Desperately Seeking:

Semiotic Nomadism in the Twenty First Century


by Geoffrey Sykes

Launch out on his story, Muse, daughter of Zeus, start from where you will—sing for our time too.”


2nd June 2010. Coluzzi Bar, Sydney airport, 3pm


I am sitting in the Coluzzi Bar at Sydney airport, regretting the state of flight and fear anxiety that caused me to book in luggage some three hours before my 6pm take off on my carefully prepared, three week three week exodus to Bangkok, Berlin, Finland and Vietnam. I am writing this note in my black and red bordered notebook as if it were intended for some audience at some time, but actually it has only been an hour or less since I decided to start making a journal of this trip at all. Let me explain.


The first thing I did in this unplanned waiting at an airport (an experience now characteristic of citizens of the global village) was to check my personal effects. These were methodically stored in the two side pockets of the smaller bag that I had kept after check in a cabin luggage. It is too bulky to serve that purpose, and I should be shopping for a practical carry bag but there are reasons as I will explain, for not shopping at present.


A passport (new, after weeks of searching for the old one, I will not leave this out of my sight), old travellers’ cheques (from early trip 20 yrs ago), wallet and credit card ticket, info itinerary, all located precisely in folders or alone in the zippered side pockets. Thus begins a habit of checking and over-checking that will occur many times each day.


The cabin luggage may be oversized, but it does have copious zippered pockets and sections, and on the side opposite to the two pockets is one longer section that comfortably takes unfolded A4 pages. In this sleeve are the three papers that I will give at the International summer school of semiotics, at the hotel Valtionhotelli, a Russian inspired castle-hotel situated on the Finnish side of the Russian-Finnish border, some 200 k north east of Helsinki. That is a main, perhaps the main, purpose of this international sojourn.


I browse one paper, highlighting the odd line and phrase in pencil but reluctant to undertake any process of revision: they are final drafts, they will do, although the first, titled, “Gesturing in an Indeterminate Field of Signs”, really does need some attention. But I am not in the mood to revise formal papers. The title, now read in this public place, pleases. It sounds appropriate as a conference paper title. So it should: the paper is the most original of the three, with a careful argument about fleeting body language in everyday talk. I feel and check for a memory stick that is securely kept in the bottom of the sleeve. I must have decided this would be the safest place for it. It is there. There are electronic versions of the paper on the memory stick, along with an additional paper published in the international journal of semiotics, Semiotica. I am very proud of that publication, and have brought the paper in case it can be cited or circulated in any way on the trip. There are also files of various unpublished notes, quotations, extracts, references, to recent readings. The three papers are also located on an email account on my phone, and on a server – I have left nothing to chance and am well prepared. The content of the smaller pockets is valuable property, but the paper-clipped papers on the other side of the luggage is equally valuable in another way, as intellectual property. These papers are my passport to a world of ideas and perspectives that is just as essential as the blue document branded by the Commonwealth of Australia. With material clothing already checked, this satchel of ideas becomes my belonging, the lightweight dressage of meanings that will accompany my odyssey into the Northern hemisphere.