Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Birthing Semiotics

Everyone, left to his own devices, forms an idea about what goes on in language which is very far from the truth.
- Ferdinand de Saussure

29 comments:

-FJ said...

I met Ferdinand de Saussure on a night like this
On love, he said, I'm not so sure I even know what it is
No understanding, no closure, it is a nemesis
You can't use a bulldozer to study orchids, he said so

We don't know anything
You don't know anything
I don't know anything
About love

And we are nothing
You are nothing
I am nothing
Without love

I'm just a great composer and not a violent man
But I lost my composure and I shot Ferdinand
Crying, it's well and kosher to say you don't understand
But this is for Holland Dozier Holland, his last words were

We don't know anything
You don't know anything
I don't know anything
About love

But we are nothing
You are nothing
I am nothing
Without love

His fading words were

We don't know anything
You don't know anything
I don't know anything
About love

But we are nothing
You are nothing
I am nothing
Without love

FreeThinke said...

Too nihlistic for me.

Words mean nothing in themselves.

NUANCES mean EVERYTHING.

These "modern" music groups seem to avoid inflection, variation and nuance very deliberately. It's the antithesis of every instinct and all the musical training I've ever had.

You have such a lively mind. Why do you like this stuff so much? I see (hear?) it as a direct outgrowth of the sixties counterculture, and as such believe it inimical to healthy human development.

You must be a great deal younger than I thought.

Wish I had a more positive reaction to share.

I hope you do not take my frank confession as a personal criticism?

Thersites said...

The subject of the video, Saussure, was the father of semiotics, a branch of "modern" philosophy. In a world of "signs" and "signifiers", he understood that "words" as such represented the signified, and had no "meaning" of their own within themselves. He was not implying that words had no "nuances" as words are meant as "empty vessels" that are supposed to capture distinguishing nuances (differences) that are present within nature and reality as well as the field of the purely "imaginary".

Now much as Saussure is credited with being the "founder" of semiotics, I much believe that Plato in his "Cratylus" was far in advance of our "modern" linguistic "experts" such as Noam Chomsky. For he understood that "whole language" is an abstraction too far, and that phonetics and syllables comprised of vowels and consonants are the "content bearing" vessels of language.

And Saussure died in 1913. His work may have been "popularized" in the sixties, but it was by no means an "outgrowth" of it.

And FYI, I am 55 years of age. Younger than yourself, but perhaps a bit less critical of Existentialist and Continental philosophies.

Thersites said...

ps- And if you re-read the words to the song, I hope you'll discover that the video is an "objection" to Saussure's work, as the protagonist "kills" him to avenge Holland Dozier Holland... the skilled Mo-town composers who popularized songs like "Stop, in the Name of Love" and other "love-meaning" interpretive songs of the late 50's, early 60's.

nicrap said...
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nicrap said...

...he understood that "words" as such represented the signified, and had no "meaning" of their own within themselves.

Forgive me, FJ, but the sentence is only half correct. To say that 'words' represent the signified is to repeat the old myth of the presence of meaning either in itself ("objective") or for itself (arbitrarily given; "subjective"). Instead, as Saussure explained, words get their meaning in reciprocal determination with OTHER WORDS inside language which consists only of differences.

For example, the word "house" derives its meaning more as a function of how it differs from "shed", "mansion", "hotel", "building", etc. than how the word "house" may be tied to a certain image of a traditional house (i.e. the relationship between signifier and signified) with each term being established in reciprocal determination with the other terms than by an ostensive description or definition.

Derrida added a second dimension to it. He explained that meaning is not only differential but also always deferred. He conjoined the two aspects into one, with the help of a neologism, Différance. So, to use our example from above, the words that occur following "house" in any expression will revise the meaning of that word, sometimes dramatically so.

So a more correct view of language, in Sussurian/Derridian terms, will be where words (signifiers) refer only to each other than to some signified outside language (an object/or idea). :)

nicrap said...

Actually, it IS all about nuances, what Sussure and Derrida are trying to say, and not nihilistic as FT seems to suggest.

Thersites said...

I actually know very little of Saussure and semiotics, thanks for correcting me. I'm more of a dialogician, myself. ;)

Thersites said...

...who favours "purifying" dialogics BACK into dialectics. :)

Thersites said...

My "meaning". ;)

-FJ said...

Ferdinand de Saussure

"Within speech, words are subject to a kind of relation that is independent of the first and based on their linkage: these are syntagmatic relations, of which I have spoken."

---

"A linguistic system is a series of differences of sound combined with a series of differences of ideas."

nicrap said...

:)

jez said...

"These "modern" music groups seem to avoid inflection, variation and nuance very deliberately."

