The Symbol Eaters (A Chapter from the Clone Chronicles)

By Johnson, Paul Dennithorne | et Cetera, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

The Symbol Eaters (A Chapter from the Clone Chronicles)


Johnson, Paul Dennithorne, et Cetera


PAUL DENNTTHORNE JOHNSTON*

Entry in Cyberpaedia Terra Fluxus, 47th Edition. 2290. sec4042

THE HISIOiAN should remain invisible. The work should appear scholarly, objective, factual, without bias or opinion. For form's sake, this historian will endeavor to use the language of respectable academic detachment. In practice, this historian (avoiding the first person) will imbue the (eschewing personal pronouns possessive) text with opinions, inferences, conclusions, assumptions, and other bi-products of human reasoning, while feigning impartiality in the accepted manner.

But let us avoid false-to-fact treating actions as things. This historian will opine, infer, conclude, assume, etc., and pass on such prejudiced evaluating to you, dear reader, as historical fact.

They say it was a significant event when prehistoric human first picked up a stick and whacked a small animal on the head, thereby discovering tool usage. A far more important event was the first time prehistoric person pointed to a roasting rat and said vehemently, "Urk urk um." Thus was discovered the first human use of symbols, the use of one thing (an utterance) to represent another (passing the entree). In this case "urk" meant "pass," and the subsequent "urk" denoted please, while the double use of "urk" retroactively transposed "pass" and "please" to form the more complex element, "please pass," and "um" signified "small roasting rodent" or in the case of a possible prehistoric vegetarian, "peanut butter."

Since the discovery of symbol use, humankind has built Stonehenge, repaired the Hubble Telescope, perfected cloning, and invented chewing gum. Without symbols, a certain Grand Pooh-bah could not have said, "I am not a crook." Nor could we have constructed the Baseball Planet and other artificial planets which now orbit between Earth and Mars.

Yet humans still behave in bizarre ways regarding symbols. They travel in symbols, e.g., an upmarket Beamer shuttle or a downmarket Pinto space-bug. They drink and eat symbols, such as iced Venusian vodka with caviar, or Moon ale and beer nuts. They wear symbols (clothes, jewelry), get excited by symbols (pornography, bank statements), and in the case of celebrities, live as symbols.

Etc.

Before we go further, and seem to reify the term "symbol," let us make it clear that symbolizing is something people do. Symbols exist as part of the human abstracting process, not as objects "out there." Without human interpreting, the sound of the word "duck" is just a noise, and the written word "duck" is just a shape contrasting with its background.

Our use of language treats symbols as things. People also treat symbols as things, and things as symbols, thus unnecessarily heaping problems upon themselves.

This report concerns a particularly bizarre, yet commonplace, manner of symbolizing. It explores primitive beliefs regarding the human body and symbolism. Such beliefs, exacerbated in the 20th century by the invention of TV, sometimes give rise to the ritual surgical adjustment or removal of human body pieces, or the implanting of foreign matter, in order to give the human-as-symbol a more desired form.

This report also investigates a related sad paradox. At what point does the human body itself become primarily a symbol? - and we must bear in mind that a symbol is the use of one thing to represent another - at least in the deep values of the person involved. When does that poor surgically abused human body become little more than a futile symbol representing its inhabitant's foolish dreams of beauty, happiness, and self-esteem?

We may all have been "created" equal. As symbols, we come to represent wealth, power, criminality, excellence, poverty, stupidity, the goals and fears of society; we appear to ourselves and others as gods or devils. Even now in this "enlightened" 23rd century, our future and our happiness as a symbol is much determined by the voguishness of the face we're born with, the body we develop after puberty, and how much liposuction we can afford. …

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