Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Inequality and Subjective Poverty: Corrupting Ideologies in Egyptian Society Since 1971's Constitution

Regarding my various methodological data gathering strategies that I used in my B.A thesis, my results showed that over fifty percent of Egyptians agreed to give bribes, use power for personal gains, but just fewer than twenty percent agreed to take bribes. The majority of Egyptians believe that a firm would be unlikely to succeed without corruption, and just fewer than ninety percent believe that corruption is high in Egypt, and that the majority of Egyptians have personally experienced corruption. With regards to human rights awareness less than fifty percent actually knew their rights.

Introduction: Poverty and the Gap Today
Who are the Poor in Egypt?
What is Subjective Poverty?
Living conditions of the Poor in Egypt

Background Info: Egypt from 1971 until 21st Century
Poverty Statistics

Factors Affecting the Gap

The Emergency Law Since 1981
Corruption: Ideological History
Egyptian Media and its Role
Lift the Debt: Corruptive Foreign Aid?
IMF and World Bank: Hidden agendas?

21st Century Egypt: What's Been Done Today?

Governmental efforts and National Policies
HIESCS 1995/96 vs. 1999/2000
Anti-Human Rights and Corruption
NGO's efforts

Today: Comparative Poverty and Corruption Study

How is Poverty Measured?

Media Analysis: Since 1971

Cinema: The Depiction of Poverty and Corruption in Egyptian Movies
The Egyptian Media Mafia: National Media Coverage of Poverty and Corruption

Mass Communication and Advertising Theories
The Spiral of Silence
Social Marketing
Public Opinion Formation: Walter Lippman
Mcguire's Information Processing Theory
Schema Theory
Social Learning Theory
Theory of Cognitive Dissonance
Hieder's Balance Theory: The Person, the Other and the Topic
The Knowledge / Technology Gap Theory

Data-Gathering Methodologies

Subjective Poverty, Corruption Perceptions and Human Rights Awareness Questionnaire
Case Studies
Focus Group Discussions
A Mini-Experiment

Some References that will be used:

'Why Doesn't Capitalism Flow to Poor Countries?'

'Corruption, Causes, Consequences, and Agenda for Further Research'

'Governance and Anti-Corruption Reforms in Developing Countries: Policies,
Evidence and Ways Forward'

'The Epidemics of Corruption: Social Networks'

'Art and Modern Art: Reflection on Being Human'

'A Culture of Corruption: Everyday Deception and Popular Discontent in Nigeria'

'The New World Order: An Overview'

'The economics of repeated extortion'


'The Structural Dynamics of Corruption: Artificial Society Approach'

'Pervasive Curroption'

Panopticons for the People!

After visiting Michel Foucalt's 'Discipline and Punish, Panopticism (1975)' at and 'Surveillance and Society, Foucalt and Panopticism Revised' at, we will see below how Panopticism has come into play in modern everyday life of twenty-first century today.

In today's remaking of people, and society alike, in the image of modernity Panopticism is represented by the figure of the Panopticon, which is commonly known as 'the drive to self-monitoring through the belief that one is under constant scrutiny' under the assurance of the automatic functioning of power.

From the Seventeenth Century strategies of excluding the lepers from infecting the 'normal' society until today, methods of dividing and separating in a very individualising manner are in constant use. According to Foucalt these strategies have been used in the confinement of the mentally sick to asylums, the subjection of medical patients to psychiatric probing and the ever-looming gazes of professionals equipped to penetrate bodies, and for the solitary imprisonment of criminals. All relevant to today's society, over 30 years after he wrote about this panoptic phenomenon.

Nevertheless in each and any of these circumstances it gives rise to the possibility of the penultimate use of power: the power to see but remain unseen, the power to reduce the number of viewers yet increase the number of those being viewed; with the simple usage of 'power of mind over mind'. Thus intensifying the panoptic power and at the same time assuring its economic value. Making it smoothly integrateable into any function, be it education, medical treatment, production and more importantly punishment.

According to Foucalt though its aim is to strengthen social forces, by increasing production, developing the economy, spreading education, raising the level of public morality and to increase and multiply. Yet as Foucalt questions 'how will power, by increasing its forces, be able to increase those of society instead of confiscating them or impeding them?'

