In the face of slanders from the regime’s propagandists, the cyber army of the Islamic Republic and BBC Persian staff, who called Iranian opposition and the large community of social media activists “bots” or “people sitting in Albania (referring to MEK members)”, a group of these activists took the initiative: they wrote their username on a piece of paper with their handwriting and a short message denying “being bot”; They wrote that they are human beings, Iranians, and critics of the regime’s actions and disgusted with the falsification, distortion, and censorship of news and events related to Iran. They took a picture of that piece of paper and put it on their account page. These photographs of the manuscripts dismantled the claims of regime intelligence agents and employees of the regime’s propaganda machine branches abroad. The photos refer the accusations against them to the authenticity of a unique, human handwriting. Their handwriting were like “signatures” which make any legal and social document valid.
The word “Signatura” in Latin is exactly in the same layer of meaning. But the word carries at least two other meanings. In libraries, the sign by which each copy of every book can be identified and made available among thousands of other books, or in archives and catalogs where a myriad of documents and objects are kept, an identification that by using it, accessing and finding any document in any archive is possible has the same name: Signatura! This identifier, this sign, is the same irreplaceable signature that is not an identity but a means of cognition and recognition, the same reference to existential originality. Without this identification and sign, no scientific research is possible. The third meaning rose somewhere in the history of science and disappeared in another period. “Signatura rerum” is a science that since ancient times has played a role in human thought processes based on a special view of the universe. A wisdom that discovers the relationships between beings and phenomena hidden in forms, attributes, apparent and internal properties that for example help fighting diseases in medicine. The resemblance of walnut kernel to human brain leads to inventing a medicine to treat some brain related diseases, sheep’s testicles brings back the lost masculinity to men, and drawing lines in the starry sky at night brings us “Gemini” and “Cancer” constellations.
This science flourished once again by alchemists and mystics in the European Renaissance before it left the scene of human wisdom in the Enlightenment. In this school of thought, nature and all beings are able to speak through “signatures.” Signatures, like hieroglyphs, are scattered on the surface of the world objects, and it is the “knowledge of signatures” that leads the wise individual to understand the language of existence and the universal knowledge that “in its soul is silent and devoid of reason.” (1) Paracelsus, one of the alchemists and sages of the Renaissance, describes the “knowledge of signatures” as the operator of human cognition: “By the science of signatures, all the secrets hidden in the universe are discovered. All creatures are known by their signatures, and it is by appealing to the signatures that the scholars have realized what lies in the plants and the nuclei of fruits and seeds.” (2) It was not possible to discover similarities between the scattered components of existence without the knowledge of reading signatures.
Centuries later, Walter Benjamin, in his research on “language in general and human language” (3), concludes that “an anonymous and silent language pervades all of nature” and “there is something called the language of beings.” It wasn’t long from then until the transfer of the “knowledge of signatures” from nature and existence to the realm of linguistics. Between sign and meaning and perception, Benjamin recognized a “signature” factor that formed the resemblance and relationship between these components, a factor beyond the superficial onomatopoetical similarities. According to him, “modern man in his perceptive power has lost what once enabled him to discern the resemblance between a man and a constellation.” (4) And the loss is nothing but the ability to perceive and read “signatures.” Because “there is no similarity without a signature. “The world of similarities can only be a marked world, a signed world.” (5)
The world of media and communication is permeated by language at all levels. Almost all news outlets in this “linguistic world” claim neutrality, except that neutrality is exactly what is structurally impossible in human languages. But what language makes possible for us is that by knowing the structure and relying on the pattern that the structure itself provides us, we can reveal the levels of propositions and texts by which the true nature of the media would shape in the reader’s mind. In other words: achieving the “media signature”! Just as a graphologist is able to make a connection by examining a manuscript with the dimensions of his author’s personality, we try to read the signatures of various media in this series of articles, entitled “One Report – Several Reporters.” None of the tools needed to do this are out of text. Neither text analysis nor news source verification is required.
Modern science of syntax is based on dichotomic structures. Each sentence or combination can be analyzed in two levels: syntagmatic and paradigmatic level. A syntagma consists of a chain of elements that are placed next to each other in terms of the linear structure of a sentence and on a horizontal surface, in such a way that several letters together form a word and a few words next to each other form a combination or sentence. On the syntagmatic axis, the components of a structure together form a more complex structure. “In syntagma, the elements combine, in paradigm, however, they face each other in a virtual manner.” (6)
Based on this linguistics pattern, different reports of the same news from different media in the columns that are placed next to each other create a syntagmatic relationship whose reading leads to the creation of a compound news, beyond what can be seen on this axis. Without the need for any narrative, suddenly, the sources themselves, the material itself, begin to narrate in their own language, a narrative on the vertical and virtual paradigmatic axes, that would remove the hardened elements of the media’s cemented narratives, and make them replaceable in the virtual world. The media signature is formed in the tension field created by these two axes, a signature that builds a bridge between the news and our knowledge of the intertextuality of the content.
Text translated from this article by Sahar.
(1). Signatura rerum, Giorgio Agamben
(2). Paracelsus: “Signatura ist scientia durch die all verborgen ding gefunden werden. Alle Ding[…] werden all durch ir signatum erkent und durch das signatum haben alle gelerte leut gefunden, was in den kreuten gesein ist, steinen, sameney.”
(3). Über Sprache überhaupt und über die Sprache des Menschen, Walter Benjamin
(4). “daß wir in unserer Wahrnehmung dasjenige nicht mehr besitzen, was es einmal möglich
machte, von einer Ähnlichkeit zu sprechen, die bestehe zwischen einer Sternkonstellation und
einem Menschen.”, Walter Benjamin, Probleme der Sprachsoziologie
(5). Michel Foucault, Ordnung der Dinge, orig. Les Mots et les Choses
(6). Roland Barthes, Elemente der Semiologie
cover: Max Kobus