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Sunday, June 24, 2007


The Clarion found this week’s (06.24.07) William Safire “ON LANGUAGE” column fascinating. Safire examined what has happened to the meaning of the word unique. He traced how the meaning and usage of unique once considered unmodifiable by “very, quite, rather, almost or practically” has degenerated so much that it has been replaced by the phrase one-off. Safire’s definition of one-off, “without precedent, easily copied but impossible to perfectly reproduce or clone,” is spot-on.

Paradigms have shifted beneath unique in ways that undermine its meaning. One angle from which to consider the paradigm shift that has contributed to the process of the debasement of unique stems from the post-industrial revolution mode of mass production. To give but two examples; we live in a country where hundreds of thousands of virtually identical, machined to be the same, Toyota Camry’s are produced, but each one issued its own unique vehicle identification number, to become ‘your car.’ Similarly hundreds of thousands of Intel Inside CPU’s are manufactured annually, virtually identical, but boxed differently, each one shipped with its own unique IP address to become ‘your computer.’ Unique has lost something when societally we are asked to understand objects as both mass produced and individually unique. This is a classic paradigm shift, mass production has required that objects barely distinguishable to the layman as unique. Objects that are virtually identical, machined to be the same, replicas, are asked to exist is separate, discreet, individually identifiable entities. This conundrum is omni-present in the post-industrial global present, thus the need for the phrase one-off which stands in stark repose to the mass production of nominally unique products.

An one-off product is handcrafted and irreplicable. Works of Art are understood as inherently one-off. To say some thing or object is one-off is to set it in the paradigm of a different mode of creation, pre-mass production, pre-genetic engineering, where each creature, animal or plant, was self-evidently understood as one-off. Separately from modes of creation/production, we live in an age where unique has been swallowed by the level of parsing possible. For example, we are asked to understand that there are unique species. Isn’t this phrase, “unique species” an oxymoron? The grouping of creatures denoted by species stands in opposition to the original meaning of unique, as Safire refers to it, “the paradigm of absolute solitude.” Today, we face a peculiar cognitive dissonance where we are asked to accept that very different looking dogs form one unique species. Even beneath that division where once we thought each creature had its own unique DNA, that too, through cloning, has come to be understood as potentially replicable. What then can be left of our perception of uniqueness?

The Clarion would argue that the paradigm shifts that have occurred triggered the need for the phrase one-off. A linguistic revolt as it were to bring back the sense of originality, craftsmanship, creativity, Art and vitality that was once inherent in unique and omni-present in the worlds where humans dwelled. A “prototype” is the first of its kind, but it is exactly the wrong synonym for one-off. Its meaning bespeaks of its desire to be machined, to be replicated. A one-off object is “one of a kind,” crafted individually, without a thought of its replicability.

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

Long time, no Post 

Dear Readers,

Humblest apologies for the delay between posts. Here at the offices of the Clarion Content, in Durham, North Carolina, we have been focusing our efforts on the publication of the long awaited second volume of the hard copy. We hope that it will be shooting off the presses soon.

In the meantime we will back with more commentary in this space asap, including a June baseball update and an immigration policy piece. We were glad to see the George Bush-Ted Kennedy-John Kyl immigration legislation wheeze to a halt in the Senate this week. Not because it was a defeat for Bush, but rather because it would have been a totally ineffectual mess.



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