week9m-handout c

202: Week 9 Monday Handout
“Saussure’s Legacy” (30 - top of 32)
1. [Listen to accompanying Virtual Audio Lecture: Christopher Mowner] Saussure on the signifier and
signified: Saussure broke the sign down into two smaller elements that comprised it: the signifier, or
sound element and the signified, which the signifier was able to help illicit in the listener’s mind. The
signifier and the signified are not two separate elements; they are the sign, or, put differently, they are
the two elements which comprise the sign. Signifier: “Every time you hear or read or see the signifier
(the word or image), it correlates with the signified (the concept that flashes through consciousness).
Both are required to produce meaning but it is the relation between them, fixed by our cultural and
linguistic codes, which sustains representation. The “sign is the union of a form which signifies
(signifier) ... and an idea signified (signified). Though we may speak ... as if they are separate entities,
they exist only as components of the sign ... (which is) the central fact of language.” “Saussure also
insisted on the arbitrary nature of the sign: `There is no natural or inevitable link between the signifier
and the signified.' Signs do not possess a fixed or essential meaning. What signifies, according to
Saussure, is not RED or the essence of `red-ness', but the difference between RED and GREEN. Saussure
argues that the “marking of difference within language is fundamental to the production of meaning.”
“We must be able to distinguish, within language, between SHEEP and SHEET . . . .” In other words,
language presents us with binary differences and we read between them. We don’t just examine an
object in isolation of all other objects. We read it as much as what it is not as what we determine it to
be. Saussure argues that the easiest way to mark difference is by constructing a binary opposition
(between day and night and black and white), but his critics insists that he misses all the shades of gray
between: the “subtler differences between black and dark grey, dark grey and light grey, grey and
cream and off-white, off-white and brilliant white.”
2. [Jessica Souza]
The politics of the image
power is related to the image
knowledge and power relate to the image
We need to interrogate the image
Visual Representation because our society is saturated by the images
Image dominates in late modern culture (advanced post-industrial societies in
western world)
Image – moving or still – privileged sign
Visual texts present representations transmitted by the media
3. [Daury Rodriquez]
The Old View = representation means to present/to image/to depict
Something was there already, and it is re-presented – this is the commonsense
meaning that something was already there. It images and depicts and stands in
for something else (like our political leaders would stand in for us)
Representation = the way in which meaning is given to the things depicted
through the images on screen or words on the page.
This way of thinking works on conceiving what the original means and how the
sign depicts it accurately or not.
4. [Juan Silliezar]
The New View = Representation is constitutive
This starts a new trend in cultural studies
The new view challenges the notion that events or objects have any ONE
essential, fixed, or true meaning against which distortion can be measured.
Re-presentation does not capture the situation in its entirety because there was
no fixed meaning there to begin with.
The true meaning becomes what people make of it, which is dependent upon
what gets represented and how it is represented. In other words,
representation is part of the process of making meaning.
It has no meaning until it is represented
The process of representation has entered into the event itself
Representation enters into the event itself. It constitutes the object itself.
Reality does not exist outside the process of representation itself. It is one of its
conditions of existence.
Donald Hall: Structuralism and Semiotic Analysis
5. [Gino Tetreault] Language structures our perception of the world around us: The most
fundamental principle underlying structuralist and semiotic analysis is that there is no objective "reality"
that we can know apart from the language that we use to make sense of it. Objective reality might exist;
in fact, we can posit its existence as the object world, but we cannot know it without intepretation and we
need signs to interprete, to think in thought-forms. This assertion reverses traditional assumptions that
language exists as a simple descriptive code through which "reality" is transparently communicated.
Structuralism posits that signs “create” objects-as-meaningful-objects, and therefore, help to
constitute reality as we know it . . . From a structuralist and semiotic perspective, there is nothing
transparent about language; it is thick with political beliefs, social values, unreflected upon
judgments, and profound biases. We may naively believe that we control language, but, in fact,
language largely controls us. Yet semioticians also believe that by understanding this power of
language, we can begin, perhaps, to exercise some reciprocal influence over it . . . In the late 20th
century and early 21st century, the image dominates society. Television, film, the net – all provide a
never-ending supply of images. There is power in the image. There is a politics to the image: it is related
to power, and thus we need to learn how to interrogate the image. Moving or still, the image is the
privileged signs of late modern culture, and visual texts present representations transmitted by the media
that influence how we think and live today. In fact, most of the narratives we accept came from the
media, whereas in the past they came from our parents.
