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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Time-Travelling, Good Reason for Avoiding

If it isn’t forbidden it’s compulsory. That was one description of Stalinism. Another aspect of that system, as noted by Slavoj Žižek, is its compulsion to raise language to a meta-level of redundancy. A hotel in Cuba is being cleaned and carries a sign announcing ‘In accordance with our programme of hotel-cleaning, the hotel is being cleaned.’ It isn’t enough to do or say you’re doing it, you have to say you’re saying you’re doing it.

I was reminded of this by all the signs going up around the place about not smoking in pubs. It is already against the law to smoke in pubs, so why, I wonder, have a special sign for it? The Wellington (good pub, introduced me to the sublime smoke beer Schlenkerla) has a set of other posters reminding drinkers not to commit murder, arson or time-travel (drinkers caught time-travelling will be deemed to have arrived after closing time and refused service).

On a Saussurean level though, it reminded me of how word X is only itself by virtue of not being any other word. So given my perpetual state of confusion over what, exactly, it is I do in my life, maybe the solution lies in exhausting all the things I am not doing at any one time. I am not smoking in the pub, I am not burning the building down, killing anyone or travelling back in time. That’s four things. Four billion memory-jogging posters later I might have a better idea what it is I am doing. I’ll let you know when I find out.

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