Catching On

Roland Barthes from Elements of Semiology translated by Annette Lavers and Colin Smith

Speech (parole): In contrast to the language, which is both institution and system, speech is essentially an individual act of selection and actualization; it is made in the first place of the ‘combination thanks to which the speaking subject can use the code of the language with a view to expressing his personal thought’ (this extended speech could be called discourse), and secondly by the ‘psycho-physical mechanisms which allow him to exteriorize these combinations.’

In marking this passage, I have asked myself what holds in relation to physical psycho-production as thought holds to discourse. Part of the answer is to be found in William S. Burroughs The Ticket That Exploded

The operation of retreat on this level involves shifting three-dimensional coordinate points that is time travel on association lines.

The psycho-physical mechanisms of speech allow one to begin a retreat. And return from the retreat. The association lines of the bodily and the unconscious become accessible to time travel. One way of reading this is not travel through time but travel by means of time — through retreat one can begin to play with the rhythms of one’s attention (psycho-mechanisms) and their elastic coordination with physical production of speech: imagine the vertigo induced between naming objects in one’s environment and placing attention upon each named object in turn – the children’s game i-spy can become quite dizzying, the game depends upon the speed of disjunction that can be induced between the acts of nomination and the acts of perception. With practice the time shifts involving the psycho-physical hyphen can be run solo. The retreat is to a condition like remembering the acquisition of language, learning the fitting of words to things, and so permits the unhinging of the fit.

Barthes limits the power of the psycho-physical mechanism: “It is certain that phonation, for instance, cannot be confused with the language; neither the institution nor the system are altered if the individual who resorts to them speaks loudly or softly, with slow or rapid delivery, etc.” In response, one can say that style can change language and that style begins with the individual and catches on both in the sense of propagation (catching on among a segment of language users) and in the sense of a snagging of something, hooking an element from the unconscious.

And so for day 514

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