Well, some of them do. This one does. I'm not particularly drawn to this example, but it can be a valid choice. Sometimes you don't want the performance to distract from the song. Think about how unwelcome excessive emotion can be in recited poetry. The intention here is to deliver the payload (lyrics) with as little distraction as possible. To what extent it succeeds is another question.

I was unfamiliar with the magnetic fields, so I looked them up with my favourite critic Robert Christgau, who says this about the album this is taken from:

"I dislike cynicism so much that I'm reluctant ever to link it to creative exuberance. But this cavalcade of witty ditties--one-dimensional by design, intellectual when it feels like it, addicted to cheap rhymes, cheaper tunes, and token arrangements, sung by nonentities whose vocal disabilities keep their fondness for pop theoretical--upends my preconceptions the way high art's sposed [sic] to."

I like Christgau because I find his reviews offer condensed insight even when I disagree, as I often do, with his overall grade (he gave this one an A+).

Gotta say I find the musical elements almost as much of a turnoff as FreeThinke does, but, days after listening, that lyric is still haunting me, cheap rhymes very much included, and I can understand why Christgau thought so much of it.

-FJ said...

High art? Who knew?

btw - "High" art has a very specific meaning that the critic and I OBVIOUSLY do NOT share. Perhaps this is why we have such difficulty communicating. Perhaps this represents Bakhtin's Heteroglossia cancelling out nuance.

jez said...
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jez said...

I think that while Christgau *compares* the album with high art here, he doesn't go so far as to confuse or conflate them. If it still seems ambiguous to you, rest assured elsewhere he makes it clear that he respects the difference -- although he doesn't accept that pop art must be inferior to high art.

-FJ said...

No, I think that the critic REALLY conflates intellectualism with "high culture". There is nothing "intellectual" about high culture. Either you "support" the aristocracy, or you do not. And no, there is no "aristocracy of merit" that makes "intellectuals" deserving of a piece of the "high culture" label as Beethoven and many other "Enlightenment" thinkers may have believed. Goethe knew. Modern means "common". And this song, exalting Holland Dozier Holland is nothing if not "common"... ala Saussure.

No man, Aisimides, who bows to the mud-slinging
mob has ever been capable of profound pleasures.

---

If, Aisimides, you will attend to the gossip of others,
then you will find in life not very much to enjoy.


-Archilochus of Paros

-FJ said...

...the son of Pisistratus brought back to Thasos aulos and lyre, bearing pure gold as a gift for Thracian dogs, and for personal profit they did public harm.

---

I sinned and I won't deny it........

But since I sinned replying on my miserable thoughts,
I want to make amends ........


--Archilochus of Paros

-FJ said...

Plato, "Republic"

I mean that the father grows accustomed to descend to the level of his sons and to fear them, and the son is on a level with his father, he having no respect or reverence for either of his parents; and this is his freedom, and the metic is equal with the citizen and the citizen with the metic, and the stranger is quite as good as either.

Yes, he said, that is the way.

And these are not the only evils, I said—there are several lesser ones: In such a state of society the master fears and flatters his scholars, and the scholars despise their masters and tutors; young and old are all alike; and the young man is on a level with the old, and is ready to compete with him in word or deed; and old men condescend to the young and are full of pleasantry and gaiety; they are loth to be thought morose and authoritative, and therefore they adopt the manners of the young.

Quite true, he said.

The last extreme of popular liberty is when the slave bought with money, whether male or female, is just as free as his or her purchaser; nor must I forget to tell of the liberty and equality of the two sexes in relation to each other.

Why not, as Aeschylus says, utter the word which rises to our lips?

That is what I am doing, I replied; and I must add that no one who does not know would believe, how much greater is the liberty which the animals who are under the dominion of man have in a democracy than in any other State: for truly, the she-dogs, as the proverb says, are as good as their she-mistresses, and the horses and asses have a way of marching along with all the rights and dignities of freemen; and they will run at any body who comes in their way if he does not leave the road clear for them: and all things are just ready to burst with liberty.

When I take a country walk, he said, I often experience what you describe. You and I have dreamed the same thing.

And above all, I said, and as the result of all, see how sensitive the citizens become; they chafe impatiently at the least touch of authority, and at length, as you know, they cease to care even for the laws, written or unwritten; they will have no one over them.

Yes, he said, I know it too well.

Such, my friend, I said, is the fair and glorious beginning out of which springs tyranny.

-FJ said...

The "master's" discourse is representative of "high" culture...

The discourse of the University and/or analyst (or the "pop" hysteric) is NOT in-itself a part of "high culture". It is "high culture" ONLY to the extent it serves the discourse of the Master. And Saussure's work does NOT serve the "Master's" discourse. Else he would have been GRANTED his PhD.