The Object Referent (OR REFERENT)
6. [Kira Farrell] When the sign stands in for the object, it shuttles the object into the world of signs.
The Object exists as an object but it is referred to and thus brought into a relationship with the sign and
the field of signs. The Object exists now in two “worlds”: in the material dimension as an object with
materiality and physicality, and in a nonmaterial dimension of mental representations as an object that
is referred to by the sign. In the material dimension, the object continues to be an object. Nothing has
changed. In the field of representation (the field of signs), the object exists as an object-referent or
referent of the sign. This means that both the object (in the material realm) and the object-referent
exist simultaneously in two different registers or realms of experience. The object is always the object
regardless if the signs refers to it or not. But once the sign refers to it, it creates meaning for the object
which relates back to the field of signs.
7. [Taylor Lunday] In the field of representation, we call the object by the name of the referent” Or the
“object-referent. The object-referent is not the object. It is the object-as-it-is-referred-to-in-the-fieldof-signs. The referent is the shortened term for the object-referent. The referent is what the sign refers
to. It refers to an object that has been given a sign that stands in for it in another register or world (the
world of signification). The referent is the object that has been appropriated into the world of meaning,
the world of signs, the world of representations, the world of mental representations. For example, my
name is John. In that statement, John is the sign that refers to the object that exists: me. That is the
referent. The difference between the object and the object referent is simple. The object exists before
the sign; the world of objects just exists. Once we refer to them, the object becomes an object referred
to by the sign; it becomes an object referent (or simply a referent). The referent exists in a two way
relationship: there is the sign and there is the object. The object exists as a single entity: an object is an
object among other objects that exist – they all exist even if there were no human thought. They are
present even if we are absent. Does a tree fall in a forest even if we are not there. Yes. But it has no
meaning. We attribute meaning to that “falling of the tree.” It does not present a meaning to us. It
does not present itself at all. It just is. We present its meaning to ourselves as we “read” it.
Entries in the Encyclopedie and the Encycopedia Britannica
8. [Bill Daophaouthenh] Man who inhabits different parts of the earth, from the Tropic of Cancer to
the Tropic of Capricorn. Africa has no other inhabitants but the blacks. Not only the color, but also the
facial traits distinguish them from other men: large and flat noses, thick lips, and wool instead of hair.
They appear to constitute a new species of mankind. If one moves further away from the Equator
toward the Antarctic, the black skin becomes lighter, but the ugliness remains: one finds there this
same wicked people that inhabits the African Meridian. If one goes east, the features soften and
become more regular, but the skin color remains black as inside Africa . . . Many physicians have
researched the causes of the blackness of the negro. The major opinions that the physicians hold on
this matter can be reduced to two: one attributes the cause to bile, the other to some fluid contained in
the veins of the mucous membrane.
9. [Jordan LaRose] NEGRO, a name given to a variety of the human species, who are entirely black, and are
found in the torrid zone, especially in that part of Africa which lies within the tropics. In the complexion of
negroes we meet with various shades; but they likewise differ far from other men in all the features of their
face. Round cheeks, high cheek-bones, a forehead somewhat elevated, a short, broad, flat nose, thick lips,
small ears, ugliness, and irregularity of shape, characterize their external appearance. The negro women have
the loins greatly depressed, and very large buttocks, which give the back the shape of a saddle. Vices the most
notorious seem to be the portion of this unhappy race: idleness, treachery, revenge, cruelty, impudence,
stealing, lying, profanity, debauchery, nastiness and intemperance, are said to have extinguished the principles
of natural law, and to have silenced the reproofs of conscience. They are strangers to every sentiment of
compassion, and are an awful example of the corruption of man when left to himself.
