concept: alibi figure

I use the term alibi in the same sense as Roland Barthe. His paradigmatic instance of same is the image of the “negro soldier” in salute as example for, or symbol of, empire. The figure therefore has a “this stands for that” metonymic function. By alibi figure I refer to the use of alibis in discourse as a technique for maintaining face. Alibi figures are instruments of face-work.


NOTA: An alibi is not a lie. I use the term in a neutral sense.

Example: I tell you that I consulted with several smart people before I invested in a losing enterprise. My meeting with several smart people in this case assumes the property of an alibi as it attenuates my loss of face. My reference to a meeting with smart people neither justifies my decision nor provides a rationale. For all you know those three smart people begged me not to invest. Rather, my meeting stands in the place of—symbolizes, stands as an example for—a rational process of deliberation, just as Barthe’s “negro soldier” stands in the place of a multi-racial, polyglot, post-western empire. In both cases an alibi is issued. In Barthes case the alibi is a lie—an instance of propaganda, or an ideological figure. In mine it is not.

Further example: Obama in his speeches often refers to his meetings with policy elites. When I refer to this as an alibi figure I mean nothing other than that the references to his meetings stand in the place of a rational process of deliberation. Because the figure stands un-elaborated, it assumes the character of an example or a symbol. Please note: This does not mean that no meeting took place. This does not mean that the meeting was unproductive. This does not mean that I believe that the U.S. President wants to deceive anyone. What this does mean is that face is at stake; the figure mitigates the risk of a particular line. Do you doubt a policy initiative? You at least know that e.g. Obama consulted experts and elites to arrive at his decision.

In sum, in this particular sense or in any sense, an alibi may be true.


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