Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Semiotics: Alex and Scott

This semester I'm teaching a course with my old friend Alex Caldiero called, after a line by Holderlin, "Language, most dangerous of possessions." The delicate song and dance that is teaching (lowest paid branch of the entertainment industry) becomes even more delicate when it's Alex and me dancing cheek to cheek. We've thought of several names for our act: Abbott and Caldiero, The 49'ers (both born in 1949), The Poet and the Madman, HUMISPHILCOMM (the departments sponsoring the class) -- but have settled on The Semiotics, neatly fracturing a noun meant to describe a scholarly discipline.

Don LaVange made a wonderful poster for the class, using a miniature painting of the Tower of Babel from a medieval manuscript.

With about 30 students able and eager to discuss 18th-century European theories of the origin of the language, a novel by Goethe in which the main character shoots himself because he can't escape the conventions of language, the language of religious mystics, the everpresent and omniscient DADA, Nazi use of language, obscenity, The Goalies Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, and so on, we're having great fun thinking about semiotics of all sorts. (Great fun with suicides? Nazis?)

The high point of the class will be a November performance by Alex featuring poetry in and about, for and forswearing, within and without language. Watch for a new flier and come hear and see and possibly smell a master of the semiotic arts.


michael morrow said...

I'm one of the 30 committed students Scott speaks of in this post. I must say we are kicking words, concepts, and spontaneity around as if visible, audible, and/or tangible. Participating in this narritive exercise at a time some call "the dispensation of the fullness of times" is nothing short of time warping. Language is as old as it is new. In my estimation any semblance of "balance" in personal or societal life is due to language. As we discuss the likes of Rousseau, Herder, Goethe and others, I hear echoes of Pope Pius Humpty Dumpty, Confuscious, Martin Luther King, a man name of Hinkley, and so many other influential characters bringing life to the ongoing "play" taking place center stage, planet earth. One huge idea that has been slapping my face since birth has to do with christianity. All the most "important" philosophers/artists/spiritual teachers speak of simple ideas such as "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" or love others" or "all humanity are sisters/brothers." Removing my life from beneath religion's magnifying glass of commandments, opinions, and experiences attributed to a word called "God" has been a bit disconcerting. As I step away from life long committment to inhereted religion I find inconsistenancy between the all-loving, all-compassionate, and all-knowing religious teachings thmselves, and the actions of those espousing the religion's words/teachings, both secular and clerical. I find myself more committed to living ideas such as "all humanity are sisters/brothers" as I, for example, spend my sunday's studying homework in preparation for classes such as "Language, most dangerous of possessions." Studying for and participating in this class assists me in being more patient as I communicate with other people. I find when I spend time practicing yoga instead of walking to church, my stomach is not as big as it was in my earlier life.
The first three years living in Utah I spent Wednesday evenings in a BYU Book of Mormon class. I loved every minute of the experience. In fact, that experience prepared me for classes such as the "Language-Danger" class. One very important result of three years intense study of "religious" writers was that I sharpened rhetorical analyis skills. Being able to analize dialogue, written or spoken, has been very helpful in all aspects of my life. Most importantly, strong rhetorical analysis skills assists me in determining what I believe, what I give creditability to, and "how" I think. Being able to rhetorically analyze the writings of others allows me to read and pierce the surface of authors as "deep" and "intense" as those deemed religious. The most important lesson learned from such experiences is that I can now see that my personal responses to the opinions and observations of others, whether writings, art, or interpersonal correspondance, is all about me.

Thanks, Alex and Scott, for inspiring, uplifting, and educaitonal opportunities.

Torben B said...

I agree. This class is wonderful for all of us "language nerds" out there. I'm fascinated by the topics in this course. Language pervades everything. Did you guys know that Ira Glass from the popular show "This American Life" graduated in semiotics? Cool, eh? :)

Scott Abbott said...

Ira Glass of This American Life is a semiotician. I love that.

Scott Carrier, the journalist we talked about in class who said he thought it was jokes that mark the important distinction between animals and humans in terms of language, often appears on Ira Glass's show.

Torben B said...

Wiki link on Ira Glass:

Johathan Wallace said...

Thanks, Alex and Scott, for inspiring, uplifting, and educational opportunities.
The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick