Blog Post in regard to: Stephanie Peña-Alves. 2019 (Online First). “Outspoken Objects and Unspoken Myths: The Semiotics of Object‐Mediated Communication.” Symbolic Interaction
Unpacking the Unspoken
There is a kind of romance to things understood, but unspoken, things “said,” but not uttered. Saying without saying is an exciting departure from the default of talk. What are these mysterious mute meanings and how do we achieve them? From who do these meanings emerge? Or should we ask, from what?
My article, “Outspoken Objects and Unspoken Myths,” deals with the many layers of “the unspoken, but meaningful” in everyday life, starting with the ordinary objects we engage with in interaction. Though we know objects are symbolically useful for informing and performing identity, less studied is how we weave objects’ abstract meanings into our regular interpersonal exchanges. This is a semiotic process I term object-mediated communication, whereby we move and “speak” with objects while speaking with others.
However, an object once symbolic is not always symbolic. Meanings surface and meanings fade. In other words, an object meaningful in one moment can be effectively meaningless in the next. Hence, objects are symbolically dormant until we activate their deeper meanings.
This article focuses on people’s use of doors in particular. Slamming doors, knocking on them, waiting at them, push them ever-so-slowly open – these are some of the ways people transmit important messages about their status, intentions, and affective dispositions in interaction. And yet there are even deeper layers of meaning at work here. Enacted in this door-mediated communication are what Barthes called mythologies about ownership and belonging, privacy, liminality, and the narrativity of interaction. Meanings, indeed, abound when doors appear in the midst of talk.
Who knew such simple gestures coupled with such ordinary objects could yield such explosions of meaning? This is the intriguing class of the unspoken I invite you to explore in this article.