Accordingly, the solution to this problem is 'that the productive increase of power can be assured only if, on the one hand, it can be exercised continuously in the very foundations of society, in the subtlest possible way'. Henceforth, the penetration of society with various disciplinary mechanisms, such as visible street patrolling police officers, or the newly revamped community service officers for example.

Nonetheless, panopticism is a mechanism of social disciplinary, whether it be through twenty-four hour CCTV cameras at the corner of your eye every step you take down your high street, or the friendly cops in fluorescent yellow or blue uniforms patrolling the streets of London, panopticism is a strategy to make the monitoring, policing, and eventual controlling of society through the exercise of power in a lighter, more rapid, more effective and subtler coercion for the eventual transformation to a disciplined society.

With the average Londoner being caught on camera on average three hundred times a day, it's no surprise that if society can’t be free to exercise its own levels of self-discipline that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons.

E-Blogger isn't allowing me to post anymore pictures for some unknown reason, but keep an eye out, they will follow soon...!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Subjectivity: Me, Myself and My Own Prison

Self vs. Subject

Critical and cultural theories have recently moved away from the word 'self' and replaced it with the term 'subject' instead. The word 'self' traditionally 'evokes the idea of identity as a private possession and a notion of the individual as unique and autonomous' (Cavallaro, p.86). Whereas the term 'subject' is ambiguous, and both active and passive.

With the advent of post-structuralism it has been emphasised that the subject is not a free conscious or a human essence that is stable, rather contrary it is a construction of language, politics and culture, and can only be understood by exploring the ways by which people and events are inscribed (or emplotted) within a culture's fashioned narrative.

Epistemologically Speaking

This branch of philosophy which is concerned with the nature and acquisition of knowledge sees subjectivity more often than not as designating individual experience and thought to the process defined with reference to the 'I'. Epistemology has nevertheless sought to figure whether it is possible to move from this inevitably limited perspective to objective knowledge.

Rene Descartes' Idealism: I Think Therefore I Am

According to Descartes the 'I' 'denotes a free consciousness that constitutes the very essence of being human' (Cavallaro, p.86). In Descartes' system subjectivity is associated with human powers such as perception, reasoning and free agency. Correlating to this is the philosophical tradition of Idealism whereby the universal 'I' or 'Self' brings reality into existence by perceiving and conceptualising it.

Anti-Rationalists and Anti-Idealists

Anti-Rationalists and Anti-Idealists reject that the subject is an autonomous consciousness, and believe instead in the determined character of subjectivity.

Soren Kierkegaard rejects that the subject is a self-governing consciousness and sees no evidence for the existence of a free thinking substance. On the contrary he sees the subject as a vulnerable and insecure creature 'compelled to define and redefine itself endlessly through actions and decisions whose validity can be rescinded anytime' (Cavallaro, p.87). So that any attempt by the subject to assert itself will only force itself to recognise its flimsiness and absurdity in the face of the creator's absolute infinity.

Arthur Schopenhauer likewise posits that the subject is 'neither free nor able to achieve objective knowledge. Knowledge is based on mere facades and the subject itself is knowable only in terms of appearance, as a physical body and as muscular activity' (Cavallaro, p.87). So that what defines subjectivity is the will, which accordingly is a blind, unconscious, and indomitable will-to-live. By that concept of the will, Schopenhauer denies intensely the idea of individual value: 'the will is an impersonal force that comes to be incarnated in a finite number of beings' (Cavallaro, p.88). By that, death of the subject is irrelevant because the will itself is immortal and indestructible.

Will is totally indifferent to the individual identity of the subject, and its prospects of self-realisation: so that 'the best a subject can do is endure the burden of its existence' (Cavallaro, p.88) endlessly moving between pain and boredom.

Conversely though, according to G. W. F. Hegel, the subject is free and gives expression to the universal Spirit, which forms the core of its unique identity.

Friedrich Nietzsche takes this a step further and sees subjectivity as the product of repressive value systems. He posits that individuals are trained to cherish abstract concepts such as truth or morality, to hide the fact that these ideas are actually functions of biology and of the structure of senses and bodies.

He also takes life as a will-to-power which requires the confrontation of danger and suffering at all times. But this will-to-power is not merely a desire to posit authority over other people, but actually entails the discovering and actualising of humans boundless potentials.

