Download PDF by Bruce Robbins: Commodity Histories

By Bruce Robbins

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One remarkable attribute of commodity histories, a unexpectedly ubiquitous style of well known non-fiction, is a definite overkill of their subtitles. A consultant pattern may possibly contain, say, Corn and Capitalism: How a Botanical Bastard Grew to worldwide Dominance; Tobacco: A Cultural background of ways an unique Plant Seduced Civilization; The Potato: How the standard Spud Rescued the Western World; The global of Caffeine: The technological know-how and tradition of the World’s most well-liked Drug; Cod: A Biography of the Fish that modified the World; and Mauve: How One guy Invented a colour that modified the World. basically a bit much less over-the-top than the “changed the world” clause, which additionally looks in fresh histories of vanilla, apartment cats, ping pong balls, dishwashing liquid, and pocket lint, is the trend for two-word titles within which an adjective, frequently a commodity-identifying colour, is paired with the main coveted of helpful metals. a few examples are Blue Gold (water), White Gold (rubber), Black Gold (oil), and Green Gold (tea and marijuana). Such titles recommend that every one of those commodities, even the humblest, have the facility to get continents came upon, dynasties toppled, mountains moved. We take a few of these commodities with no consideration, yet them all have replaced the world.


Robbins, Bruce. "Commodity Histories." PMLA, 120.2 (Mar., 2005): 454-463.

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I contend that if we recognize that signs are fundamental units of language, if we recognize that meanings are necessary attributes of signs, if we recognize that the idea of signs having no meanings is plain nonsense, we must recognize that syntax — that is, the study of how words link with one another to form sentences and parts of sentences — is the study of the meanings of these links. Therefore we must consider syntax to be part of semantics. Generally, grammar and seman­ tics are not two separate domains of the study of language.

Similarly, the essence of language is in the rules of its grammar, not in biology. Both games and languages are supported by biology, but their essence is in that they are systems of rules serving as specific forms of human communication. 4 Methodological fallacy of reductionism Both natural languages and languages of science are cultural entities. We must correctly understand the relation of languages to human nature. As part of hu­ man nature language has biological inheritance. But is biological inheritance a cause shaping languages as cultural entities?

Any semiotics of a nonlinguistic system must use language semiotics for self-interpretation. Hence, any semiotics of a non-linguistic system can exist only due to the existence of language semiotics. It does not matter that in this case language is used as an instrument rather than object of analysis. The important thing is that language is the interpretant of all other semiotic systems, both linguistic and nonlinguistic ones. Language is the only system that is semiotic with respect to both its formal structure and functioning.

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