Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Over the summer I became absolutely obsessed with the writing of Kurt Vonnegut. His wit, sarcasm and absolute absurdity enabled me to view war (Slaughtehouse-Five), the state of humanity (The Sirens of Titan), and the implications of creating a nuclear power that could destroy the world (Cat’s Cradle) from a different, yet enlightened, perspective. Vonnegut’s humor was a great device in regards to how it attempted to downplay the horrible things in the world but at the same time, making them that much worse. When a person catches his or herself laughing about bombs and the world freezing over it suddenly opens that person up more to why it should not be funny.

Humor in writing enables readers to stop and have a mini dialogue within their own minds; their conscious ideas are somehow tweaked or peaked by some kind of subconscious burst that forces the person to laugh. At least for me, it is like when you see someone fall comically and you just cannot help but smile. Then all of a sudden, you think, why did I just laugh at that? That person could have been hurt. But somehow that image of a person falling down has translated to being funny. This, I believe works along the idea of the signifier-signified relationship. It is almost as if laughing is the physical embodiment of the signifier working on the signified.

This idea is something Hau’ofa understands and uses to turn an idea inside out and, just as truth is in Tiko, turned on their head. Hau’ofa uses irony, sarcasm, and role reversal to show a disconnection between what a signifier initially signified and the new connection that has created an entirely new signified thing. The capitalization of all the development committees and the “Very Important Persons” exaggerates the worth of those considered helping Tiko. At first glance, those capital letters signified a certain importance and higher status but as Hau’ofa begins capitalizing all those things which seem to rob Tiko of its own culture, those capital letters take on a new, adverse meaning. In the chapter, “Paths of Glory,” Tevita’s foreign knowledge, which seems as though it should be seen as a positive thing for Tiko becomes more of a burden for Tevita. For myself, the signifier, foreign knowledge, connoted a means of helping Tiko. But Hau’ofa switches it around and shows the disconnection it causes by ironically stating that one must lose the foreign teachings to “lead a proper life” in Tiko. Ultimately, Hau’ofa’s use of humor makes the reader aware of the reversals of the signifier-signified relationship, giving new meaning to the signifier.

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