The visibility of the empty

“Les aliments sont coupés pour pouvoir etre saisis par la baguette, mais aussi la baguette existe parce que les aliments sont coupés en petits morceaux ; un meme mouvement, une meme forme transcende la matiere et son outil : la division. » (25)

In L’empire des signes, the act of dividing is a recurrent theme.  Its importance is further revealed by the diverse vocabulary that is used to refer to the act of dividing.  Separating, cutting, or fragmenting seems to be, for Barthes, a process which reveals the fragment’s full potential.  The act of cutting creates limits, separation, and subsequently renders the empty present.  The visibility of the empty seems to be crucial for Barthes, especially when he speaks of these moments of vacillation of language, of tremblements, and in general of a state of decentering that he sees as absent from the occident. Acording to Barthes, it is the visibility of this emptiness, this delimitation of things that brings about a crucial state of awareness in the subject. As opposed to the Orient, the Occident sees itself as full, uniform and whole which doesn’t allow room for emptiness or silence.

One example in which Barthes exemplifies the importance of the visibility of the empty is in the passages dedicated to Bunrako. In it, the limits between the real and the illusion are visible thanks to the presence on the stage of both the puppet and the puppeteers. An abyss opens up between the two realms that becomes perceptible, and in that way, it is allowed to have an effect on the spectator (tremblements, vacillation). Just like in the passages of food, the limits are « des fissures naturelles » (26), in which no violence is present.

Barthes continually refers to language as the underlying structure of most things he sees in the Orient, especially when it comes to the visibility of the empty, which in the case of language translates to silence. Silence is a cut translated into the absence of sound. Silence does bring a state of vacillation, of tremblements.  The emptiness, the void, and the abyss are present and allow comprehension. Can you imagine language with no silence? Comprehension without the void that silence brings?  Paradoxically, then, it is not the image of a full, unified language which brings meaning, but a fragmentary one.  The language which takes into account silence (the cut), which brings about a state of vacilation but permits understanding through a means of awareness is the language of meaning and of understanding.