Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Signature as a "dense" aspect of written language

Nelson Goodman describes images as dense, continuous artifacts, in which "every difference makes a difference," as opposed to writing, which is defined primarily by the spaces inbetween elements and the need to distinguish one from another in a finite set. Thus we just need to know which letters we are looking at, the exact shape of them is not so significant (e.g., type face). This distinction parallels analog vs. digital approaches to conveying information.

An interesting exception is one's signature. A signature (originally one's "mark") is not just the letters that make up one's name; it is a graphical statement, a written image that can be analyzed and in which "every difference makes a difference."

One's signature is a graphical representation of the self, official enough to represent one's verified identity on legal documents and to pay for goods.

The signature functions like a photographic self-portrait, a ID card. Its power is interestingly revealed in this very funny story in which a comedian starts to sign increasingly bizarre "signatures" on credit card slips.

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