Everyday Semiotics

Sunday, December 17, 2006


To resolve oneself to a task, or a programme of tasks, is the easiest of tasks. It doesn't take a semiotician to point out that fulfilling all of one's New Year's resolutions is easier said than done.

As a social phenomenon, New Year's resolutions function as a locus of reciprocal praise and encouragement. Mechanically, they are rather like diets (see below) in that they require self enforcement but also allow temporary lapses and, subsequently, collective comiseration. No wonder so many New Year's resolutions are to begin a diet, or to be more conscientious about dieting.

While the paradigm of resolutions seems to be the regimen, the sustained activity, this needn't be the only route. On the other hand there are achievable goals, achievable in the short run if only one would stop procrastinating or finally rearrange one's schedule to accomodate them. They can be a finite as reading a book or climbing a mountain or as infinite as learning a new language (though in the infinite register one is precariously close to the systematic, the regimented, and therefore most in danger of failing to fulfill the goal).

Recently I came across on a friend's blog a list of 100 nonresolutions; a list, rather, of goals to be accomplished over the course of the next year. The writer indicted whether or not (or to what degree) the goals had been fulfilled. One could easily apply to this list all the critiques that have been rolled into the antimaterial/Christian-lite ideology of New Year's resolutions. This ideology has an imperative of self improvement, at least so far as self improvement is construed as meaning altering one's life in toto for some good effect: donating more to charity, quitting smoking, cooling one's temper, &c. But to remove these value judgements for a moment and peer in at the obstacles to personal contentment, we find them numbering two: procrastination and forgetfulness.

Write a list, so your goals are not forgotten. Enumerate as many or as few goals as you can think of; in fact, add to the list throughout the year, and cross off those goals that have been met. The pleasure of illiminating tasks, of accomplishing something great or small is nonetheless impetus for further movement. It's the antidote for stagnation and a propellor away from ideology.

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