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“A school of linguistics that developed in the U.S. during the 1930s?1950s, characterized by such an approach and by an emphasis on the overt formal features of language, esp. of phonology, morphology, and syntax.” – dictionary.com
Ferdinand de Saussure analyzed the underlying structure?present in?language?through the study of?modern linguistics. The fieild, once based in the historical tracing of words, was revolutionized by Saussure’s idea that assignation of signs is random. Saussure introduced?his Course of General Linguistics?to the University of Geneva in 1906, and his theories flourished only through his students’ notes.
Saussure emphasizes the characteristics of language and linguistic value.?He says on pg. 963 in the Norton Anthology. ??ready made ideas exist before words; it does not tell us whether a name is vocal or psychological in nature.??The Latin word ?arbor? is?randomly selected, not predisposed,?to mean ?tree.?
Linguistic value can be likened to a coin. ?Its content is fixed only by the concurrence of everything that exists outside it? (pg.969).? In other words, the value of the metal that makes up the coin but social acceptance of that value makes it worth it’s monetary value.?A rare painting can also be of use. The?value?of supplies to create it is worth far less than?the value it has in society. Saussure applies this?analogy to signs. They gain value from both their difference from one another and their acceptance in society.
This brings us to a class discussion on Cara W’s Blog?demonstrating Saussure’s theory?through the equation SIGN=SIGNIFIED + SIGNIFIER. The ?sign? can?t exist without the other two.??Tree,? without association with a mental image, becomes meaningless. Sassure?s point? Words aren?t the most meaningful part of speech; it?s the meaning behind the words that?is important.
Where Saussure Breaks Down:
For Saussure, ?The very possibility of putting the things that relate to language into graphic form allows dictionaries and grammars to represent it accurately, for language is a storehouse of sound-images, and writing s the tangible form of those images? (961). The problem is that he completely disregards someone who is deaf or blind with?alternative forms?of communication. If ?language is a storehouse of sound-images? what makes up language for someone who can not hear those sounds?
What the 330 Theorists think:
Elizabeth and Kellie?identify Saussure’s key points, explaining?how?indivisible thought and sound are distinguishable only through difference while Michael contemplates how the value of language is gained via a socially adopted structure. Nick finds Saussure helpful in that, as the “father of?linguistics,”?Saussure provides the?theoretical basis?for?the new theories to follow.
DECONSTRUCTION, A SUBSET OF POST-STRUCTURALISM
?A philosophical and critical movement, starting in the 1960s and applied to the study of literature, that questions all traditional assumptions about the ability of language to represent reality and emphasizes that a text has no stable reference or identification because words essentially only refer to other words and therefore a reader must approach a text by eliminating any metaphysical or ethnocentric assumptions through an active role of defining meaning, sometimes by a reliance on new word construction, etymology, puns, and other word play,? – dictionary.com
Jacques Derrida posits his theory in?the realm of metaphysics and philosophy, challenging both. He believes there are no absolutes. Truth is always questionable.?That which we know?exists only until proven false. Since broken theories are all we have to examine what Derrida believes?to be?a broken structure, we must use them.
Jacques Derrida may be the most hated man in class (or at least the John Urbanski Lounge) for saying the center is not the center. Derrida believes that societal structures create the center of social belief. He notes that after WWII, the Holocaust, and other historical events, Europe began to recognize other cultures, each possessing their own center.
To transfer this idea to literature, we can see a text within a text as having a different center than the entire work, although one supplements the other and creates a whole. While the elements we work with to create literature and art belong to a closed system, combinations of these pieces form in free play creating an infinite number of possibilities.
Derrida’s idea of bricolage, a jack-of-all-trades in French,?is about how we analyze and examine what we read. The theories we use to examine texts are not perfect but they are our tools at hand. The biggest obstacle for us, as readers and theorist, is to remember that we don?t have all the answers (no matter how much we wish or think we do).
Where?Derrida Breaks Down:
Derrida’s problem?is that his theory isn’t easily explained or practiced. Derrida himself could never?give talking points about?it during interviews. Leo Damrosch, Harvard’s English department chairman even said, “It’s hard to do it well. What it wants is a kind of intense struggle with a text to dig out things the text doesn’t know it’s saying. People with average imaginations and no particular fascination with literature couldn’t do it. You have to be really smart.”
What the 330 Theorists think:
Sherri?raises some?good questions?about how we?muddle through?to understand Derrida’s free play and center. Annie explores?his?structural concept of center?as?basis?for our reality while Aliya talks about how cultural centers are not singularly universal.
