There is Nothing New Under the Sun

Sean Hall writes in his book, This Means This, This Means Thatabout semiotics, the theory of signs, and reading signs is a part of everyday life: from road signs that point to a destination, to smoke that warns of fire, to the symbols buried within art and literature. Semiotic theory can, however, appear mysterious and impenetrable. This introductory book decodes that mystery using visual examples instead of abstract theory its basically Semiotics for Dummies. In the beginning of Chapter 2,  in This Means This, Hall discusses the difference between sarcasm and literal meaning saying that “sarcasm changes the meaning” he states that “literal meanings are important when we need to communicate something clearly and unambiguously. (So, if your friend wants there honest opinion, don’t be sarcastic.)

Hall goes on to elaborate on literal meanings, saying that “literal meanings are important when we need to communicate something clearly and unambiguously.” He gives an example of instruction manuals, warnings, and measurements because each of those relay on their literal meanings to help people and prevent potential disasters. There is both a time and a place for sarcasm and that is not when peoples lives are at stake. Something like the tweet below would not put anybody in danger so it is entirely acceptable.

  There are also degrees of literalness, meaning that when something is translated or copied the first will be more literal and accurate then the second. Meaning shifts slightly over time and through translation so it is important to know that when duplicating a work some form of modification will occur. Because meanings shift through translation, and sarcasm surrounds us, we as a society are immersed in a non literal world and are enveloped by hidden meanings. Maybe, the author of the tweet below is really excited by her class, so excited that she doesn’t want to ever leave and would rather run her head into the desk then have to leave? If she didn’t hash tag sarcasm would we know the deeper meaning that lays under her words? Would we be able to interpret the sarcasm or would we think she literally is so excited?

According to Hall there are, “numerous devices that can be employed to produce meanings of a nonliteral kind.” Including: simile, metaphor, netonym, synecdoche, irony, lies, impossibility, depiction, and representation. All of these concepts “can help us to produce new insights into the meanings of objects, images, and texts.” This allows us to create more resonant meanings in design, advertising, illustration, and most importantly for our class, writing. For the purpose of this blog, I will only focus on similes and metaphors.

First, a simile is a figure of speech involving the comparisons of one thing with another thing of a different kind, it is used to make a description more emphatic or vivid such as “as brave as a lion”. According to Hall when “liken one thing to another we tend to highlight the features that interest us, and we ignore those that don’t interest us. The likening of one thing to another is called a simile.”

For many of us we want to create our own identities, we can only hope to be original and create something new. But in Professor Wolff’s Writing, Research, and Technology class we learned that originality is dead. Although Professor Wolff was not the first one to come to that conclusion so its crazy to think we are just learning this. Originality has been dead, and if you read one of the literal translations of the bible you would know that,

That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun.” – Ecclesiastes (Bible)

Because originality is dead, similes are more important than ever. First of all, although any individual idea may not be original,combinations of ideas can be very original. In fact, the greatest ideas today are unique combinations of concepts. Such as the remixes, and mashups we are studying, but also such as similes. While chances are slim that you can create a new simile, according to Hall “artists and designers are always trying to find new similes.”

Just like similes, the world is also searching for new metaphors, and all objects, images, and texts can be used to create metaphors. Hall says that metaphors work by a process of transference, and they can be very persuasive because of their ability to link something familiar with something unfamiliar.

Metaphors and similes are the high-performance jet fighters of creative communications. Think of them as fast, powerful and effective, they help you bring abstract ideas to life. Advertisement companies LOVE similes and metaphors because they can transform literal meaning to get you interested, Hall shows examples of it throughout chapter 2, and in the article Symbolic: Metaphors & Similesyou can see just how even a smile can create a metaphor to sell a product.

The catch to all of the devices that change meanings to be more creative is that, adults need everything explained to them. We struggle to interpret because we live life so literally. A small child could gain insight and understanding of a representation but as an adult we question its existence. We want to know the literal meaning, we want to understand the way we think we are supposed to. Because of our desire to be literal, we are not creative and nothing is original. Because of our desire to be literal and understand we let advertising companies market to us without being any wiser, we don’t interpret, we don’t question, we just buy.

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7 thoughts on “There is Nothing New Under the Sun

  1. This article or makes a decent point of how we are just consumers in the modern world because we take things literally. Being literal all the time is what is damaging our imagination and how we create, because we don’t think outside a box like we used to. If we made comparisons before making an impulse decision we’d gain some thought process back for ourselves.

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  2. I think the originality is not dead as much as stalled. We can track the evolution of comedy as a written/ video form. We can see a slapstick generation rise from the Three Stooges era, from there we have a character based slapstick like that of Naked Gun with Leslie Neilson. We started get more sarcastic in the late eighties in efforts to be edgy. Things like beverly hill cop with off the hip rude humor became the thing. Fast forward we have the heavy sarcasm of todays comedy with movies like the hangover. My point in this is saying this will be cyclical- much like clothing fads- we will revert to the roots of comedy in time allowing all new originality to a used up medium.

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  3. I really liked your post! It had a lot of informative information from Chapter 2. I personally don’t agree fully in Halls logic regarding literal and sarcasm. Of course, every serious subject should be addressed in a literal manner. On the other hand, I do not think every situations requires literal responses to be understood. In fact, I have been in many situations that sarcasm gets a point across more than being literal. Sometimes sarcasm is an easier alternative to portray a message. Although it may be a little rude to use sarcasm in certain circumstances; I find sarcasm to break the ice. Just because someone doesn’t speak ‘literal’ does not mean they are misunderstood. Sarcasm often has a funny way of getting your point across and creating a clear understanding to the reciever.

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  4. This post was very interesting to read! It was extremely informative on Chapter 2, and actually helped me understand a few things better including Hall’s take on literal meanings. I agree that literal meanings should be used when trying to convey a message clearly, however, I don’t think it’s necessary to be so literal all the time. It’s okay to be sarcastic, but at the same time, I also agree that there is a time or place. In my opinion, literal vs. sarcasm seems to be an on-going debate of when, what, where, and how.

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  5. Well, I don’t recall ever saying that originality is dead. Rather, that our understanding of how ideas emerge is radically different than how it has traditionally been considered. That is, we create new ideas by building on the ideas of others. Originality no longer can mean that one develops ideas in isolation. Rather, the definition of it needs to change to incorporate how developing new ideas really works.

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  6. I thought when you said …. (Hall discusses the difference between sarcasm and literal meaning saying that “sarcasm changes the meaning” he states that “literal meanings are important when we need to communicate something clearly and unambiguously.) was very interesting. Sarcasm really does change the meaning. I am a very sarcastic person and it used to be a problem when communicating because I always came off that I just did not care, because of my sarcasm took away or changed the meaning of my words, but I really did care. Interesting post, I still love sarcasm 🙂

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  7. I don’t think that originality is dead, and although there’s a lot more insight and information in this post, that was the only section I found myself focusing on. I found myself fixating on this because although it may be difficult to find in a world of neverending media, I’m confused as to why some think this thought is true. Sean Hall makes a great point on how devices such as similes and metaphors can give us new insight, but I also think that we don’t always have to liken one thing to another. We can always just appreciate a piece of writing (or anything else) and take it as it is.

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