Let’s read some Whitman – – semiotically! (Feeling a bit fuzzy about that last term? Check out Alex’s super-excellent class notes on the wiki.)
First, read through the excerpt from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass/”Song of Myself.” As you read, underline or highlight particular words that you find interesting or significant.
Second, with Chandler’s discussion of binary oppositions in mind and recalling Saussure‘s claim that language is a “system of differences without positive terms,” divide a standard 8 1/2″ by 11″ sheet of paper into two columns. Enter your first interesting/significant word into the top of the left column. Look back over the words you’ve underlined/highlighted in the poem. Do you see any words that seem very different or contrast with your first term? If so, enter the oppositional term in the right column across from your first word. Remember, you’re only using actual words from the poem.
Keep proceeding through the excerpt, adding words to the left column and entering their opposite terms in the right column. Not all of your significant words will have an opposing term in the poem. In these cases, leave the matching right entry blank.
Finally, once you’ve worked through the whole excerpt, go back and look at your list of binary oppositions. Do you notice any patterns? Does your list of particular words from the poem reflect some more general opposition? (Think about our (too) brief discussion of the Jason DeRulo video – – where the signifier “hawaiian shirt” seemed to belong to a more general opposition between “workers/servants” and “vacationers/customers” etc.)
Bring your semiotic worksheet to class on Tuesday. Enjoy!