Culture Decoder


Image for Vurt

The DECODER series — to which SEMIOVOX has invited our semiotician colleagues from around the world to contribute — explores fictional semiotician-esque action as depicted in books, movies, TV shows, etc.

Two opposing ideas converge in the semiotician’s role. The first: You are a knowledgeable specialist. The second: You will enter unfamiliar worlds with naïvety, explore them with fresh eyes, and learn new things from them. 

Jeff Noon’s 1993 sf novel Vurt depicts an alternate England consumed by narcotic portals into other worlds; apparently virtual worlds, except that a traveller to these realms may bring back real artefacts. The protagonist, Scribble, is an explorer of these virtual worlds; each of them immerses him in a distinct sensory experience far from the (version of) Manchester, England in which he lives. The sensory experiences are all-consuming, and must be visited and navigated with wisdom and caution… because as Scribble discovers, you can get lost there. The virtual worlds he explores contain portals to other virtual worlds. Also, each virtual world is inhabited by distinct archetypes, who are able to cross the divides frequently enough to add a critical dynamic to the story. 

All of which relates very closely to the adventures of semioticians, who are tasked via each new assignment with exploring a previously unseen world nested within our own default version of reality; and with bringing back knowledge about how to mine it for its riches, say, or how to inhabit it and thrive there. Perhaps it’s the world of Male Midlife Anxiety, or of Dental Health Care. Each is its own self-formed virtual reality within our default uber-reality. 

We journey inwards into cultural “pocket universes,” arriving in unfamiliar and sometimes quite strange conceptual spaces. Deploying outsider thinking as our magic amulet, we work out the language of that space, determine how to navigate it, and negotiate with its archetypes. As a tangible example of how these worlds operate, we bring back with us artefacts and other evidence. The mechanisms of action and interaction via which these other worlds operate? They tend to be concealed within the worlds’ materials. By decoding these materials we learn these worlds’ native sensory languages.

These are nested worlds. Each contains portals to other worlds. Sometimes it’s our mission to discover the connections between, say, Midlife Anxiety and Dental Health Care — for example, by utilising previously gathered knowledge from a third world, such as Post-Divorce Dating. 

It requires boldness to explore not only a new world, but the portals between it and other worlds — in order to bring back enriching insights that stretch our too-narrow concepts of the world being explored. However, if we’re too bold, we may travel down too many layers, lose our way, and become snow-blind and lost amidst a blizzard of signifiers. 

In our version of the real world, there is no Game Cat to guide us back home.

DECODER: Adelina Vaca (Mexico) on ARRIVAL | William Liu (China) on A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE | Tim Spencer (England) on VURT | Ramona Lyons (USA) on BABEL-17 | Rachel Lawes (England) on NICE WORK | Alfredo Troncoso (Mexico) on THE ODYSSEY | Gabriela Pedranti (Spain) on MUSIC BOX | Charles Leech (Canada) on PATTERN RECOGNITION | Lucia Laurent-Neva (England) on LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY | Whitney Dunlap-Fowler (USA) on THE GIVER | Colette Sensier (England / Portugal) on PRIESTDADDY | Jamin Pelkey (Canada) on THE WONDER | Maciej Biedziński (Poland) on KOSMOS | Josh Glenn (USA) on LE GARAGE HERMÉTIQUE | Antje Weißenborn (Germany) on BABYLON BERLIN | Ximena Tobi (Argentina) on SIX FEET UNDER | Mariane Cara (Brazil) on ROPE | Maria Papanthymou (Greece) on MY FAMILY AND OTHER ANIMALS | Chirag Mediratta (India) on BLEACH | Dimitar Trendafilov (Bulgaria) on THE MATRIX | Martha Arango (Sweden) on ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE | Becks Collins (England) on THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY | Ivan Islas (Mexico) on THE NAME OF THE ROSE | Paulina Goch-Kenawy (Poland) on THE SENSE OF AN ENDING | Eugene Gorny (Thailand) on SHUTTER ISLAND & FRACTURED.

Also see these international semio series: COVID CODES | SEMIO OBJECTS | MAKING SENSE WITH… | COLOR CODEX | DECODER

Tags: Books, Decoder, Science Fiction