31 August 2011

Langue and Parole

Filed under: Fiction, Reflections — ktismatics @ 10:01 pm

Would anyone like to hear about either: (a) my thoughts on Embassytown, the latest novel by China Miéville; or (b) my calling the cops to report a car that didn’t give me, the pedestrian, right of way in an intersection?

Okay fine:

(a) The story is pretty good, based on some high-level linguistic theories. Still — and this won’t mean anything to anyone who hasn’t read the book — I don’t believe that “Language” really works. If the Ariekei use words to refer to things, then I don’t know how they aren’t using a symbolic, signifying means of communicating and thinking. Also, if Language can be understood by the Ariekei only as a direct channel to the speaker and not as a mere sequence of sounds, then how is it that they can understand tape recordings of Language? I mean, I appreciate that Miéville is trying to break out of structuralism and the Lacanian Real into a theory of language based on the joint referentiality of speaker and hearer pointing at the world together. And, presumably because we humans can only speak referentially and symbolically, it’s not possible for us truly to grasp this other way of talking. But I tend to agree with Spanish Dancer when, after he has learned to speak like humans, he tells his fellow Ariekei that “You have never spoken.”

(b) I returned Embassytown to the library on my afternoon run. Getting close to home, running south down Toedtli Street, I approached the intersection with Grinnell Avenue. This corner has caused me troubles before: cars heading west on Grinnell typically drive through that intersection without stopping or slowing for bicycles, walkers, or runners like me. And it happened again this time: I could see the car coming, he could see me coming; I reached the street before he did; he did not slow down, and I had to stop in order to keep from being hit. I watched the car intently as it whizzed by. I shouted out the 6-digit license number as I read it off the back plate. A lady standing in the driveway at a house on the corner whooped as I shouted: she had seen the near-miss and was clearly on my side.

When I got home I called the police; the dispatcher took my number and asked if an officer could return my call. About twenty minutes later Officer Trujillo called. I explained what had happened; he reiterated that in a residential area it’s the car’s responsibility to stop for pedestrians even when the intersection isn’t officially marked off as a crosswalk. He asked if there had been any sort of confrontation between me and the driver; I said no, other than my shouting out the license number. He asked if I wanted to press charges, or if I would be satisfied if the driver was given a verbal warning; I said that a warning would be fine. He said that he had already looked up the name and phone number of the vehicle’s owner, and wanted to know if I’d like him to call me back after he’d issued the warning; I said no, that I would rely on his handling the situation. I thanked Officer Trujillo and hung up the phone.


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