Guerrilla Semiotics in James Joyce's Ulysses: A Quick Note I keep returning to James Joyce's Ulysses. Despite what the massive indu...

Guerrilla Semiotics in James Joyce's Ulysses: A Quick Note || Azfar Hussain

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Guerrilla Semiotics in James Joyce's Ulysses: A Quick Note
I keep returning to James Joyce's Ulysses. Despite what the massive industry of bourgeois aesthetics and poetics has hitherto done to the canonization of Joyce (Derrida, too, loved Joyce, as Derrida even loved Marx or at least some of his ghosts!), I find this Irish tropester and trickster--James Joyce-- politically active and significant on more scores than one.

For instance, after having read a pop manual called _Guerrilla Marketing_ by Jay Conrad Levinson, an undertaking in which he provides a cartography of hundreds of guerrilla marketing strategies, I once returned to _Ulysses_ and thought that _Guerrilla Marketing_ might be read as a random, right-wing bricolage of watered-down paraphrases of Joycean tropes, tenors, and texts--ones that, on the other hand, constitute Joyce's own brand of what I wish to call "guerrilla semiotics."

What, then, is this damn thing called "guerrilla semiotics?" I'll give my own spin. "Guerrilla semiotics" for me enacts and mobilizes as well as defers and withdraws cycles of the production, exchange, distribution, and consumption of signs to launch attacks on received or hegemonic assumptions, meanings, metaphors, or signs at unpredictable moments.

And signs? With V.N. Volosinov--author of that groundbreaking Marxist semiotic work called _Marxism and the Philosophy of Language_--I, too, would submit that signs are not neutral; that they are material and ideologically inflected.

Now let's think of Bloom's (Joyce's character in _Ulysses_) theory and practice of advertising. Bloom does not merely work for an ad company but he also designs ads. His designs seem to be responding quite well to the tenor of his own discourse that re-inscribes his attachment to figures of circulation, exchange, cyclicity, and renewal. I recall his bicycle poster. It condenses both bicycle and the spectator into twin synecdoches, while his ad for Keys appropriates the political and religious metonymy of keys and re-anchors it to another semiotic register. Both stimulate the refiguration of the viewer and instigate an exchange of symbolic currency.

While enacting this exchange, however, Joyce also suggests how both the bicycle and the key are more meaningful for consumption than otherwise, when they all "fall" outside the logic of capital. I know this needs more elaboration, but I'm trying to make a point at a very rudimentary level here. Then Bloom enunciates his theory of motion: "good ads" should arrest attention, convince, and decide, and an ideal "ad" should even stop time despite the "velocity of modern life."

Stopping time? Which time? What time? Where? Joyce tangentially points to the temporality of money (or money-time)--one that carries within it the blood of laborers globally and locally. Finally, in _Ulysses_, when the sign (or the "Ultimate Signified?") "God" slips into a combination of letters which one begins to read backwards as in a retroactive reading (say as "Dog"), one immediately comes to have at least a feel of Joyce's guerrilla semiotics. There are of course numerous instances of this kind in Joyce, ones that trigger signification at some odd, unexpected, and unpredictable moments that an entire range of capitalist strategies--their remarkable resilience notwithstanding--cannot immediately appropriate or assimilate into their own circuits of signs.

We need, yes, guerrillas of different kinds--among many other things, of course-- to produce "short-circuitings" within systems of appropriation and domination themselves. I'd re-read Joyce further, then.


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