Let’s take this example: at a certain moment we notice the presence of someone new in our community. People say that there is an Argentine. Then we see an Argentine.
But why do we see what we see? Why do we see there an Argentine whereas at the same time we could have said: We can see a young person, a fat person, someone with a big smile, someone who speaks loudly, someone who could also be defined as a son, a husband, a professional or a neighbour; but in spite of that we can only see an Argentine.
Maybe the need to make sense or to anticipate what’s going on in our community that has summoned our prejudices and taught us how to react in this situation. Also we can think that people define the other by its recognizable characteristic, by its role of sign or object pertaining to the social field. That is to say, we classify someone, relating him or her as an object by using a criterion of classification that is logical for us in that context.
But, what is our reaction to the Argentine? First we have to get to what we know about him, which is based on our thoughts about what Argentines are like or what they do. And we are probably doing so supported by tales of sport, tango, Patagonia and rural activities on the one hand, and war, social violence or economic chaos on the other, all mixed with the few comments that people around us might have made about Argentina. However, if we still have doubts about the Argentine, these will end as soon as the object of this particular Argentine starts to speak: For instance, we can observe that torn, worn-out clothes plus an Argentine triggers off the story of the Argentine crisis, whereas smart clothes could trigger off one of prosperity or of a land of hopes.
Those objects will show us little by little a learned probable plot. As soon as the plot starts to be clear, everything will be decoded by us as something with sense, reducing the spectre of possibilities of what is going on in a sort of alienated narration. In other words, this narration is captured by a myth (Barthes, 1973), and after the myth is found, a prediction in our mind is settled on about how to react in front of the Argentine.
That is because, as Zizek pointed out, any cultural object is an emissary of the myth of its place of origin. Thus, the myth that the clothes awaken is an instinct of knowledge that tries to find certainties by simplifying existing or non-existent possibilities from similar situations. It becomes a cause and effect from where the person disposes of the illusion of reading what will come next. Then, if the Argentine clothes look smart, pragmatic, oldish or terrific, the same will happen with this particular Argentine.
In this way, the observed person has been broken down by his reader, responding with one of the multiple faces he has to present himself in society. He may react or respond in his role but always in relation to that something that defines our so called condition of difference before the others that the story in question awakes; a closed story that may have dominated us due to exercising something “between what really happened (the narrative) and what can happen (the symbolic)” (Todorov, 1990).
As a balance, the myth is a deception by which we are all fooled when we see objects filled with sense. The objects will remain calm while for us the corporation of a piece of advice will be alive.
© Sebastian Guerrini, 2009