Semiotics
Posted: 04 December 2011 10:10 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Is it just a pile of garbage?

A friend of mine has to read Introducing Cultural and Media Studies: A Semiotic Approach by Thwaite et al, for a course. What’s in it can be divided into a) flippin’ obvious statements dressed up in fancy words, b) dubious statements hidden by fancy words, c) mumbo jumbo.

Signs relate to other signs in two ways: relations of presence (syntagms) and relations of absence (paradigms).
e.g. a menu- the actual choices I make is a syntagm chosen from a paradigm of choices.

How is a menu a relation of absence?

Signifier: sense impression (like the word ‘tree’)
Signified: mental concept (not the mental image of a tree but the concept of a tree).
Signification is the production of meaning by signs in terms of their signified/signifier relationship. When we read a sign, signification always takes place in an upward movement from the signifier to the signified.

Wow. To quote Dogbert, I admire your ability to get paid for this, Mr Thwaite et al.

Apparantly sintagm is pronounced “sintam”, btw.

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Posted: 05 December 2011 02:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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A menu at, e.g., a Chinese restaurant is a relation of absence by the fact that it does not include, say, burritos grandes.

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Posted: 05 December 2011 04:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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First, this is (apparently) an introductory textbook. So many of the concepts will be obvious, especially to those who are well read. (You actually assimilate without realizing it quite a bit of critical theory by just existing in society.) And a lot of what seems like the obvious in an introductory text is simply the application of new, unfamiliar vocabulary to familiar concepts.

I don’t know the text in question (which could be dubious), but from my limited knowledge of it semiotics is not a pile of crap.

In general, I’ve found in critical theory that the landmark thinkers (e.g., de Saussure, Derrida, Foucault, Marx) are brilliant and their thoughts are not at all obvious. Their thinking may exhibit flaws, but even their mistakes are instructive. They are followed by two types. One builds on their theories in useful, but predictable directions. The other spews forth the blindingly obvious and the logically fallacious masked by big words. In other words, semiotics, or any other critical theory, has a sound core that is covered with crap.

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Posted: 05 December 2011 06:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Okay then ...
Maybe this is just a poor textbook.

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Posted: 05 December 2011 07:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I would add that there is a difference in how jargon is used too. The really good thinkers use jargon for precision and to carefully express nuances of thought. Wading into this stuff is daunting, but once you catch on to how the language is being used you appreciate the really fine writing.

The second class of thinkers, however, use jargon to obfuscate or dress up the patently obvious.

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Posted: 06 December 2011 01:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I thought my difficulty in understanding much of this was due mainly to advancing age. 

I need to reconsider the subject matter. 

That’s a good thing.

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Posted: 07 December 2011 10:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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The best intro to this is David Lodge’s satirical novel novel Nice Work. I don’t know how deep his understanding is but his treatment of it is funny and enlightening. Beyond this I will not go, having tried to read Icon Books’ Introducing Lacan - a sort of Dummies Guide dumbed down - which I found completely incomprehensible. Most of the other Icon books I’ve read have been good though.

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