MittaL GohiL GohiL itibaren 820 62 Fönebo, Sweden
I have never really grasped semiotics. I get the general idea, one thing, the sign, points to something else. For example this "0" is a sign for zero, but zero as a concept outside of any particular zero (ok, bad example, but that's what this book is about, just take it for face value that is a something 'zero' in the world, and forget that the very idea of their being the existence of this 'zero' is possibly paradoxical to all ideas of reality). But why doesn't the concept of zero point to the mark "0"? Maybe this is pretty self evident, but in other examples the whole thing becomes a muddle, for me at least, kind of like a chicken or the egg question. As a result I have never given much attention to semiotics, it hurts my head and leads to unnecessary confusion, for me at least. Besides the whole thing reeks of a Platonism I'm not fully able to accept. That said, there are large parts of this book I didn't quite get, but other parts that I enjoyed quite a bit and shed an interesting light on the current state of fiscal unease the world is feeling. The argument of the book is that the concept of zero entered into the European mind at about the same time that paper money came to economics and the vanishing point into painting. All three represent revolutions of sort in the way that the world was viewed. Sadly for me of the three topics being explored the one that I could grasp best was the effect of money, the math part being a little out of my depth, and the art part falling into my general ignorance of art (I know so little about art, and anytime I read about art in books I just nod along and take whatever the writer says at face value, I have no critical faculties in place, and with my guard down I feel really dumb. This is opposed to the math parts that I sort of understood but just never really stopped to do all the necessary thought I should have. I'm a terrible reader sometimes.). The idea behind this book is that the introduction of this nothingness into the three different spheres created quite a stir at first, they were 'dangerous' ideas in some respect, and then something strange happened the nothingness inherent in each of these three fields reflected back on itself, thus creating a sort of meta-nothingness that altered entirely the definition of the original nothingness and as a result 'sanitized' the concept itself, but at the risk of unleashing ramifications that would be invisible (in art I don't know exactly how this works out, I'm sticking the cash money part that I can actually wrap my head around). It's this second move of the concept, the 'meta' zero-point that's quite interesting in the book, and I think that it kind of explains some of the difficulties I have of wrapping my head around the whole semiotics problem. What does it mean for a sign to point towards itself? What kind of problems does this entail? Why should we care about shit like this anyway since isn't it really just a bunch of post modern crap? I would like to think so, but the 'postmodern' turns in the examples Rotman gives all happened in a time when Modernity wasn't even getting ready to rear it's difficult little head. In the money example what happens is that paper money is introduced. Paper money itself is nothing, rather it's a sign that points towards something, that would be some kind of metal that has been granted the authority of having value that can be used to trade for 'goods'. The metal itself has no inherent value, rather society decided that certain things found in the ground were valuable and had the purpose of being hoarded, spent, lost, won, earned, etc. Already the stuff found in the ground is a sign towards something that doesn't really exist except in the collective acceptance that this thing you dug up is worth something. (For example, if everyone but one guy woke up one day and decided that gold wasn't worth anything, that it was as good as any stone you see on the ground (this is at a time when gold was used as a standard of currency), and everyone now accepted this then the one person who still believed that his gold was worth something would come to a rude awakening when he tried to pass it off to buy some eggs in the morning. It would be like going to the store with some string and trying to change it in for something.) So in a way gold (or silver, or bronze, of whatever you want to insert here), is a wide spread and all pervasive delusion that society in it's entirety accepts so that things will run smoothly. Now if you think about it that way the stuff from the ground is already on shaky ground, it's value proscribed by delusions. Now add a piece of paper that allows the bearer to trade in these things from the ground, that they don't actually have access to, but which are held by the place that issued the piece of paper. Now make another move where the pieces of paper aren't even pointing anymore to a one to one ratio with the gold, but which fluctuate in it's value based on a while variety of variables and at the same time, make the paper money the standard, and you start to see the sign of paper money pointing towards something tangible and outside of itself to in general acceptance pointing only towards other paper money. This pointing towards itself is the 'meta' move. This isn't really anything to be worried about, but eventually society forgets that the money is pointing ultimately towards something outside of itself, and behold it's enough to make it permanetly point towards itself (such as what happened when paper money was no longer backed by gold or silver, such as the case in the present day). Now money, which was originally only a sign points only towards itself. The results of this can be seen in a whole slew of economic problems that are occurring today. Looking at a problem in this way is using a postmodern / deconstruction approach, but what Rotman argues is that the moves are tied up in the very notion of zero. This review is sort of a whole bunch of nonsense, and I'm realizing now that I completely missed explaining how he connected paper money to zero, but think of it as the cliff hanger that will make you want to seek out the book and read it. Seriously it's an interesting book, and it utilizes many different disciplines to show the effect that zero has had on both society and on the concept itself.