Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Importance and Unimportance of Signifiers.

In “The Glorious Pacific Way,” Mr. Minte spends a significant amount of time trying to make Ole ask the right questions so that the young islander can obtain what he wants. In his instructions, he says, “You have to ask for something more directly relevant…relevance is the key that opens in the world” (85). Throughout Tales of the Tikongs, Hau’ofa has played with relevance of language: Truth is universal, but the signifiers that describe it don’t transport well between cultures. In “The Seventh Day and Other Days,” he explicitly states that “Truth is flexible…it can be stood on its head, hidden in a box, and sat upon,” yet it is still Truth. To put it in linguistic terms, Hau’ofa is saying that signifiers may differ from place to place, but the signified and the referent remain the same. Hau’ofa’s use of satire seems to reflect this “discontinuous continuity”.
Satire is a widely understood literary genre regardless of whether a culture calls it satire, and it need not rely on inside knowledge of a particular culture. He demonstrates this by using dead metaphors from the English language while satirizing the Tikongs. For example, he writes that “the stage was set for Tiko to skin her own pigs and control her Manifest Destiny” (48). The reference to Manifest Destiny has no place in this context and is misapplied; his use of such a metaphor is actually a witty criticism of its use in the English language. One exercises a degree of control over something through the device of language, since a signifier creates something that is signified, hence his previous instance that the Pacific a “sea of islands” and not the reverse. This power of language is a cross-cultural truth, however, and is not limited to any particular place: Hau’ofa’s use of oral storytelling devices like rhythm, imagery, and metaphor speaking to universal relevance. Ironically enough, he satirizes and individual who is seeking oral tradition but is corrupted by the very words he uses.

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