Archives for category: Semiotics

It is not even 4AM yet and I’m wide awake in a strange bed. My son and I landed in Seoul a few hours ago, tired and hungry after a long airport limousine bus ride into the city from the Incheon Airport where we were plopped down into a bustling area at shortly after 7:00 in the evening. Trying to remember our directions to the guest house where we’re staying was not bad–I had been here several times before–but this was my first time arriving into this area of town after the long, grueling flight. Finding the place was not too difficult–people here are very friendly and willing to help out a stranger, even if they don’t know a word of English. I forgot my Korean phrase book at home. Oops! And my son forgot his dress shoes, but that’s another matter. Technology helps; smartphones abound here. After all, this is where LG and Samsung are headquartered. They guy waiting on the corner brought up his smartphone map and showed me which direction to go. Luckily, I had written on a piece of paper in Korean Hangul the name of my destination.

We’re here now and checked-in at the guest house, a little room with two small beds, but comfortable. And they have provided wireless for my laptop excursions, like this chance to write at 4AM because my body clock is still some 15 hours different from here, meaning I’m going on as if it is early afternoon. This should surprise nobody who is a well seasoned traveler to faraway locations, however it never ceases to amaze me each time this happens.

After checking-in, we ventured out in the local neighborhood to find a place to eat. Like at home in Minneapolis, the mid-winter snow is also very lacking in Seoul this year, although it is a bit colder here. Walking about in my vest with no jacket, the cold air woke me up; this left the only remaining basic need all the more stark–I was very hungry. We found a Korean fastfood-like place called 2900 which was quite good and inexpensive. It was named 2900 after their phone number. We both had some variety of Bim-bim-bap, a rice/vegetable mixture. The accompanying little bowl of soup was both warm and comforting after that chill air.

Besides the original motivation for this trip, I hope to capture some of the images of Seoul and combine those with my previous visit here in 2007 to create a book much in the same spirit of One Hundred Views of Beijing. I expect it will be called One Hundred Views of Seoul. Part of my interest in these images will be a study of the use of color, the meaning which is applied to it, and how it is interpreted. The toilets at the Incheon airport for example had red and green symbols for women and men, respectively, a use of color I have not seen (or noticed) before in the states for male/female markers. I will keep my eye out to see if this use of color in this way is prevalent. And, we will see if my 8mp smartphone camera will do that image any justice; I was reluctant to get out my big camera in the middle of all that airport security.

Media was an ancient empire which directly preceded the Persian Empire.  This area of northeastern Iran existed along the collective trails which would later be known as the silk road.  Media, as we now know and pronounce this word, was “madiya” or “madhya,” inherited from Proto-Indo-European (PIE) into their pre-Iranian languages such as Avestan, Old Persion, Sanskrit, and which means “middle.”  To name an empire based on its middle-ness (spatially, I presume) privileges the recognition of its central status, say, perhaps in mediating commerce along the silk road between China and the Mediterranean.  (Which is a conjecture on my part.)

The concept of “middle” came into Latin, also by inheritance from PIE, as “medius.”  Its related Latin forms are mediatorum (one who mediates), mediatus (to mediate), mediocris (middle quality), and so on.  English gets a lot of its Latin roots through French, so going from “medius” to “medium” or “intermediate” is not a difficult stretch.  As reported in the OED the phrase “intermediate agency” meant “channel of communication,” first recorded in 1605.  A nineteenth century “medium” could be one who communicates with the dead, or a splotch of oil paint on canvas, both arguably a channel of communication.

The phrase “mass media” was born about 1923 when used as a technical term in advertising, and applied to newspapers by about 1927.  By the 1960s, media in all its forms as “channel of communication” was further abstracted by media theorist Marshal McLuhan to mean “any technological extension of ourselves.”

Looking up “media” and “medium” in the OED will deluge you with a number of definitions perhaps exceeding 60.  How’s this one: “the middle layer of the wall of a blood vessel or lymphatic vessel,” or this one: “a voiced stop in ancient Greek”?

The common thread running through all of these seemingly wide and varied set of definitions is the concept of “intermediation between two things,” a form of being in the middle.  When the intermediation occurs between a human being and something else, we come back to a channel of communication, or a tool, or as McLuhan said, an extension of ourselves.

The past semester for me was a brutal one, in that it consumed all my available time in addition to displacing the nearly the rest of my life.  However, that was to be expected, taking a full-time graduate load while remaining at full-time status at my place of employment.  All that, and a family of four.

It was a good semester and the grades were decent.  Because of the Beijing Now photography class, I was introduced to the Chinese students from Beijing Film Academy, and their professor.  They visited us in Minneapolis in the first week of December, right before the snow hit the fan.  It seemed cold then, but that was only our introduction, as those early-season introductions are usually felt in their more extreme while we acclimate, albeit slowly, as this season progresses into the depths of darkness, snow and lower temperatures.  It was only within a week of their leaving that the snow came and with a petty vengeance.  It was late in coming this year, or shall I say ‘that’ year because now I am speaking of the other.  That petty vengeance was followed by the real one in the days leading up to the 25th, with well over another foot of snow layered on top of what had already accumulated before.   (I have photos, and will try to publish them as soon as I can.)

One of my big accomplishments of 2009 was finishing the book Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce.  I actually read the whole thing!  To anyone not familiar with this work, that accomplishment in our literate society might not sound like much.  I believe it was 628 pages which took Joyce 17 years to write, about half of his creative life.  The book is a fictional depiction of a dream.  Its language is twisted with double and triple meanings (maybe more), multiple and layered voices (often competing), and a highly disconnected flow (this sentence pales by comparison).  Finnegans Wake is psychedelic.

These mechanisms succeed in creating a dream like state.  But the book is a very slow read.  It crawls, and when I return to the bookmarked spot I end up re-reading the page I knew I read previously, only to reinterpret in yet another way.  The highly ambiguous text yields many interpretations.  The meanings are deeply layered.  All this is why I find this book so inspiring.

Of course there were many other accomplishments and highlights of 2009, other books finished (Name of the Rose, to name one other, and many text books and non-fiction which work like text books, such as Roland Barthes’ Semiotics), acceptance and entrance into graduate school, camping in the Porcupine Mountains last June, to list a few but not exhaustively.

What this reflection has to do with New Media or Photography is yet to be revealed.  Suffice it to say, the seeds of inspiration are about to germinate.