Semiotics and life

I’ve been reading this handy guide to critical theory lately (my downtime reading) and the second I put it down, I have all these ideas and thoughts running through my head. I’m always like “Great! I have more stuff to blog about!”

And then I get distracted by Runescape or Mass Effect 2.

But not this time. I’m putting my thoughts to type before they leave me! I feel more accomplished than I should. Especially considering I should be studying.

Anyway, there’s this incredibly fascinating topic called Semiotics, which studies the way “signs” are interpreted. Signs in this usage means most obviously words or language – whether verbally or through sign language – but it differs from linguistics in that it takes into account things like fashion, media, art etc. Basically, it looks at the relationship between the signifier and the signified – that is, the person/or thing that puts forth the sign, and the person who interprets it and how they interpret it.

If you’re anything like me, you’re squealing already because THIS IS SO COOL, because it puts into an academic light why certain people think “slut” verses “confident” when looking at a woman wearing a particular type of clothing. The signifier in this case is often unwitting, but might play their own part by wanting to appear fashionable – hell, they might even want to bring attention to themselves, whatever, that’s not as important in this case. The signified, on the other hand, has the (often judgmental) liberty of drawing their own conclusions. This could be based on their own experience, whether the clothing appeals to them or not, what they think of the person in question, or their religious views/societal norms.

Perhaps media is the biggest indicator of signifier and signified, but I won’t delve into that territory (because that’s my friend Jem’s field of expertise – I just like squealing at things). What piqued my interest is how semiotics can be ascribed to religion – or rather, religious beliefs. It also highlights how everything is a grey area, open to interpretation and moral sway. Nothing is black and white – certainly not in semiotics, and especially not in religion.

Before I go on, I’d like to make it clear that I’m certainly not preaching, nor do I intend to preach. I’m simply applying a theory I found fascinating, to something else I find fascinating which happens to be quite a significant part of my life and identity. If anyone sees a big, overarching flaw in my theorizing, feel free to tell me, both in regards to the above and what will come below.

Take the Quran for instance – Arabic is a difficult language, one of the most difficult in the world, even if you speak Urdu or Farsi. It’s a language of nuance, tone and context, and the poetic style of Arabic used in the Quran is definitely the epitome of that. Modern Arabic speakers have some difficulty with its meaning, and so do religious scholars. No matter how many times you read the Quran, you will always find something new – that’s the beauty of the language it employs.

Keeping this in mind, it’s the ultimate signifier. Its signs can be interpreted in a host of different ways by the signified – as such, as far as I can think about it, there is no one way of interpreting the Quran, which leads to all these different mainstream and otherwise schools of thought that Islam has. You can say this for every religion – what is signified isn’t necessarily relevant because the signified has so much leeway in their interpretation. Which means, really, that there is no such thing as fundamentalism because how do you know what the fundamentals are when there is literally no one set way to interpret a text however many years old.

The signifier is only relevant as long as there is some kind of manual that comes with it, an original, meticulous manual, preferably set within the context and time of the signifier. And at least for the Abrahamic faiths…such a thing doesn’t really exist, does it?

Again, I’m not preaching, I’m just trying to set what I know within a framework I’m somewhat familiar with. You can apply this to anything – politics, music, writing, and while those are things I can write on extensively – and things that have been written on extensively as is – I really don’t think I have enough knowledge to make vast generalizations. I’ve taken a risk with this topic as is, but like I said, I’m open to criticism!

But seriously, go read up about semiotics, it’s the coolest thing ever.

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