“An intellectual movement derived from structuralism but questioning the basis upon which the structures of society, language, and mores have been conceptualized”?- MSN Encarta
Deleuze and Guattari’s?post-structuralist analysis?roots itself?in structure, as choatic as it is. They replace the author, as the primary subject of inquiry, with the reader, culture and literature. The decentralization of the author offers a more organic approach to study, one which focuses on the many voices within the text. Their famous metaphor is likening decentralization to the characteristics of?a rhizome. Their work inspired interesting internet play with no true center. You?can experience it for yourself at the Rhiz-o-mat.
Deleuze and Guattari’s?Theory:
Rhizomes, unlike tree roots (don?t worry, this is not another tree example), grow in every direction. The French Duo talks about how rhizomes are representative of the many voices within texts. The ideas behind the writing are what inspire the critical analysis that readers put into their own reading. These form the?shoots and roots where ideas grow and stem from one another,?similar to that idea of?multiple voices in a novel.?All the discourse within the text can?be traced back to the initial bulbous rhizome or text.
Deleuze and Guattari even feel that a rhizome may be broken, and that the ideas that were in place beforehand will not be affected by the break.
?A rhizome may be broken, shattered at a given spot, but it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines. You can never get rid of ants because they form an animal rhizome that can rebound time and again after most of it has been destroyed.?
Ideas, much like a line of ants, spread out through many different places, influencing those they reach. If suddenly there were to be a disaster that wiped out many people who held these ideas, the line would be broken. However, the ideas do not cease because the line was broken, they would continue to change and grow and spread because they came before the break, and could continue after. This is how they feel books are created, they are growths from the world, and continue to grow from one another.
Where Deleuze and Guattari Break Down:
Deleuze and Guattari relate?literature to the world?through the analogy of?rhizomes.? They see rhizomes as a random chaotic structure, and they describe ?the world [as]?chaos, but the book remains that image of the world? (1604). Literature has no restraints, it is its own form that can grow and expand when necessary. This leaves us little instruction as to how to study texts as representations of this choas. This means study can only be subjective, by relating one thing to another with no certainty of truth.
What the 330 Theorists think:
Cara G. says we need to?”look at a book as a whole, including it?s outside influences in order to understand it?s various points.” Kim agrees and believes that the multitudinous lines of study?stemming from?one body (wO) of work is, quite possibly,?infinite. As does Derrida…
?Any of a number of trends or movements in the arts and literature developing in the 1970s in reaction to or rejection of the dogma, principles, or practices of established modernism, esp. a movement in architecture and the decorative arts running counter to the practice and influence of the International Style and encouraging the use of elements from historical vernacular styles and often playful illusion, decoration, and complexity.? – dictionary.com
Frederic Jameson, with?his theory?deeply influenced by? Marxism, realism and modernism,?takes a cultural approach?to postmodern analysis of?contemporary art, architecture, and film. He entrenched himself in this feild to expose the “walls around our minds” and promote “genuine thinking” as evident in his writing.
Jameson can be summed up with a few words: Parody vs. Pastiche, Nostalgia, and the Bonaventure Hotel. Pastiche is ?blank parody? or ?parody that has lost its sense of humor.? Jameson worries that when we are so far removed from the cultures we borrow,?pastiche emerges.
Jameson’s Star Wars analogy shows how capitalistic forces drive the market by using Nostalgia to pull in an older audience, while creating a story that can also be seen as fresh and new by a younger generation. This nostalgic look to the past for Buck Roger fans is interesting because it looks to a past that isn?t real. In fact, it takes place in the future. Jameson?s concern is that the motivation to sell creates nothing new and rewrites history for the sake of unoriginal art.
Jameson uses the Bonaventure Hotel to show how Post Modernist Art is never completely new. Instead, it creates a new space while reflecting the city around it in a distorted way. This hotel also has several unmarked entrances that don?t lead directly to the reception desk.?Where this new?space breaks from tradition,?becoming difficult to navigate,?it requires?that people allow the space to navigate for them via escalators and elevators.
Where?Jameson Breaks Down:
Jameson presents us with two main ideas,?The Bonaventure Hotel with ?entryways … as lateral and rather backdoor affairs? (1968), and The Nostalgia Mode that ?consists merely of films about the past and about specific generational moments of that past? (1965).
- If Jameson had lived long enough to take into account the?internet, it would make?the idea of navigation much clearer. The hotel and internet are both?structures with multiple?entries and mechanisms provided to effectively move people through the space.
- Michael’s comment in class about the movie Space Balls also breaks this theory. Jameson?says Star Wars, although set in the future, reflects a nostalgic look at television shows like Buck Rogers, an unreal past. Star Wars is pastiche, emotionless mimicry, not playful mockery. When Space Balls turns around and mocks Star Wars, pastiche comes back to parody. If only Jameson had seen it!
