Monday, May 5, 2014

City of Glass Meets DFW on Language.


            In the graphic novel City of Glass, Peter Stillman Sr. has an overwhelming respect for language, although he feels it has become severely ineffective, because the world is now full of fragments – pieces of things that were once whole and once able to be called out by language. He wants to create a new language so that he can describe the fragments of things now left behind. On page 70 he says, “’When an umbrella breaks and you get wet, is it still an umbrella?’” How much does language (signifiers) influence what we think about the signified. Just because we have seamlessly linked the idea of an “umbrella” and the literal umbrella does not mean that the tangible object is "umbrella."
When we use the word umbrella, we are speaking of an object that keeps one dry. We are not speaking edenically, because the signified and the signifier are two different things. So when you have something that looks like an umbrella – it has the spokes and the handle – but it does not keep you dry, it is not an “umbrella,” because an “umbrella,” in the world of words and dictionaries, is an object that keeps one free from wetness.


It reminds me of a moment from The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace which focuses on a lot of themes brought up by Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language. A child is asked which part of the broom is the most effective: the handle or the bristles? The child says that is of course the bristles. The child is in fact wrong because he is assuming that the broom will be used to sweep when it could in fact be used to break a car window, in which case the handle will prove more effective. However, a “broom” as we know it is a tool used for sweeping; when we use a “broom” for any other purpose it becomes something other than a “broom.” City of Glass’s Stillman was trying to develop a language that would be able to cover every fragment or fragmented use of every object.

Why do we feel we have to signify everything? Is it necessary since Edenic language is not an option? If Edenic language was a viable use of communication, we would have an infinite number of objects, because it would create objects that would be tailored for every specific purpose. It would be a never-ending cycle of creation. Perhaps this is why, aside from physics, Edenic language could never work.

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