One Question. One Answer.

The following is an excerpt from an interview for a Welsh organization in the USA conducted by Brian Tarw Llwyd. The photo is PD.


In the article on you in the [Welsh] Academi List of Writers, there is the following statement: “Harrison’s research is centred in the literary hinterland between fiction and non-fiction where, she says, ‘no word equals its referent and the meaning of what is approximated in words lies in their shadow’.” What did you mean by this and can you give us an example?


I meant two things: The first is simply and obviously that no symbol is equivalent to that which it represents. This is so obvious as to be unworthy of mention except for the fact of the symbol itself. The language. But more profoundly, the incommensurability between the commonality that language/place/culture confers and individual language-less perception.

An example? Well, “anyone lived in a pretty how town with up so floating many bells down” comes to mind instantly (e.e. cummings). Something as simple as Basil Fawlty saying to Sybil as she walks out the door, “Drive carefully, dear.” Quickly (and unnecessarily) followed, sotto voce, by “Don’t drive over any mines or anything.”

Neither of these mean much when deconstructed textually. What they refer to is not definition but instinct, the instinct of signification — even of sound, as Saussure said. “A linguistic system is a series of differences of sounds combined with a series of differences of ideas,” is perhaps his most well known sentence. But Saussure also said that the “The connection between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary.”

So “no word equals its referent” because there is more than words at play in the conveyance of signification. There is also us. We.


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