“Saussure’s Legacy” (33-34)
10. [Jessica Miller] [Please listen to accompanying Virtual Audio Lecture on “Saussure’s Legacy”] The
Social Part of Language/langue: Saussure divided language into two parts: langue and parole. Langue
consists of “the general rules and codes of the linguistic system, which all its users must share, if it is to
be of use as a means of communication. The rules are the principles which we learn when we learn a
language and they enable us to use language to say whatever we want. For example, in English, the
preferred word order is subject-verb-object . . . .” Saussure called this underlying rule-governed
structure of language, which enables us to produce well-formed sentences, the langue (the language
system). Langue is the site of codes. Langue is the site where social rules and codes are translated
through this system of language. This is what is meant as “the deep structure of language,” which has
seemingly an infinite number of possibilities. It is the site where rules structure language, where
ideological viewpoints are established, where narratives are generated, where values and beliefs are
structured in a particular manner systematically so they can be reproduced in parole . . . The Social Part
of Language/parole: Parole is the “second part consisted of the particular acts of speaking or writing or
drawing, which - using the structure and rules of the langue - are produced by an actual speaker or
writer. He called this parole. `La langue is the system of language, the language as a system of forms,
whereas parole is actual speech [or writing], the speech acts which are made possible by the language.'”
Parole is the “individual speech-act or utterance,” which he regarded as the `surface' of language. There
were an infinite number of such possible utterances. Hence, parole inevitably lacked those structural
properties - forming a closed and limited set - which would have enabled us to study it `scientifically.'”
11. [Josh Estrella] [Please listen to accompanying Virtual Audio Lecture on “Saussure’s Legacy”] The
Social Part of Language: “In separating the social part of language (langue) from the individual act of
communication (parole), Saussure broke with our common-sense notion of how language works. Our
common-sense intuition is that language comes from within us - from the individual speaker or writer;
that it is this speaking or writing subject who is the author or originator of meaning. This is what we
called, earlier, the intentional model of representation. But according to Saussure’s schema, each
authored statement only becomes possible because the `author' shares with other language-users the
common rules and codes of the language system - the langue - which allows them to communicate with
each other meaningfully. The author decides what she wants to say. But she cannot `decide' whether or
not to use the rules of language, if she wants to be understood. We are born into a language, its codes
and its meanings. Language is therefore, for Saussure, a social [not individual] phenomenon.” This gives
us the basis for ideology and its effects on individuals turned into subjects.
Stuart Hall: Representation and the Media [part 2 of 4: 1:47- 14:44]
12. [Christina Machado] Culture as Primary: Cultural studies is not about finding an independent
meaning that is separate from the event. Cultural is the way we make sense of, give meaning to, the
world. We all have our own take on the conceptual world, but we do build a social world so we can read
“the maps of meaning” and “the frameworks of intelligibility”; these enable us to make sense of a world
that exists without words and images, but cannot be understood without such forms of representation.
We have shared conceptual maps with groups or members of society. Representation gives meaning, so
culture becomes front and center in this process because otherwise the world would become
13. [Karen Ramirez] Conceptual Maps/Classifying the World: What is the basis of a culture? Hall
argues that it is the shared conceptual maps we have in common. They help constitute the ways we
classify and organize the world. What does something belong with and what is it different from indicates
a system of classification, that is, this belongs to that and that is different from this. The capacity to
classify concepts is a basic genetic feature of human beings; yet the particular system we use is
something we learn. To become a human subject is to learn conceptual maps which become internalized
so that an internal grid of culture is taken in. In this way, we become a cultural subject . . . Concepts are
representations. We see an object and when it disappears, we can store, refer to, and to think thoughts
(or concepts) about objects that are no longer out there in the world. Fantasies allow us to think of the
world, but not necessarily the world out there. Fantasies allow us to think of things that are not part of
the conceptual maps of meaning, which are shared by people: they are made of the stuff of dreams and
we have dreams in common, but they are more difficult to map than are objects of representation
which are not fantasies. Our concepts are not mirror images of the world out there. They also conceive
of things that do not exist.