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allegories in design language



created March 24th 2000

universe seen through the Hubble telescope
This image, taken by the Hubble telescope in the NASA space exploration program, stands in our analysis of design language, as an allegory, for infinity. The overwhelming idea of infinity was in the mind of Rietveld designing the red blue chair with its modular frame and its 3D space joints. The vertical and horizontal components that characterize his chair, just as the plus minus signs in a painting by Mondriaan, refers to physics and to the most elementary experience of upright going man, of gravity and space. Verticality, on an astronomic scale, is to point from the earth towards the sun and horizontality perpendicular to it, both apparently point towards the infinite. As the reality of the infinite nor its contrary can not be proven, we are, in the words of Lyotard ( note 1), in the realm of narratives justifying some theory or religious belief. 

The belief here is the existence of a universal harmony. Allegories are actually didactic tales with a didactic or moral intention, stories about abstract concepts visualized with concrete images of observable facts, like animals, humans or stars. Whereas symbols instead are conventions, adapted by social groups, to express by means of metaphors, not by concrete objects or persons, otherwise inexpressible abstract concepts. 

For Roman Jakoson, allegory is located on the crossroad of sintagma's, the configuration of the components of a sign system, and paradigm's, the, often hidden, meanings that can be connected to them. 

Walter Benjamin was very interested in allegories as signs that he defines as the topos of the encounter of Endlessness and Eternity, as a * street corner *, with * secret affinities, undetermined relationships, ur scenarios of consumption *;  or also because of their tendency to suppress the details and the use of ancient images, as " ruins that upkeep elements of antiquity, that allow to reconstruct 'a new whole'.: *; * allegory saves the world of the Gods, because she understands the perishability of things and (simultaneously) cares to preserve them in eternity * (note 2). 

Allegories and Symbols belong to the upper category, with symbolic emphasis, in Peircean semiology. 
(The Rietveld red blue chair as a symbol will be treated in the next page). 

He names the sign, that we here consider in particular, a Decent Symbol or a proposition; even if he did not call it an allegory, this seemed to me however a handsome name for it. For Peirce signs being constituent parts of more complex signs, the entire universe is actually a sign or a proposition. ( note 3) 

This so called proposition reveals what community can except, if not always actually excepts, as a definition of some reality, "so that is has only a potential existence". In our case of the Rietveld chair it is the alleged story, or the allegory, of the existence of harmony in the universe. This * proposition is a compound sign consisting of a subject (the universe) connected to its semiotic object (the chair, the joints) through its predicate by association of general ideas *. (note 3)

In the Cabbala the sign is called Chockmah, or Wisdom, in contrast to Knowledge, Binah. It is a symbol of the dynamic, positive action of the divine mind. Cosmic reality is effectively an adequate metaphor of this force. Says Moses Cordovero (...-1570), the famous rabbi of the cabbalistic palestinian Safed School del Chockmah: *... Heavenly Wisdom, though hidden and transcendent, extends itself over all existing things. They say: Lord; how are thine works so vast and many/ You have ordered them all wisely * (note 4)
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note 1 Jean FranÁois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, Manchester University Press,  1984 (1979), 
note 2 Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Werke, Frankfurt am Main, 1972-1989, I-pp.298, 354, 397; V-2, p.993 (transl. AvO)
note 3 Floyd Merrell, Semiotics in the Postmodern Age, p.327
note 3 Floyd Merrell, op.cit., p.144
note 4 Moses Cordovero, The Palm Tree of Deborah
in his Pardess rimmonim, Cordovero presents a whole Lexicon of Symbols (Gerschom Scholem, Die Jüdische Mystik, Suhrkamp, '80 (1969), p.431, note13) 
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andries van onck