Nietzsche divides will-to-power into two energies: active (life asserting) and reactive (life denying). He also brings in the figure of the Ubermensch (or over-man) as 'the type of subject who, through unending creative efforts, is capable of reinventing existence and of accepting life's random contingency, in opposition to all forms of classification, dogmatism and hypocrisy' (Cavallaro, p.89). He also adds that the Ubermensch's energy has been continuously repressed throughout history. Indeed according to Nietzsche history is a trace of reactive forces bent on subjugating creative impulses to moral, religious or scientific laws established by the 'herd' of the weak in order to mask their own impotence. Thus, he sees the tradition of Western thought as a promotion of nihilism which in turn leads to a reduction and eventual negation of itself.

Nietzsche sees the status of the subject as 'an artefact of dominant ideologies systematically trained into a masochistic internalisation of constraining values' (Cavallaro, p.89). The subject is viewed as an incomplete biological entity, and with this feeling of not feeling at home in nature therefore needs 'the protective shield of cultural codes and institutions' (Cavallaro, p.89). Yet as Nietzsche notes, these only increase his feelings of subjection and alienation. Thus, the existence of thinking can't really be proved beyond doubt because there is no real and final evidence for the existence of 'I' as a stable substance.

Poststructuralist Approaches to Subjectivity: Foucalt and Lacan

Noted as two of the most prominent in this field Michel Foucalt and Jacques Lacan delve into the subject of subjectivity.

Foucalt primarily concerns his studies with the process through which the subject is constructed within certain historical and ideological contexts. He seeks to unearth significant historical changes which mainstream history left unattended. His theorising is based on the concept of episteme (Greek epistomai = 'to know' or 'to believe') which 'refers to the system of knowledge that dominates a particular historical period and establishes crucial distinctions between what is legitimate and what it illegitimate, what a culture should embrace and what it should exclude' (Cavallaro, p.90). This approach focuses on the material dimension of history to show that the subjects are not abstract entities but embodied beings.

From the mid-1970's he moves away from this archaeological approach to one which he calls the genealogy of knowledge/power. Using this approach he vows to show that 'knowledge and power are interdependent and mutually sustaining forms of control and means of organising subjectivity' (Cavallaro, p.90). He defines the eighteenth century as a very important era, for it is at that point of history that structures of knowledge and power began to systematically define the differences between what was normal and what was not, and used this distinction to govern behaviour. Also at that time many societies began to exclude and confine subjects which they deemed abnormal, for example the insane or the disabled, they also used their definition of 'normal' to against which to assert those who were not normal.

Termed by Foucalt the phrase discourses (from latin etymology dis: 'in different directions' + currere = 'to run') is known as the structures through which subjects are fashioned, both minds and bodies. A discourse can be used to describe a particular cultural object such as madness, criminality or sexuality, and provides the terms and concepts through which such subjects can be studied and discussed. In other words, discourses provide distinctions between what can or cannot be said about an object, and who has the right to say whatever can be said in that case. Foucalt therefore says that 'whatever we may call the truth is always embodied in historically contingent discourses' (Cavallaro, p.91). In fact, Foucalt denies existence of any reality outside or beyond discourse.

Pretty much at the centre of Foucalt's excavation of the extensive processes through which human beings are built by ideology and culture, is the human body. There are many strategies through which the subject's body is policed and monitored; in fact dividing practices play a very big role. These can take the following forms:

· Confinement of the mentally sick to asylums
· The subjection of medical patients to psychiatric probing and the ever-looming gazes of professionals equipped to penetrate bodies
· The solitary imprisonment of criminals

Foucalt also draws attention to the smooth move of social control based on public displays of pain and the spectacles of execution to the modern penalising system of imprisonment. For it cannot be helped but noticed that the same disciplinary strategies used by prison systems govern the everyday functioning of factories, hospitals, armies and even schools! All these rely on strict hierarchy, normalising judgements, repetitive tasks and minute control through rigid timetables. Whereby each subject has an appointed place, this character of nearly all social structures is highlighted by the architectural building of the Panopticon.

Derived from Jeremy Bentham, this concept of the Panopticon confers to an ideal prison where each subject is confined to a small cell and is continually observed by the invisible, yet all seeing eye of one single person. According to Foucalt, the Panopticon's main aim is 'to induce in the inmate a state of consciousness and permanent visibility that assures the functioning of power whereby each subject becomes its own jailer' (Cavallaro, p.92).

