Simplistic Semiotics

Inspired by Umberto Eco and his styles of writing, I took to semiotics in a carefree manner. Only after getting into the subject did I realise how semiotics was much more than using picteresque symbols as metaphors to dictate the way the reader thinks when he is reading what you’ve written. Semiotics has more to do with the ‘why’ than with the ‘how’. The more and more they questioned, the more and more I was left clueless. Why does a gloomy and clouded evening mean sorrow? Why does the rising sun against an orange horizon signify beauty and serene? We all know what words to use and when, but I don’t think we really understand specifically why such descriptions mean some things. After this, I took up R. K. Narayan’s ‘Malgudi Days’. ‘Malgudi Days’, you should know, is the tale of a small boy named Swami and his experiences in the fictional village of Malgudi. The village itself is very much realistic with its own municipality council, government offices, bank, post office, even printing houses and the occasional animal poacher. However, it is Narayan’s writing that makes the difference. He is not like Eco, or even Pamuk or Tolkien. His language is simple and crisp, balanced finely between casual colloquiality and impeccable tones of formality. It’s as if he actually lived in the village once, and is now only recollecting from his memories. There are not many interpretations of the colours splashed around the town, and seldom any detailing when it comes to emotions. He freely lets the reaer to explore – marking the difference only when it is that every reader understand the same things and is never mislead. That is semiotic perfection.

Umberto Eco’s writing, on the other hand, is like Peter Jackson’s filming: very detailed and informative. There is no event or happening left out, irrespective of whether it has any relevance or not. In this case, Eco tells the reader too much and then, lets the reader come to a conclusion derived from what he or she understood to be relevant. In this case, the text becomes too long and often dragging along at some points. In ‘The Name of the Rose’, the contextual setting of the book was a splendid choice: an Italian monastery in 1327. During that period, Christianity was undergoing a tumultous renaissance of its own, and witch burnings were growing to be commonplace. The lengthy and loquacious dissertations on Christian theology seemed relevant because it all pertained to what was going on then. However, in ‘Foucault’s Pendulum’, Eco steps across the very-distinguishable line between necessity and redundancy. Pages upon pages of Brazilian mysticism and Italy during World War II makes the book seem like an encyclopaedia. The same can be said of ‘The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana’. Now, as far as arguing with me is concerned, my comparisons are based on my literary history. I don’t have any specific likes and dislikes as such, and nor am I specialised in any form of literature. Juxtaposing Narayan against Eco is just a way for me to bring to light the variance in semiotic densities and how, even a lesser number of words can paint a picture as good as extreme exposition. 


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