Aposiopesis and Cultural Imagination: 
Unfinishedness as a Principle of Living Societies

Auteur / Author: 
Guido IPSEN (Department of Design, University of Applied Sciences Münster, Allemagne)
Vendredi 26 Août 2011 - 9:00


On the basis of working principles of cultural semiosis, especially its aspect of (in theory) never-ending evolution, unfinishedness as such seems much more than a mere discoursive device. The unfinishedness of cultural signs shapes their (in Peirce’s words) “potential in futuro”, i.e., the option for the cultural community to develop said signs further. Imagination, in this sense, is a semiotic machine and is subject to cognition as are signs based on visible, audible or other perceptions. In the turn from the 20th to the 21st century, societal phenomena are more and more seen as processes, not as structures. However, a society “on the move” or “in flux” will find it hard to construct “finishedness” both in its discoursive artifacts and its performative acts, such as political programs, architectural infrastructure, city planning, etc. Two examples for this are the “social reforms” which tend to resemble revolving processes without true “ends”, or the continuous re-construction of inner cities, where buildings are built to be recyclable, not to last. Hence, in both the world of discourse and in the world of techne, the unfinishedness of culture replaces the myth of structural “finishedness”. This view may be explored by looking at both visual and discoursive material from, e.g., the fields of media and marketing. The soap opera, political speeches, filmic narratives, and the commonplace contemporary consumer good share the intrinsic feature of aposiopesis: In both the media and propaganda, we find unfinishedness. The continuous cliff-hanger, leaving the ending of a -for the most part trivial — scene to the imagination of the audience, thereby constructing dramatic importance of the — otherwise inconsequential — moment, is a key device in modern filmmaking. The idea is the creation of want: The audience must never cease in its hunger for the solution to the riddle. The same goes for a substantial number of political speeches, which require unfinishedness for a number of reasons; not the least being the fact that politicians need to avoid to be nailed down on specific discourse. Finally, consumer goods, which (if we accept objects to have a “narration” (Greimas) or identify their signness with a “horizon of experience” (Peirce)) may appear to feature loose ends in similar manner. The narration of usage of an item is never complete; additional gadgets, necessary regular updates, enhancements or what have you define the potentially “more complete” narration of the item’s usability, which we may find in both marketing discourse, meta-discourse on consumer rights, and finally in artistic representations of said discourses. Let us explore relevant material to find aposiopesis as a cultural principle on the surface of cultural practice.