What the 330 Theorists think:
Meg talks about how nothing?new is created in?postmodernism. Everything is reconstituted from old ideas. Marina?looks at?how nostalgia reflects a past that never existed,?as explained?via?Esther’s favorite word, “metonymysis.”?Ryan addresses the?emergance of pastiche, which simulates past culture but is devoid of the secret love of the mocked neccessary?for parody.
WATCHMEN: THEORY IN ACTION
Watchmen is set in 1985, in an alternative history United States where costumed adventurers are real and the country is edging closer to a nuclear war with the Soviet Union (the Doomsday Clock is at five minutes to midnight). It tells the story of a group of past and present superheroes and the events surrounding the mysterious murder of one of their own.
If that isn’t enough to fill your head, visit the frame by frame analysis of this graphic novel?,?The Annotated Watchmen,?by Ralf Hildebrandt.
What the 330 Theorists think:
Joie identifies with the break in Saussure‘s sign/signified/signifier theory, explaining that language is more than words. She also sees?Deleuze and Guattari in that the text is a body without organs, breaking with traditional structure. Cara W. describes?Watchmen as a post-modern combination?of art elements: the transformation of super hero + societal structure + history = Watchmen. She also likens the?Comedian to?Jameson’s Bonaventure Hotel, each a?distortion of actual image.
Keva talks about Jameson’s nostalgia,?pastiche and parody through two examples: the way Rorschach pities the world and wants to bring back his nostalgic view and the way Vernon’s joke becomes a joke on him but he’s not laughing. Brett finds interest in?a new concept: traditional “super heroes” vs. “vigilantes with fancy costumes”?as he?questions morality vs. selfish desires. He describes Watchmen as “post-post modernism” – what comes after post modern super heroes. And back in Ubanki’s Lounge, John?challenges the traditional concept of heroes through in-depth psychoanalysis of Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan.
APPLICATIONS IN POP CULTURE:
The following?are Derridian and Saussurian reading of YouTube videos (with a?look back to?Bakhtin thrown in for good measure).
To apply Jameson’s theory to this representation of Watchmen, we can better understand his idea of nostalgia and pastiche. The setting, an alternate history, calls back to Jameson’s worry that nostalgia?limits genuine thought in art. The use of the comic genre is reminiscent of times past, yet those times are not our real history. Additionally, this?story does not mock comics playfully. It mimics in the way of pastiche. It’s as if Moore read Jameson and created a visual guide.
This clip also relates to Derrida and his desire to pull meaning from text that was never intentionally placed in it. If?we deconstruct the?story, would we still have an interest? Watching this video and hearing the death of the comedian hooks people in a way that Derrida can never offer. If we?examine Rorschach, the smiley face, the setting, all of the things that help build up the story’s center, we would be left with little interest outside of the context. Sometimes the center is better when it?is the center.
People can do extraordinary things. Here we see a teacher draw a perfect freehand circle – a nearly impossible task without a compass. For this teacher, the tool is?no longer necessary, a thing of the past.?Bakhtin argues that when we understand the past, we can create something new. Using his knowledge of a compass,?this teacher has created a circle in a new way.
Saussure’s speaks of the “value” of a sign (Norton 969).?The word “circle,” as a sign, has?certain?social connotation. Sure, it could refer to confusion, as in,?”I am talking myself in circles,”?but we know it doesn’t because we socially accept this representation as a round structure. Saussure wants us to say, yes, this man can draw a perfect circle, but a circle is more. It?has a?signifier and an image which create the sign.?Can you draw a perfect circle?
THE TRAVELING CARNIVAL? MOVES ON
For the next installment of the Theory 330 Carnivals, visit:
- Cultural Critique: Marxism, Feminism & Postcolonialism?
by Esther, Nick, Sherri, Cara W.?and Kellie
- M?nage Je Trois:(Per) Forming?Sexuality?
by Michael, Keva, Cara G, Joei L, and Liz D
- Media Literacy?
by Aliya,?Brett, and Ryan
MAD PROPS?AND SELF INDULGENT REMINISCENCE:
We, your friendly neighborhood carnies, propose party hats for all the 330 Theorists! Thank you?for contributing?your finest. It just might mean that we, as 330 Theorists, finally have our heads firmly wrapped around the idea of sign, language and form, like?the best of mental contortionists. Bravo and congratulations!
?A Big Fat Thank You also goes out to our fearless and invaluable leader, Dr. Kim Middleton, who?offerred many in-depth, detailed suggestions -?and just when we thought we had it down.?Thanks also to?Jameson’s unforseen internet -?offering no good links on Watchmen other than Wiki, although we thank Wiki too, to Verizon as a far more efficient way of communicating over St. Rose email, to Kleenex Brand Tissues for sopping up the tears in times of trouble, and to?that warm mug of Lipton Tea for offering comfort in the form of “natural caffeine psychedelia” on those, theoretically speaking,?long nights.