The Suicide of the Author: The Swastika and the Limits of Meaning.

Fields, Paul (2016) The Suicide of the Author: The Swastika and the Limits of Meaning. In: The Art of Punk, 25th November 2016, University of Northampton.

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Despite being one of the oldest known symbols (Taylor, 2003), signifying a wide range of different things throughout its history – from the Hindu sun god Surya (Greg, 1885), to ‘new life’ (Campbell, 2002), or simply ‘luck’ (Kvaerne, 1995) – the coupling of the swastika with Hitler’s Nazi Party in the 1920s affected in the symbol a supposed irreversible adjustment of meaning. So complete was the Nazi Party’s ownership of the symbol that, following the atrocities of the Second World War, it could no longer exist ambiguously (Heller, 2008). My paper will draw upon the work of Roland Barthes (1977) and Jacques Derrida (1974) to consider the validity of this assertion, reflecting upon two pertinent purportedly out-of context subcultural uses of the symbol since 1945. Looking primarily at UK punks of the late 1970s, with Hells Angels of the 1950s and 1960s offered as a counterpoint, I analyse the milieu in which each use of the symbol was placed in order to uncover whether this post-war swastika – and specifically the Nazi swastika, tilted 45 degrees and “within the white, red and black colours of the flag of the old Reich” (Quinn, 1994, p.146) – can rid itself of the meaning imposed on it by the Nazis. Both the punk and Hells Angels subcultures used the Nazi swastika supposedly out of context. However, I argue, while both groups necessarily required the symbol’s ‘Nazi’ meaning in order to attempt to overturn it, punk was far more equipped to do this. Punk utterly subverted the Nazi swastika, through a series of semiotic strategies, to create in the symbol something altogether different.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Depositing User: RED Unit Admin
Date Deposited: 08 Feb 2021 09:07
Last Modified: 08 Feb 2021 09:07

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