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Code, Language and Corruption

Since Josh brought it up in comments and Pat gestured at it in his “my computer is in too weak a state to write a post but is dandy for purposes of writing a New-Yorker-length comment” post, let’s have a post specifically about C‘s use of codes in the first week’s reading. (I’m sure none of us are so gauche as to require them, but I’ll suggest SPOILER ALERTS for any discussion ranging into the rest of the book.)

I don’t have anything quite so developed as an argument, but I’ll throw out some of the elements I’m tracking. First, a list of codes and cants:

  • Sign language, which Carrefax deprecates in favor of speech (“Are you sure they’re not signing?… You have to make them speak. All the time!” (7)
  • Telegraphy
  • Ciphers in the Times’s personal notices
  • The hand-motions that Widsun and Sophie exchange during the pageant
  • Chemistry
  • Sophie’s wall

The first of these provides a backdrop for the story, but it’s not particularly germane. The second belongs primarily to Carrefax and Serge. The last four are implicated in Sophie’s fate.

Each of these codes is susceptible to corruption, accident, mis- or malignant use; none appears as simply a neutral field for the free play of meaning.  There’s the spycraft that Widsun appears to be recruiting/seducing Sophie into, and the explosion yielded by Sophie and Serge’s experiment. You could also add Serge’s vibrant dyslexia to the pile, a corruption of the written word as its learned: “He keeps switching letters round… He see letters streaming through the air, whole blocks of them, borne on currents occupying a zone beneath the threshold of the comprehensible…” (38). (Mrs. K-sky reports experiencing a similar effect.) Does it seem that language and code as a field for power games and dreadful mistakes will be a running theme?

Some stray thoughts:

“—in the beginning, ladies and gentlemen, was the Word” (14). Carrefax goes onto pronounce that “speech is divine.” I’m not sure what role exactly Carrefax’s exalted logocentrism will play in the development of the above, but McCarty sure unfurls it boldly, and it seems as if he’s inviting us to get the reference and extrapolate from there. Maybe some of you professionals can better pick up what he’s putting down, here.

Josh, you mentioned Proust’s extended visual metaphors in McCarty’s approach to language — anything further to expand on that here? What about the rest of yinz? Pat, did I cover a tenth of what you were going to put in your Unwritten Blog Post?

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July 5, 2015 Posted by | C | , | 6 Comments