Daily Archives: September 10, 2011

9/11 and a Half

Y’all recall “Shock and Awe,” doncha?

Here’s the result


Here’s the story

Here’s another story

And another

And yet another

And here’s one which precious few speak of anymore.

In short, “9/11” today is what Roland Barthes


would call an “empty signifier.”

““Whilst Saussurean semioticians (with language as their model) have emphasized the arbitrary relationship of the signifier to the signified, some subsequent theorists have stressed ‘the primacy of the signifier’ – Jacques Lacan even praised Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty as ‘the master of the signifier’ for his declaration that ‘when I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less’. Many postmodernist theorists postulate a complete disconnection of the signifier and the signified. An ‘empty’ or ‘floating signifier’ is variously defined as a signifier with a vague, highly variable, unspecifiable or non-existent signified. Such signifiers mean different things to different people: they may stand for many or even any signifieds; they may mean whatever their interpreters want them to mean. In such a state of radical disconnection between signifier and signified, ‘a sign only means that it means’ (Goldman & Papson 1994, 50). Such a disconnection is perhaps clearest in literary and aesthetic texts which foreground the act and form of expression and undermine any sense of a ‘natural’ or ‘transparent’ connection between a signifier and a referent. However, Jonathan Culler suggests that to refer to an ‘empty signifier’ is an implicit acceptance of its status as a signifier and is thus ‘to correlate it with a signified’ even if this is not known; ‘the most radical play of the signifier still requires and works through the positing of signifieds’ (Culler 1985, 115). Shakespeare famously referred to ‘a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’ (Macbeth V, iii). The notion of the ‘floating signifier’ can be found around the year 1950 in Lévi-Strauss (see Lechte 1994, 26-7, 64, 73). Roland Barthes referred specifically to non-linguistic signs as being so open to interpretation that they constituted a ‘floating chain of signifieds’ (Barthes 1977, 39). The first explicit reference to an ‘empty signifier’ of which I am aware is that of Barthes in his essay ‘Myth Today’ (Barthes 1957; cf. Culler 1975, 19). Barthes defines an empty signifier as one with no definite signified. There are some similarities with the linguistic concept of an ‘empty category’ (Lechte 1994, 64) and with Hjelmslev’s figurae or non-signifying sign elements (ibid., 137; see Articulation).”

Sing us out Randy.