In Foucalt's, The History of Sexuality, he addresses the different ways of disciplinary control concerned with the regulation of sexual activities, instincts and desires. He notes that since the Victorian era, there have been four main strategies used to regulate sexuality, they are:

· The hysterization of women's bodies: disciplining femininity by constructing women as thoroughly saturated with sexuality, and hence need rigorous control
· The pedagogization of children's sex: constructing children as sexual beings prone to indulge in sexual activities that are considered dangerous and immoral. This in turn legitimises parents, families, doctors and psychologists repression of children's sexuality
· The socialisation of procreative behaviour: policing fertility, conception and birth as instrumental to the functioning of the social body
· The psychiatrization of perverse pleasure: focusing on the sexual instinct so as to establish what is a normal drive and what isn't, and developing corrective technology for deviant behaviour

Psychoanalysis and Sigmund Freud's Complexes

In the field of psychoanalysis, sexuality is ascribed major importance in the subject's development.

Sigmund Freud addresses the significance of sexual drives in the process through which children develop into adults. Accordingly, humans develop their gendered identities through two complexes:

· The Oedipus and castration complex: boys are supposed to feel a sexual desire for their mothers, and resentment towards their father. In order to renounce these feelings out of a fear of castration they translate a women's lack of penis as a sign that they have been castrated, and think that they may become castrated too
· The Electra complex: girls are supposed to be sexually attracted to their father, and jealous of their mother. Concurrently, women's sense of morality and the law tends to be weaker than men's for they cannot fear any injury or punishment

Jacques Lacan and The Order of the Child

Lacan posits that language is central to psychosexual development. He sees that subjectivity is the product of language and that nothing exits outside this frame of language. What the child is required to relinquish is not its complex but a realm of apparent fullness. Lacan comes up with the order of the child whereby a child goes through various stages:

· The Imaginary: early childhood prior to the acquisition of language, this stage is characterised by undifferentiation as there is no acknowledgment of separation between self and other
· The Mirror Phase: from six to eighteen months the child is physically uncoordinated and dependent on others for support and sustenance. It perceives its mirror reflected body image as autonomous and unified gratifying its illusion of wholeness and coherence
· The Symbolic: entry into the adult world of language, laws and institutions and the mark of advented sexual differences constructed by language and built around the arbitrary phallus which denotes absolute power, but entails general powerlessness to express our deepest fantasises, desires, needs or fears. Our integration into this phase allows us to only say what language allows us to say and to what conforms to a cultural set of codes and conventions, breeding in turn a sense of lack or loss; the loss of plenitude, and the lack of adequate means of self-expressions
· The Real: what neither language or culture are able to represent or name

The unity of self and other (child and its mother) is disrupted by the father figure. Mother in this sense is taken to accord any female figure the child feels physically and emotionally closest to in its early development stages; whereas the father connotes the social and cultural forces which adhere to develop into a subject.

The emergence of subjectivity within both the Imaginary and Symbolic are based on four factors:

· Division: this first occurs in the mirror phase in the form of a split between the 'I' that watches and the 'I' that’s watched
· Alienation: the image reflected in the mirror that the subject identifies with hinges on alienation and self-displacement
· Fiction: the image is fictional because it does not consist of actual flesh and bone, but is an apparition
· Misrecognition: the reflected image appears to be coherent when the real body is actually a bundle of disjointed drives

The emergence of subjectivity within the Symbolic also involves the four phases again.

· Division: a second division when the subject enters the world of laws and language. This takes place in the form between the 'I' that speaks and the 'I' that is spoken about
· Alienation: the subject is alienated from its physical roots by integrating itself in an impersonal set of abstract and disembodied signs
· Fiction: by entering language, the subject finds itself like a character in the narrative of language that has a disregard for individual aspirations or desires
· Misrecognition: the subject misrecognises itself as the independent author of its utterances because it is spoken by language

While there is light at the end of the tunnel, there is also the unconscious. The unconscious, described as 'the product of language, as the domain of the un-representable, the unspeakable, the unnameable' (Cavallaro, p. 95), the unconscious can be said to encompass all the materials which language allows no expressions, and the aspects of our beings refusing to be dominated or formalised according to repressive rules.

To Frued, the unconscious is both primitive and chaotic, but for Lacan the unconscious has its own language, is structured like one, and plays a vital role in the interpretation of reality. Nevertheless, the symbolic ultimately is where power is posited.

