A Sign Speaks

So I'm walking in the park today and I come upon this sign. And I find myself asking myself: Who, precisely, is saying "Thank you"? I can think of three options, the most likely, the one that makes the most sense, being the most insane and strange of the three:

1. It's the State. But if it's the State, what are they doing saying Thank You. Aren't we, in a sense, supposed to be the state? If they are saying thank you, then they are admitting that they are a distinct force — yes, a force, with all its threats — that is distinct from the people and, besides violence, they have politeness as a strategy to persuade the people. Now that's odd.

2. It's the animals. The animals are saying thank you for not running us over. Or thank you for trying not to run us over. But animals don't make signs, usually, at least not ones in English.

3. It's the sign that's talking. It's asked us to do something and so, as one does, it says, "Thank you." This, alas, is the only option that makes sense. And it's clearly the most insane.

I recorded my thoughts as they came to me here, using my terribly nifty iPhone voice memo feature — for the first time! I didn't want to forget this no doubt noble moment.


what the Tee Vee taught said...

How awful is that line of cars? Fuck. Even in the park... a never ending line of cars.

Great use of technology, writer/speaker.

what the Tee Vee taught said...


what the Tee Vee taught said...

2011, writin' a blog. Writin' comments on blogs. Drunk. Laughing.

drwatson said...

Yes, it is the sign speaking. But I think if the sign has force behind it, i.e., if it seems that I may be given a fine by a guy who wears a certain kind of uniform, than clearly there is state power involved.

I would say we are the state in only a simple and naive sense. In terms of how power functions, I think it's pretty easy to see that part of the power of a sign lies it it's ability to be enforced. So does the stop light speak. Well, yes. But why don't I run them when it would be safe? Because of the power that enforces it.

Daniel Coffeen said...

@drwatson: Well, yes, of course. I was kidding when I said that expressions of state power were not who we are. Of course the law is predicated on the police state and its threat of violence.

See my new post: speaking in multiple registers at once often backfires.

But it is still odd that it says, "Thank you." In a way, this is even more violent as it draws an explicit division between us and them, between the state and its subjects. "Reduce speed" is a disembodied expression of law: the law speaks (and, yes, of course the police state speaks, too). But once it says "thank you" it — the terms of the exchange — shift. When a man holding a gun is polite, it is even more violent than when he's yelling at you. Why? Because it makes social protocol just that — a protocol rather than a way of being. The politeness is false and is all the more menacing for it....I could go on but methinks we get the idea....