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The Empire of Signs

The Empire of Signs

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Published by Joel Sagut

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Published by: Joel Sagut on Jan 07, 2009
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“THE EMPIRE OF SIGNS” Why is it that the description of Japan and things that are Japanese becomes a text

for a class in poststructuralism? Is Japan really a country that perfectly defies structure, and hence becomes an example of poststructuralism? This seems to be the contrary of what we see because Japanese people are also accustomed to several protocols. They are also among those people who are rich in their traditions. They are the people who brag of their history. They are particularly proud of their sense of honor. Hence, if we talk about poststructuralism as a contemporary term for anarchy, Japan seems not to be an example of poststructuralism. Yet, why would Roland Barthes call Japan a bricolage, nation which is itself a system born out from emptiness and fiction? I believe Japan becomes fiction for Barthes because of the fact that his personal experience in the country affords him of a sense of emptiness and meaninglessness. It is the country that offers him no meaning during his first encounters with it. He knows that there are many things written, many customs done, many places to go and visit, and yet none of them give him the usual comfort of a sense of understanding and comprehension. Japan is an empty place for him. But personally, when I was reading the book, there was one observation I got and which gave me a possible way of understanding why Japan becomes an example of poststructuralism for Barthes. I believe, Japan is poststructuralist in Barthes’ perspective as a western man. Quite often in his short exposition of things that are Japanese, Barthes would compare them to things that are Western. For example, we read of Barthes’ comparison of haiku to western literature, of chopsticks to western fork, of Tokyo to Western cities. For Barthes, Japanese things defy the Western paradigm. Such defiance perfectly fits to what we call poststructuralist. Poststructuralism defies the reigning paradigm. It denies the center, and so it denies the comfort of a certain assurance of comprehension or understanding. It frustrates the triumphant feeling of being able to control things that one has understood. Japan has deprived Barthes the privilege to grasp, control and even manipulate things. Japan rendered him helpless especially in things that are not usual, ordinary or even normal for him. Japan is poststructuralist not because it is anarchic and lacking of any system. It is poststructuralist because it denies the author his usual meaning or paradigm. It denies the author his own center of comprehending things. Japan is but a sign for him. But it is a sign that is bereft of any content. It is a sign that is in itself meaningless. Japan is an empire of sign. It has abundance of signs, yet it does not provide Barthes the meaning which he normally finds and attributes to a western signage. Japan is a mysterious, new or monstrous thing, place or nation for him. In fact, for Barthes, Japan is but a fiction, bereft of reality, lacking of any real content and meaning. Joel C. Sagut

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