins in this place,
with the wren and the crow
and the patient green.
1. Opening doors in the rooms of the head for new ways to conceptualize
2. Gentle rains
3. Dreams in which I am finding my way
4. A chance to chat with my sister yesterday
5. Grit, will determination
May we walk in Beauty!