Free Yourself Only To Be Enslaved Again

Instrumental to the constitution of subjectivity, the Symbolic accordingly shouldn't be resisted on the one hand. On the other hand, absorption into the Symbolic both releases the subject to social intercourse and condemns them to a forever divided status. Hence, subjectivity simultaneously hinges our existence as social entities, and highlights our sense of instability.

Said like a true optimist, Lacan ends our discussion with subjectivity by saying that '[t]he idea of the unifying unity of the human condition has always had on me the effect of a scandalous lie' (Cavallaro, p.96).

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Textuality: More Than Just Words

What are Texts?

Recent developments in theory have pretty much rocked language's concept altogether by emphasising that 'all sorts of signs and symbols- not merely words' (Cavallaro, p.59) can be taken as language.

Hand in hand this takes us to the also newly redefined concept of reading, which shows us that we don't just read books or newspapers, but in fact, our cultural environment as a whole in itself! Plays, platters, billboards, blackboards, guns, gowns, statistics and even statues can all be regarded as text in very different ways. Indeed, we can say that texts can encompass all 'objects and data that are always open to varying readings and interpretations' (Cavallaro, p.59).

In fact, texts are not fixed processes, or entities, but they keep changing and evolving, gaining and losing new meanings or novel connotations in accordance to 'how they are received and perceived by their readers and to the cultural circumstances in which they are produced and consumed' (Cavallaro, p.59). Leading us to the understanding that texts can be made and unmade, and looking at it from an etymological angle this is further proved by the association of text with the act of weaving; the Latin equivalent is texere = to weave.

Inter-textuality and Inter-subjectivity: Roland Barthes and Julia Kristeva

Both Barthes and Kristeva have contributed profoundly to the conceptualisation of texts. They both approach textuality as an ever expanding, extensive and multi-pronged phenomenon, on very different levels.

Firstly, they drew materials from very different fields, such as media, art, fashion and literature for example, and showed that in spite of those materials such differences, they can all be regarded as texts. Secondly, with their use of such diverse disciplines they advanced the cause for interdisciplinary. This approach henceforth gave way to the suggestion that any product of culture can be regarded as a text, and indeed any text can be examined with reference to the interpretive tools in a culture, emphasising the criss-crossing of disciplines and the decoding of its products in any given culture. Thirdly, originally coined by Kristeva in 1966, both Barthes and Kristeva contributed to what is known as inter-textuality, whereby 'no text is wholly autonomous or self contained' (Cavallaro, p.60). In layman terms, this means that texts 'absorb' from other texts, transforming them in the process, and built upon 'traces' and 'echoes' resultant, or leftover from other stories and voices rendering them to being subjective. So evidently, if texts are subjective then responses to texts are inter-subjective. Which means that they depend on how each individual's 'interpretation of the world interacts with the interpretations proposed by other people within the codes and conventions of a community' (Cavallaro, p.60) and are in turn, endorsed or rejected . And finally, they pondered the relationship between textuality and the body, saying that both are analogous. Where bodies can be read and experiences concurred from them, so can physical and erotic drives which come into action in the reading and writing of texts.

Solo Effort: Roland Barthes' Contributions

Barthes' early theoretical career examines verbal and non-verbal codes and conventions of sign systems by using semiotic and structuralist methodologies. One of his main aims was to show that reality is never transparent, and he tries to prove so by his examination of the doxa, the body of unexamined opinions and assumptions that govern a culture or society. In this way Barthes approaches text as an onion with many layers consisting of numerous, and often conflicting, meanings with not a solid core of truth in sight!

In his 1953 publication, Writing Degree Zero, Barthes trashes claims to universality and suggests that writing is always timeless in the sense that it is always committed to the legitimacy of specific dominant ideologies. He also adds that no writing style remains forever revolutionary because of ideology's efforts of 'appropriation, assimilation, and colonisation of anything that threatens its fabric' (Cavallaro, p.61). He then continues to mention two types of text.

· The Scriptable: Known as the most transgressive of texts, this writerly type of text offers the reader no clear solutions, and requires active and constant participation in its construction
· The Lisible: Known as the readerly text, this type offers the reader a comfortable frame of reference, follows in cue with the status quo, and allows the reader to take refuge in a sober sense of conventionality

Barthes also prescribes two types of writers.

