Notes/ Connections: Roland Barthes “Empire of Signs”

While reading Barthes’ Empire of Signs, I was immediately struck by the intersection with Borges’ library from the first page. He talks about a “certain number of features” directly related to linguistics and then moves into how these features instantiate a system. This system, however, is not only that which is written down but is much like Borges’ universe/library itself. (Does everything consist of language? Does it not exist until it becomes language?). The system refers to Japan but also the fiction that Barthes writes about Japan. Moving from simply systematic linguistics, Barthes’ encounter with the system that is Japan informs his ideas of language discussing the murmur, but also an “emptiness of language” which gives way to writing as a supplement.

On another note, the chapter on pachinko was quite interesting. Aside from his meticulous description of the game, Barthes explication of pachinko is a description of an encounter. On the one hand, he encounters this strange game with its silver balls and assembly line like rows of machines. On the other hand, it is also a place where the “Western” and “Japanese” player have their encounter. This meeting of the two styles of play and perspective seems to further drive a wedge between the two sides of the encounter, but this point of contact is also where a certain feeling of commonality where both sides engage in the act of playing the game.

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