3. Demystifying the national symbols

Sections

Symbols and their use are not an innovation in the history of human communication. As a symbol, in a manner that we will examine it, could be defined whatever is used to demonstrate something or to represent something abstract. As a start we should point out that we are not against the general use of symbols, as for instance at the metro of Mexico D.F., where the metro stops correspond to concrete symbols so to serve the illiterate.

If we read history outside the kaleidoscope of dominance, the use of symbols has ever been serving the powerful in two ways. Firstly, it converts complicated political issues to minimalistic interpretations with which it substitutes logical arguments. Secondly, it intends to link symbolic forms with social ones, choosing the symbols that are most connected to their target audience, expanding them to the desired for the dominance level. This in turn, effects in two ways the way an individual perceives a notion i.e. the nation. Firstly, the individual realizes that some symbols have gained new symbolic functions and secondly, these certain symbols have a desirable -for the dominance- effect in the way that the individual sees society (Smith, 1998). This desirable (for the dominance) impact in the case of the nation is the point of view that sees society as held by national bonds.

If we accept that every sign is recognizable even if the moment of its production is irrevocably lost, even if we do not know what its alleged creator intended to say at the moment he created it, and abandoned it to its essential drift (Derrida 1972), dominance tries not to leave the meaning of these symbols to their fate. On the contrary, it intends to constrain this meaning in the mold of a fixed interpretation which the elite has given to them, in order to be understandable as such, even after their removal from the hands of their maker. To succeed in it, the state invests on the ethic myth.

The myth and specifically the ethic myth, talks about things whereas language says the things as they are (Barthes, 1979). The myth takes the signs of the language (i.e. a word), strips them off their meaning, and then gives them back another meaning, one that suits the myth. In this way the things (i.e. the words) are being deprived of their history and all their properties they had before coming into the hands of the myth. The place of their history and properties is taken by a naturalness that runs through the new meaning that these things (i.e. the same words) have been given. This naturalness seems so simple and reasonable, as a simple realization. For example simply realizing Alexander’s and Macedonian army’s “bravery” in “Alexander’s mosaic35” without explaining it, you simply think of it as almost natural, as given. In that way every discourse over the essence of things is abolished and everything seems clear as water, given and by no means doubtful.

Myth is present as long as it is read as a reality and not as a semiotic system, as long as the twist in the meaning of things is not perceived. The myth exists as long as the individual cannot realize the fake and constructed causal link between these things. Ethnic myths as semiotic systems are asserted concerning their coherence, through their endurance in time. This coherence depends on the level of coherence (true or imagined) of the community that has created the myths and vice versa, the coherence of the community depends on the coherence of myths as semiotic systems (Buccelatti, 2010).

 


 

35 The one found in Pompey at the “Casa del Fauno”. It depicts the battle of Issus in 333 b.c. or that of Gaugamela in 331 b.c., both battles between Alexander 3rd and the Persian king Darius the 3rd. the mosaic shows Alexander and his armies with Alexander charging from the left and trying to aim at Darius. The Persian king routs with his eye on Alexander. It is considered to be a copy of Apelles, Alexander’s painter, the only one – according to the Roman historiographer Pliny the elder – that was allowed to paint Alexander’s portraits. Back

 

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