The real, in a Lacanian sense, is bigger than the sum total of human knowledge, if only by mass; we can at least know that what we don’t yet know is bigger than what we know, if only because we can see so many places, out in space, that we haven’t yet been able to visit. But language–human reality–gets the upper hand and becomes the predator, the master and quantifier of even the unknown, through that one little word, articulated whenever necessary: ‘yet’. Even if there is an infinitude that we don’t know, even that infinitude only ever gets smaller, since what we know generally only ever gets bigger.
The sign is arbitrary because language, though arising from nature, is not demanded by nature.
What have we already named? What do we not yet have a ‘proper name’ for? In English, we tend to rely on ‘thing’ as a placeholder until we’ve come to consensus on a better term–or, at least, until various parties have submitted their respective names for the subject and one or a few have shaken out in regular discourse.
Here, then, maybe the start of that process. What do/should we call those media products that are made to appear within a narrative? Products that, at some level, are still made for us–the real-world audience–yet which don’t directly acknowledge any intended audience but that of the narrative in which they appear? Should we be calling them full-fledged ‘media products’ in the first place, or does their contingency on the larger narrative somehow negate the fact that they were yet produced and can be independently viewed, at least sometimes? For example, see the comic book that appears in the trailer for Logan, a page of which was released via Tumblr, as well as the newscast that serves as the trailer for Stranger Things‘ second season.
Are these ‘inward facing’? ‘Narrative-bound’? ‘Viewer-blind’? None seems entirely accurate for the unusual position of this type, though I’m not yet sure that the two examples cited above are even the same animal themselves. Specifically, the end of the Stranger Things newscast, in which we see only an empty chair, might be the point at which that product specifically stops being for its own narrative realm and starts being only for us.
Suggestions for tagging this phenomenon would be welcome.
Barthes, from ‘An Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narrative’:
‘…formalization is a generalization that differs from other generalizations.’
- The word is not the thing. (Actually, Korzybski’s version here.)
- The word ‘thing’ is not the thing.
- The word ‘thing’ is not other words.
- ‘Thing’, as a general(izing/izable) word, holds a different function in linguistic structuration than other words.
Another attempt to summarize my perspective that will only seem inaccurate later:
At this point, it’s seeming as though the only notable difference between narrative and linguistic subjects (fictional characters and real people) is one of physicality in this linguistic, physical realm (lacanian ‘reality’): we linguistic subjects have bodies, narrative subjects don’t and may or may not ever. But, in discourse–communication via representations that pretty much constitutes all media by definition–physicality is what’s precisely not needed, worked around, obviated. So, the distinction between the subject who has a body and the one who doesn’t, at least in how they’re treated, how their identities are socially understood, how they are defined in discourse, doesn’t amount to much.
Especially since we’re also getting around the lack of fictional bodies by making our fictions more realistically interactive in various ways, such as gaming, VR cinema, and even ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ YouTube series.
‘Doors and mirrors, computers and gramophones, electricity and newspapers, television and telescopes, archives and automobiles, water and air, information and noise, numbers and calendars, images, writing, and voice–all these highly disparate objects and phenomena fall into media studies’ purview.’
-Eva Horn, “There Are No Media”, Grey Room #29
Pilcher could have made Wayward Pines into a Hegelian utopia of mutual, face-to-face recognition and valuation if only he’d had better PR and solid personnel and materials managers. A few ‘You Are Valued’ posters, a suggestions box, and 1st Amendment rights would’ve been a good start.