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Self escapes notice

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"The fateful flaw of human semiotics is this: that of all the objects in the entire Cosmos which the sign-user can apprehend through the conjoining of signifier and signified (word uttered and thing beheld), there is one which forever escapes his comprehension--and that is the sign-user himself.

"Semiotically, the self is literally unspeakable to itself. One cannot speak or hear a word which signifies oneself, as one can speak or hear a word signifying anything else, e.g., apple, Canada, 7-Up.

"The self of the sign-user can never be grasped, because, once the self locates itself at the dead center of its world, there is no signified to which a signifier can be joined to make a sign. The self has no sign of itself. No signifier applies. All signifiers apply equally.

"You are Ralph to me and I am Walker to you, but you are not Ralph to you and I am not Walker to me....

"For me, certain signifiers fit you, and not others. For me, all signifiers fit me, one as well as another. I am rascal, hero, craven, brave, treacherous, loyal, at once the secret hero and asshole of the Cosmos.

"You are not a sign in your world. Unlike the other signifiers in your world which form more or less stable units with the perceived world-things they signify, the signifier of yourself is mobile, freed up, and operating on a sliding semiotic scale from infinity to infinity.

"The signified of the self is semiotically loose and caroms around the Cosmos like an unguided missile.

"From the moment the signifying self turned inward and became conscious of itself, trouble began as the sparks flew up." Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book, Walker Percy, Washington Square Press, 1983, p. 107.

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Page updated 8/5/01