Talk about non human agency. A marathon isn't even a thing, really, it's an idea, a concept. And yet it has profound agency in the lives of people identifying themselves as marathoners. It forces me out of bed at 5am. It influences my day-to-day footwear. It is a rock in the current of my social life. Since June, the marathon-- as a concept, as a future event, as an idea-- has influenced nearly every type of choice I make. And the subway advertisement has the right of it: it's not just a race, it's a marathon. It's a specific marathon: the New York City marathon! It is, in and of itself, a dynamic and (slowly) moving symbol of the city's spirit. Beyond that, though, the marathon is interpreted by every runner as a sign of something very individual to each person. For Peirce and his semiotics, the marathon is an excellent example of how fluid and interconnected signs are.
When I ran 20 miles last week by myself, it was a long run. My mom said good job, I ate a sandwich, and I took a nap. When I run a mere 6 miles more than that in 13 days, hundreds of thousands of people will say good job, I will get a medal, I will run past TV cameras, people will say "man, let's go celebrate with some sandwiches!" and I will take a nap. It will be the marathon.For me (and the friends with whom I huff and puff through training runs), the marathon is motivational for us precisely because of its symbolic power, because of its semiosis.
One thing is for sure: on November 3rd, I will run 26.2 miles through New York City and it will be a marathon. It will not just be my tired feet chasing down miles, it will be a trek through meaning. And after it's done and I've eaten my sandwich and taken my nap, my memories of the marathon and training for it will shift its agency and its sign relation. Semiosis will move on!
(photo credit: first and third, second)