A Dog Named Sex

We have seen how the interplay of signfiers challenges our assumptions of the role of authorship in I Pagliacci. Narration cannot come alive without its essential participants-those who deliver the narrative, and the audience. In the opera, the conflict between intent and signifier leads to tragic consequences. Ultimately, it is our reaction that determines whether a form of conflict to be tragic, embarrassing or humourous.

Humour has probably been around as long as language. Misunderstanding of intent is a common genre of jokes throughout the ages. It is a well-known fact that meaning becomes easily obscured during the process of information dissemination. Often, we use the expression, "getting it straight from the horse's mouth" to imply the reception of the most accurate version of information through reference from a first hand account. Yet, first hand accounts can still have the potential to be hopelessly misleading, resulting in needless deadlocks in communication, which can be frustrating at times, or even lead to embarrassing situations.

If we think of any form of discourse (be it in the form of speech or writing) as simply being a logical sequential progress of signifiers, then it is this endless interplay of signifiers that brings to us meaning, as pointed out often by Michel Focault. Below is an example of a piece of writing (one form of signifier), parts of which, when reproduced in spoken form (another form of signifier), often fails to convey the original written intent (the signified).

Everybody who has a dog calls him "Rover" or "Boy." I call mine Sex. Now Sex has been very embarrassing to me. When I went to City Hall to renew his dog license, I told the clerk I would like to have a license for Sex.

He said,

"I'd like to have one too."

Then I said,

"But this is a dog!"

He said he didn't care what she looked like. Then I said,

"But you don't understand. I've had Sex since I was nine years old."

He said I must have been quite a kid.

When I got married and went on my honeymoon, I took the dog with me. I told the motel clerk that I wanted a room for my wife and me and a special room for Sex. He said every room in the place was for sex. I said,

"You don't understand. Sex keeps me awake at night!"

The clerk said, "Me too."

One day I entered Sex in a contest, but before the competition began, the dog ran away. Another contestant asked me why I was just standing there looking around. I told him I had planned to have Sex in the contest. He told me I should have sold my own tickets.

"But you don't understand," I said,

"I had hoped to have Sex on TV."

He called me a show-off.

When my wife and I separated, we went to court to fight for custody of the dog. I said,

"Your honor, I had Sex before I was married."

The judge said, "Me too."

Then I told him that after I was married, Sex left me. He said,

"Me too."

Last night Sex ran off again. I spent hours looking around town for him. A cop came over to me and asked,

"What are you doing in this alley at 4:00 in the morning?" I said,

"I'm looking for Sex."

My case comes up Friday.

In this joke, which a friend of mine had so conveniently forwarded to me, the play between signifier and the signified is most evident in the use of the word 'Sex'. The use of the capital 'S' follow the common spelling convention for personal names, which is one variety of the noun. Yet, how many of us would even think of using the word 'sex' as a noun? The propensity for misunderstanding increases when it is converted into the spoken form, since the confines of the written space sets the context and boundaries of meaning, which ultimately disappears as it becomes speech or some other form. What does this show us about writing and authorship? As Michel Focault so appropriately puts it:

"Writing is not the vehicle for the author' s expression of his/her emotions or ideas, since writing isn't meant to communicate from author to reader, but rather writing is the circulation of language itself, regardless of the individual existence of author or reader. It is primarily concerned with creating an opening where the writing subject endlessly disappears."

Perhaps, it is this decentralization of meaning, that leads to one talking about the 'death of the author.' Ultimately, writing as a signifier takes on different meanings within the differing social constructs society erects.