Capiche?

-FJ said...

If thou shouldst challenge me, Academus, to sing a pretty song, and a lad of fair beauty were to stand for our prize in a contest of our art, thou wouldst learn how much better mules be than asses.

- Theognis of Megara (993-996)

Arete. It's so much more than "intellectualism". For much of that which passes for such is a love for the "ridiculous".

As Plato stated in "Statesmen"...

STRANGER: And again, the peaceful and orderly nature, if sharing in these opinions, becomes temperate and wise, as far as this may be in a State, but if not, deservedly obtains the ignominious name of silliness.

YOUNG SOCRATES: Quite true.

jez said...

The only thing Christgau says about high art is that it is supposed to upend his preconceptions. To misread a review which describes the work as "cheap ... ditties" as you have seems like quite a stretch.

-FJ said...

He does, however, talk about "cynicism" AND "high art" in the same paragraph. The cynic (in this case, the group being discussed) defends the "master's discourse"... and the "analyst" upends it (ala - cynic v. kynic). But since in "this" case, the "analyst" and "cynic" are BOTH representing the LOW culture viewpoint (the "greatness" in "thing's common") and NOT an opposing ideological viewpoint (representing the "greatness in arete), the only one who believes that "high" art consists of "upending preconceptions" is one who is in-effect "opposed" to "high art"... the analyst of the four Lacanian discourses.

In plainer words, "Upending preconceptions" is NOT the function of "high art". Such is the function of the "low" (carnivalesque/ grotesque).

-FJ said...

The "intention" behind "high" art is to "sustain" the regime, not "upend" it. It's "propoganda", not "subversion".

jez said...

You may very well disagree with Christgau about the purpose of high art. (Myself I don't have much of an opinion of it, I've tended to think it's got more to do with form than function -- eg. ballet, sculture etc. are high art however subversive they may or may not be in a given work. But you've clearly thought about it more than I have). However, one thing Christgau certainly does not do is mistake pop music for it.

-FJ said...

He does conflate "intellectual content" (ala Saussure) with "high art" and the "pop" with "cynicism" (and NOT kynicism). Pop can be VERY subversive. Just ask Bob Dylan.

-FJ said...

It's a requirement in every "society of control" (keeping the masses divided and pursuing equality through superficial forms of "authenticity" vice equanimity and "arete").

aequus not equus.

In other words, the Superego mandates pleasures for the Ego to enjoy. Jouissance is born from the "surplus" of pleasure received.

But with "high art", the bit remains firmly in the theatre goer's "mouth"...

Plato, "Parminides"

Let me introduce some countrymen of mine, I said; they are lovers of philosophy, and have heard that Antiphon was intimate with a certain Pythodorus, a friend of Zeno, and remembers a conversation which took place between Socrates, Zeno, and Parmenides many years ago, Pythodorus having often recited it to him.

Quite true.

And could we hear it? I asked.

Nothing easier, he replied; when he was a youth he made a careful study of the piece; at present his thoughts run in another direction; like his grandfather Antiphon he is devoted to horses. But, if that is what you want, let us go and look for him; he dwells at Melita, which is quite near, and he has only just left us to go home.

Accordingly we went to look for him; he was at home, and in the act of giving a bridle to a smith to be fitted. When he had done with the smith, his brothers told him the purpose of our visit; and he saluted me as an acquaintance whom he remembered from my former visit, and we asked him to repeat the dialogue. At first he was not very willing, and complained of the trouble, but at length he consented. He told us that Pythodorus had described to him the appearance of Parmenides and Zeno; they came to Athens, as he said, at the great Panathenaea; the former was, at the time of his visit, about 65 years old, very white with age, but well favoured. Zeno was nearly 40 years of age, tall and fair to look upon; in the days of his youth he was reported to have been beloved by Parmenides. He said that they lodged with Pythodorus in the Ceramicus, outside the wall, whither Socrates, then a very young man, came to see them, and many others with him; they wanted to hear the writings of Zeno, which had been brought to Athens for the first time on the occasion of their visit. These Zeno himself read to them in the absence of Parmenides, and had very nearly finished when Pythodorus entered, and with him Parmenides and Aristoteles who was afterwards one of the Thirty, and heard the little that remained of the dialogue. Pythodorus had heard Zeno repeat them before.

jez said...

"He does conflate "intellectual content" (ala Saussure) with "high art" and the "pop" with "cynicism" (and NOT kynicism)."

You fail at reading comprehension.

"Pop can be VERY subversive. "


I know.

-FJ said...

Sorry, but the FAIL , as usual, is ALL yours. :)