· The Ecrivant: The fundamentally realist writer committed to recording reality, and using text solely as a vehicle for transcribing facts
· The Ecrivian: The writer who is concerned with the act of writing and language, and is inclined to view text as an autonomous and independent of any external factor

Moving on to Barthes' 1957 publication, Mythologies, he takes his analysis of cultural encoding of non-verbal texts one step further by positing a double order of meaning through the mythical level (connotations) and the mythical level (denotations). By highlighting texts' connotations he shows that the most literal and innocent of images are subdued in ideological processes complimenting a culture's myth.

In 1964's Critical Essays, Barthes outlines what he sees as the function of a critic. According to Barthes, a critic's task is to un-express the text by 'unravelling its superficial denotational dimension and exposing its mythical character' (Cavallaro, p.62). Also published that year, Elements of Semiology, Barthes shows that 'any specific menu, building, interior arrangement or outfit can be treated as a syntagmatic combination of elements selected from the whole paradigm of the language to which it belongs' (Cavallaro, p.62).

In 1967's publication, The Fashion System, Barthes decodes clothes by their material and formal qualities, and their representation in fashion photography. He says that '[f]ashion has three styles at its disposal. One is objective, literal…The second style is romantic, it turns the scene into a painted tableau…The third style…is mockery' (Cavallaro, p.63). Barthes also adds that there are vast similarities between the promotion of fashionable products and the mode of realism in that they 'both capitalise on texts designed to make the implausible seem probable through their obsessive insistence on details' (Cavallaro, p.63).

The 1970's publication, S/Z, Barthes analyses Balzac's story 'Sarrasine' by dividing it into 561 units of reading, known as lexias, and by creating five codes.

· The hermeneutic: the strategies through which the story sets various enigmas and varyingly resolves or complicates them
· The code of signifiers: the ways by which important clues can be deferred from apparently insignificant words
· The symbolic code: the recurring patterns in the text
· The proairetic code: the actions presented in the text
· The cultural code: the accepted body of knowledge or opinion by which the story is told

Where structuralist's spatial analysis of texts isolated its main components, and reorganised them into a map or diagram revealing their central relationships and oppositions, Barthes adopts an opposing linear style. Whereby, this linear style allows the text to work on its readers modifying 'their expectations and interpretations through shifts, gaps and changes of direction' (Cavallaro, p.63). This is typical of an open and discontinuous style of reading.

Moving on to his 1975 publication, The Pleasure of the Text, Barthes not only approaches text through its content but also through its form. Where his writings are not uniform but lacunary, 'it is riddled with gaps that stoke our desire to fill them' (Cavallaro, p.64), and which in turn, hold sexual appeals.

In Barthes' 1977 publication, A Lover's Discourse, he examines the text instead of explaining it from a critical stand point. He sees the discourse of Love as random, incoherent and fragmented. Barthes acknowledges that '[t]hough each love is experienced as unique, and though the subject rejects the notions of repeating it elsewhere later on' he soon 'realises that he is doomed to wander until he dies, from love to love' (Cavallaro, p.65).

Julia Kristeva's Contributions

Earlier writings of Kristeva, concentrate on ways in which texts are shaped by cultural codes and conventions, and that texts carry certain ideologies. She also uses semiotics to show that the idea of a stable sign is a myth used to serve the illusion of cultural stability.

In her publication, Semeiotike, Kristeva moves from the analysis of meaning to the analysis of the signifying process. She holds that 'signs do not hold permanent meanings but rather acquire significance by being strung together and by being decoded in particular ways' (Cavallaro, p.65). She uses two processes:

Signifiance: the process of production of meaning
Semanalysis: the method which explores this process

She also uses ideologeme which is defined as 'a textual formation produced within specific cultural and historical circumstances' (Cavallaro, p.65). Related to the concept of ideologeme, there are two types:

Ideologeme of the symbol: epic, myth and folklore pivot on this, they are closed because the ideas they present are supposed to be decidable according to a fixed repertoire of images
Ideologeme of the sign: modern novels pivot on this, for there is no agreed method for interpreting its signs

Kristeva also talks about three types of texts:

The monological: text that promotes a uniform ideology aiming at depicting a stable reality
The dialogical: text committed to polyphony, and stresses that reality and status quo is always negotiable
Poetic language: text that refuses to reduce language to communication, suspends logic, and plays with structures of grammar and syntax

Kristeva places great emphasis on the relationship between the text and the body. She identifies different forms of language, characteristics of distinct stages of human development to show how the link between textuality and physicality changes as children grow into adults. She does this by correlating each stage of development to textuality.

