The Distance between the Signified and the Signifier

I think Belonging, Distance helps to elucidate some of the discordance brought about by the particular communication shown in Event Factory. As we talked about, the characters seem to show emotion, requests, and thoughts through movement; in Ravicka, motion and action are accepted forms of communication. At one point, the narrator dips and swoops while walking along the sidewalk in order to describe how she feels about the history of the city. And of course, there’s the salsa scene, where dancing is a greeting. I’ve been very thrown off by this — it’s an entirely different form of speaking and communicating than we often think about. But Belonging, Distance helps to unpack what Gladman may be up to with this: “Saunders focuses on the distance that inheres in the structure of language, in what Saussure calls the arbitrary and differential nature of the linguistic sign. While the distance between signifer and signified, which allows for movement and even instability, has often been denounced as a harrowing threat to stable meaning, Saunders contends that this distance — or what she calls ‘the foreignness in signification’ – is an epistemologically and ethically crucial space of possibility” (29). This is a long quote, but it’s helps to clarify, first, the tension generated by the way that Event Factory is written and how forms of communication are depicted in the text. But it also helps to unravel how this tension can be didactic and powerful. When I think about the signified and signifiers in this text, I assign the character’s genuine meanings and messages (like, “I want to get to know you” or “I’m hungry”) as what is signified. The signifiers, then, would be the motions or words that these characters use to convey their desires or thoughts . In Ravicka, like we said, this includes dancing, kissing, and all sorts of movement. As the essay helps to describe, there is a marked distance between these linguistic components — and I think it’s especially significant in Event Factory; we have a harder time tying true meaning to the communicative signs displayed by the Ravickian characters. But as the essay also helps to clarify, perhaps there’s some level of freedom and exploration brought about in the text because of this distance.


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