The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism

By Henry Louis Gates Jr. | Go to book overview

3
Figures of Signification

He was unwrapping the object now and I watched his old man's
hands.

"I'd like to pass it on to you, son. There," he said, handing it to
me. "Funny thing to give somebody, but I think it's got a heap of signifying wrapped up in it and it might help you remember what we're really fighting against. I don't think of it in terms of but two words, yes and no; but it signifies a heap more . . ."

I saw him place his hand on the desk. "Brother," he said, calling
me "Brother" for the first time, "I want you to take it. I guess it's a kind of luck piece. Anyway, it's the one I filed to get away."

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

There is in effect no signifying chain that does not have, as if at
tached to the punctuation of each of its units, a whole articulation of
relevant contexts suspended "vertically," as it were, from that point.

Jacques Lacan

Jacques Lacan's elaboration upon the signifier's function produces
more than a simple tilting within the sign, since as soon as the question
is one of signification, the relevant unit is no longer the sign itself (for
example, the word in the dictionary), but the signifying chain, which
generates a meaning effect at the moment when it turns back upon it
self, its end allowing the retroactive interpretation of its beginning.

Oswald Ducrot and Tzvetan Todorov

The end is the beginning and lies far ahead.
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man


I

How does Signifyin(g) manifest itself in Afro-American literature? This colorful, often amusing trope occurs in black texts as explicit theme, as implicit rhetorical strategy, and as a principle of literary history. Before elab

-89-

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