light and polysemous meaning

I’ve either witnessed or participated in a few intriguing discussions about light in recent days.
Dr. Demetria Shabazz analyzes the built-in ideology of television technology that, as one example, uses fleshtone as the standard for establishing the light spectrum while filming. The producers don’t start from any fleshtone, however. Instead, the industry has chosen those in the orange/red zone, not yellow or brown, hence producing an aesthetic of identity, or – an aesthetic representation that produces certain kinds of identification. Dr. Shabazz illustrates this point with an analysis of the 1968 television series, Julia, which presents an ambivalent character through the presentation of Diahann Carroll, who is literally “white-washed” through the lighting (as well as through the discourses surrounding her performance). Diahann Carroll broke ground, cracking open television for subsequent shows such as Cosby. (I kept thinking about Nichelle Nichols’ role in Star Trek, a few years previous, as a groundbreaker for Carroll.)
I wanted to follow up more on the notion of polysemy – hoping to take it further than how audiences take (and make) different meanings about Julia/Diahann Carroll (or is it how they make meanings about Diahann Carroll/Julia?!) because (as an effect of the cause of how she is represented) to the situatedness of audience members (viewers) as a factor in the construction of meaningfulness (in this case concerning race and gender, obviously, and probably also heterosexuality – and class, etc., the list goes on!)
It isn’t only what one is looking at (and how the object of sight is presented) but also where one is looking from that contributes to the construction of meaning.
Case in point, some of the students from the class I just taught, College Writing, have gotten excited enough to generate their own anonymous discussion forum (we’ll see how long it lasts!) focused on writing. The primary designer and I have been discussing the color scheme (the look), because I want to be sure the site is as accessible as possible to people with vision impairments. He tried to convince me that his first choice of orange text on a black background is less straining to the eyes over time because these colors are in the lowest wavelength of visible light. (Black text on a white background is among the most visually-straining because of the high contrast – I guess I’m just used to this form of strain: if I gave myself more time the orange/black would become “normal,” too.)
Then, there’s all the info about light that I learned interpreting a Botany class: not just photosynthesis, either….the tickle of something else won’t cohere right now. Darn. See how meaning slips? It isn’t just the fact or the exposure to the fact, it is the retention, repetition, and use to which ‘the fact’ is put. The biochemistry of light first became real to me during a conversation with a stranger on a flight to an American Sign Language Teacher’s Association conference. Steve is an organic chemist who works with the effects of light on carbon molecules.
It seems to me that light works in a parallel fashion as language. (Ah, the botany lessons return – about the relationship between the colors we see as the frequencies of light not absorbed by particular pigments in the leaves. Maybe I’m all confused (certainly wouldn’t be the first time!), but isn’t this how language works? We absorb certain elements of what is said (those “sound frequences” that we “hear” – and process! or, in the case of the Deaf, that which penetrates vision and captures attention), missing additional elements whose absence figures in to the meaning which is acted upon . . .hmmm, yes, as I “write out loud” – it isn’t even so much that meaning is made (as in fixed in some kind of stability) but that meaning is assumed as a basis for further action. The assumptions can sometimes be identified retroactively through reductive (reflexive) processes and then (!) meaning becomes more fixed and/or more rigidly contested (for purposes of fixing). The fluidity of meaning-making is vanished as competing discourses seek to impose their sense upon whatever-has-happened.

4 thoughts on “light and polysemous meaning”

  1. Hey Steph, How are ya?
    I did not get into OSU law school. That was a bummer. I came to know today. Am kinda lost now. Anyway, just wanted to let you know. TC

  2. Jake, it’s the weirdest thing! I was just telling my girlfriend that sometimes – lately – when I’m writing I bet it looks like I’m high, but I’m not!
    It does seem to me that the close attention I’ve been paying to my own consciousness – to how (what) I perceive and the meaning(s) that I make from these perceptions – has altered my brain’s neurochemistry in some way. I’m not sure if I perceive more widely or broadly than before, but I’m certainly aware of – and sensitive to – perceptions and ways of making-meaning that were never before within my range.
    It feels both odd and exhilerating. 🙂

  3. Oh IlaBila. 🙁 DRATS! but there’s something better in store. Believe it – you’ll make it happen. I didn’t get into the phd program in Social Justice some years back and remember that lost feeling. But now I thank the heavens! 🙂

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