Beau Flux


Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

Any text is a new tissue of past citations. Bits of code, formulae,

rhythmic models, fragments of social languages, etc., pass into the

text and are redistributed within it, for there is always language

before and around the text.

Roland Barthes

Theory of the Text, 1981

Buffalo (the animal) from Buffalo, New York, buffalo (bother or bully) another

group of buffalo (the animal) that also happen to be from Buffalo, New York.

This sentence seems as though it should not hold meaning; it should read as

utter nonsense. And yet it can be understood beyond its basic terms, inferring

and supplying new ways of seeing and interpreting. Buffalo, the name of a city,

buffalo, the name of an animal, buffalo, a verb that describes the antagonistic

actions of the animal to which it refers.

Let us remember that Buffalo, the city itself, was named in an effort to describe a

creek bed, and the true origin of the name cannot be known for certain. The most

popular notion of Buffalo’s name is attributed to French fur traders and American

Indians, who called the small river by which Buffalo was settled “Beau Fleuve” or

“Beautiful River”. This river, now redundantly referred to as the Buffalo River

(Beautiful River River), connects the region’s canals to larger lakes, continuing

the flow of information and knowledge around the city named in its honor.

Bulgarian-French semiotician Julia Kristeva defined the term intertextuality,

derived from the Latin intertexto, meaning to intermingle while weaving. Kristeva

notes that any text is, “a mosaic of quotations’; [an] absorption and a

transformation of another.”(66). The notion of intertextuality is can be utilized for

the purpose of making diversions of meaning within a single phrase.  We can

understand text as image, text as sound, text as video, as all of these sources

are integral components of our multimedia language. These modes of

communication share in the ability to convey limitless significances, beyond the

set designations of the written word.

Language is an arbitrary elaboration of categories; a sign is not a sign of any

sign, unless there is an established social convention that grants its meaning.

Alternatively, we may consider the differences between sign and symbol, where

a symbol represents a cultural context, but relies on shared knowledge to

distribute meaning. We cannot know the true intentions of anyone, any thing, or

any word. We know that misunderstanding and confusion are integral elements

of any human interaction, and yet we continue to try to explain ourselves, always

treading on the edge of someone else’s misperception. We find ways to make

meanings that overlap with others’ meanings, and often meet the fundamental

crux of shared understanding.

Words become the evidence used to glean information and make meanings, and

are used as critical sites for interpretation. We can wonder about the myriad of

emotions, thoughts or connections that become “lost in translation”, but what of

the information gained in re-communicating? When we try to communicate ideas

in different ways, presenting new contexts under unexpected conditions, a

wonderful convergence may occur, where the initial purpose for a statement

becomes obsolete, by acknowledging the potential for meaning in the articulation

of the mediated message. What is found in translation?

As we begin to identify with the City of Buffalo, New York, in the United States,

both as students and citizens, we must confront the bevy of pre conceived

notions and associations that come with the territory. Instead of addressing what

we have learned or come to know about Buffalo on our own terms, we have

turned our attention to those who address Buffalo publically, using social medias

as an outlet for sharing their admiration, irritation, or commitment to their own

Buffalos. Working from the model phrase supplied by logologist Dmitri Borgmann

(1967), we have constructed an ever-changing mode for talking about the place

we are now. How can we explain Buffalo to you without the Buffalo of others?

Curiously enough, Borgmann’s phrase “Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo”,

(which can be constructed with two more ‘buffalos’) is in and of itself proof that

words are multiplicities. It is important to consider the social power of the hashtag

symbol, which works as a connecting device amongst topics, and has the

potential to bring “Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo,” into real time

intertextual performance; absorbing and transforming itself before our eyes.

Beaux Flux works to explore and examine the many methods for illustrating this

sentence, leaving the meaning up for interpretation.



Kristeva, Julia. “Word, Dialogue and Novel."  Desire in Language: a Semiotic

Approach to Literature and Art.  Ed. Leon S. Roudiez.  Trans. T. Gora,

Alice Jardine, and Leon S. Roudiez.  New York: Columbia UP, 1980. 66.