Farm Families and Floating Signifiers
09 January 2013
'Farm Families' is the name of a game that was one of Charlie's favorites and that he has been saying the phrase at decibel level-volume, at school and at home. While the phrase is steeped in meaning, and emotion, for him, it is become a floating signifier, its signifié -- signified -- doubly erased, the toy with its numerous plastic parts including small figurines of farm animals (horse, sheep, pig, cow and chicken), plastic haystacks, and a tan-red plastic base that played animal soumds or 'Old McDonald Had a Farm" having been long ago cast into the garbage or given away.
In a larger context, 'Farm Families' is no more as Milton-Bradley, its manufacturer, has (the last time I checked, some years ago) renamed the game 'Old McDonald Had a Farm' and packaged it in a smaller square-shaped box instead of the generous rectangular one that held Farm Families.
So when Charlie says 'Farm Families,' it sounds as if he is saying something about, indeed, a farm and something about families provided, of course, that he is hitting the /f/ sounds (a very tricky one for him resulting in him being in the double digits when he did not say his last name was 'Disher'). Jim and I have been able to intervene in that word's sense of 'coming' (from the Latin verb venire) 'between' or 'amid' (from the Latin preposition inter), supplying the definition -- of how one of Charlie's first speech and ABA therapists, Tara, bought the toy to give him variety besides lotto and other matching games, Barnyard Bingo, and Lucky Ducks; how the ordering of the haystacks and the plastic figures and the sonic base took precedence over playing the game so that, when the alignment was 'off' by a hair's breadth, Charlie swiped it all off his blue Little Tykes table on which he then hit his head.
The signifié is a story that just took a good part of the previous paragraph to detail.
For Charlie, and for Jim and me, it always exists when he says and hears, and when we say and hear, 'Farm Families.'
Otherwise, it's a floating signifier unattached to meaning or, too, to any thing.
it is somewhat ironic that a phrase and its meaning should be so tightly wound for him, given that pegging signifiers and signifieds together has been quite the challenge for Charlie. He did not, as the cheerful Indian doctor at the St. Paul Children's Hospital explained that children do after checking 18-month old Charlie's ears for infection, hear me say 'juice' while holding a cup of such in front of him and connect the sound (signifier) to the object it referred to (signified). Starting when he was a toddler (after diagnosis, after the initial chaotic starting-up of therapies in a home program), we started saying signifiers (words) to Charlie and, by association and positive responses, he learned to connect them with signifieds (generally objects you could hold up or individual people -- abstract concepts always posing more, many difficulties).
In behavioral speak, 'floating signifier' is something like 'noncontextual language,' sound removed from meaning and thereofore, to those not in the know), meaningless, so long ago was it sundered -- the connection cut -- from what it was referring to.
None of this, of course, stops Charlie from saying 'Farm Families.' Accordingly, we provide the backstory, as long as, and provided that we can.
Could Farm Families be Charlie's version of Marvel Proust's madeleine?
Posted by: Jill | 10 January 2013 at 04:51
That's Marcel, of course. My phone can't spell.
Posted by: Jill | 10 January 2013 at 04:52
Somewhat, though it's a very fraught recollection du temps perdu or rather, des choses perdues, I think.
Posted by: Kristina Chew | 10 January 2013 at 05:17