Wednesday, August 31, 2011
"Yo-yo, Mama, caca"
As I conducted research for Children's Games, there were texts I encountered which seemed to encapsulate one or several of the core themes. These almost always related to ideas of language, pre-language, repetition and signification. Finding a text like this, I could read it as a score - a set of sounds and actions. Thus, the theoretical leads directly into the practical...
From Formless: A User's Guide by Rosalind Krauss and Yve-Alain Bois (pp 219-220):
"Yo-Yo. We could see it as the relatively sophisticated, commercially produced equivalent of the little object Freud's infant grandson made famous, as he threw the spool onto his cot to make it disappear behind the bedclothes and then pulled on the string attached to it to draw it back into view, the first gesture accompanied by a mournful "fo-o-ort" and the second by a joyous "da!" And the yo-yo is servicable in this connection in yet another dimension, since its very name cycles around the field of linguistic principles that the "fort/da" instrument articulates.
For the yo-yo belongs to a whole series of childish terms - the very earliest being "mama" and "papa", and subsequent ones being "caca" and "peepee" - in which the wild sound if infantile babbling is suddenly articulated, or spaced, or cut out, not just into perceptible rhythmic regularity but into the freestanding condition of the signifier, through the act of repetition. For it is repetition that doubles back on the first sound to mark it as deliberately phonemic by the very fact of being repeatable. Thus, as Roman Jakobson says, the basis for the translation from wild sound production to verbal behavior is, precisely, reduplication, since it is the repetition of the first sound by the second that serves to signal "that the uttered sounds do not represent a babble, but a senseful, semantic entity." Thus, for Jakobson, it is duplication that is "linguistic essence", since it transforms sounds to phonemes by marking, or re-marking them, by establishing that they "are to be recognizable, distinguishable, identifiable; and in accordance with these requirements, they must be deliberately repeatable."
"Fort/da" is not, however, one of these redoubled vocables, although the game played by means of it - in both its verbal and mechanical guise - did involve constant repetition. "Fort/da" is, instead, a game of rhythmic separation and reconnection, in which something disappears from sight and is recognized again, both disappearance and return accompanied by language that penetrates this activity almost to the point of becoming its support. For Freud articulates the "fort/da" as allowing for the rise of linguistic representation in the negation of the object (throwing it away while simultaneously producing a substitute for it in the form of a verbal sign: "fort") and in the separation of the field of the represented (the sign, the fantasy image) from that of the real ("da!"). Indeed, it is in this founding act of negativity that Freud locates the intellectual feat on which language as well as culture in general would be instituted."