Perversity And Lawrence’s Prussian Officer Essay

1546 words - 6 pages

Perversity and Lawrence’s Prussian Officer

     Ferdinand de Saussure developed his "theory of the sign" as part of a more general course on linguistics he taught in the nineteenth century.  The "sign" represents the arbitrary relationship between the signifier (a word, or even a sound), and the signified (the meaning we give to the word or sound in our minds).  For example, the word "can" signifies a cylindrical container to me, but could mean something entirely different to someone who does not understand English.  The relationship of the word "can" to a can is completely subjective.  It's nothing but a trigger for my pre-existing notion of a can.





Actual meaning comes from the thing itself, rather than our word for it.  Jacques Lacan modified Saussure's original algorithm so that the signifier dominated the signified.  We have many words for the same object.  For example, the adjectives ugly, unattractive, hideous, revolting, and homely describe a less-than-desirable state of physical beauty.  Why choose one word over another?  The signification is roughly the same.  Yet subtle differences exist between these signifiers - differences which relate as much to the speaker as to the object being described. 


            The choice of a signifier is nowhere near arbitrary; words may not have transcendental meaning, but they certainly relate to each other within a given linguistic structure - a language, a dialect, or even a piece of fiction.  One interesting way to explore the mystery of the signifier is through constructs like metaphor and metonymy.  These work within a text, simultaneously concealing and betraying meaning.  Metaphor and metonymy work within "The Prussian Officer", by D.H. Lawrence, to produce the tension that moves the story forward; through the use of disturbing, disharmonious imagery Lawrence invokes a peculiar primacy that foreshadows the story's resolution.


            The introduction of metaphor into signification inverts the signifier of one relation so that it becomes the signified of another.  Take this example from "The Prussian Officer", "He [the orderly] felt himself as nothing, a shadow creeping under the sunshine" [1] .


The signifier of the first set (himself) becomes the signified of the second.  This also creates a relationship between the signified of the first set (the orderly's being) and the signifier of the second (shadow slipping under the sun).  Do we then read the shadow as interchangeable with the orderly's being?  Anthony Wilden, acting as a stand-in for Jacques Lacan, describes metaphor as:


. . . [a] relationship between a symptom and the presentation it replaces, neither of which "means" the other, as in the traditional sense of the meaning of a symbol or symptom, but one which "stands in" for the other as a result of repression, or rather, as a result of the return of the...

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