The Semiotic: the pre-linguistic moments of childhood where the child babbles and imitates its surroundings to interact with them. The semiotic body is fluidwith no clear shape or boundaries, hence there no rigid linguistic categories or meanings at this stage. Pulsions are developed at this stage and they consist of emotions that are expressed through different noises, movements and gestures.
The Symbolic: the signs prescribed by adult society, associated with dominant symbols of power, and repress the body in turn. At this stage subjectivity is moulded, and linguistically the rules of grammar, syntax and logic are enforced. Sexually, strict distinctions between masculinity, femininity, homo and heterosexuality are established, and culturally the individual is subjected to political, religious, familial, legal and economic structures.
The Thetic: the stage of human development in which the individual is aware of its autonomous existence and begins to assert individuality. It is also the borderline of form of textuality.

The Thetic is related to the symbolic because awareness of our separation from others enables us to enter the adult sphere of language and law. In this process of separation we not only acquire identity but we also discover that we lack something, and cannot ever merge with others. This sense of loss produces desire to restore the un-differentiation of the infant world. The Semiotic is repressed by the Symbolic, yet it is carried on in adult discourse through non-verbal attributes of language: tone, rhythm, laughter, silence, rhetorical disruption and contradiction. In fact jouissance texts bring back the Semiotic because they resemble 'a highly physical form of pleasure comparable to a sexual orgasm which infiltrates the Symbolic order and shakes it up' (Cavallaro, p.67).

Kristeva's Powers of Horror, argues that 'children develop into adults by constructing themselves as individual texts through physical processes of great intensity' (Cavallaro, p.67). She believes that 'in order to enter the symbolic order, the subject must differentiate itself from others in specifically bodily ways: the budding subject is required to shed everything which culture perceives as unclean, improper, disorderly, asocial or anti-social' (Cavallaro, p.67). This is achieved via a process called abjecation. Abjecation can be defined as the process through which the subject gets rid opf the defiling elements that threaten its textual frame, these can be consistent of semen, urine, faeces, tears, milk or sweat. But mastering abjecation is inevitably incomplete; hence it is considered a metaphor for all types of uncertainty states.

In her publication Black Sun, Kristeva says that experiencing loss expressed through a form is art. On one hand, 'the creation of texts is a means of plugging the holes that riddle our lives' (Cavallaro, p.68), and on the other hand 'it can help us come to terms with loss be enabling us to relive it again and again' (Cavallaro, p.68). So by that she says that art is a way of experiencing the drama of loss from which all subjectivity is stemmed from, and that the inability to get over this sense of loss results in melancholy or depression- both states that challenge the symbolic order by rejecting socially approved forms of communication and expression, and also impair the subject's ability to relate to others.

Kristeva also comments about genuine love, by saying that is porous, in the sense that it creates a sense of openness to another individual, and an ability to dissolve the individual's self boundaries. In this case a text's 'erotic import is likewise related to themes of openness, separation and loss' (Cavallaro, p.68).

Thus we can conclude that with Kristeva's writings, people and stories become inevitably interchangeable with regard to their common nature. Neither the text notr the self can be set to anchor, they both 'unfold and branch off in disparate directions and with no obvious destinations' (Cavallaro, p.68).

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Power to the Eye: The Gaze

What is the Concept of the Gaze?
According to Cavallaro, the concept of the gaze describes 'a form of power associated with the eye and with the sense of sight' (p.131). Gazing is not equated with looking because it can be metaphorically said that when an individual gazes, the individual almost probes and masters, penetrating and objectifying the body in the process.

Seeing is when certain sensations associated with light, colours and shapes are registered without any ulterior motives. Observing is looking carefully to find out the details, and then there's the glance, when eyes are skimmed over the subjects and their surfaces are caressed in a casual way. But when the gaze is administered, the aim is to control the subject. This power of the gaze is due to the Western tendency to bestow upon sight the most sophisticated of the five senses; supposedly because of its close association to the mind, rather than the body.

Flippo Marinetti puts forth what is known as Tactilism: 'a means of liberating the most eminently erotic features of the sensorium' (Cavallaro, p.132). According to Marinetti, all experiences emit from the sense of touch, whereby even the visual sense is born from the fingertips. Indeed, that all five senses are actually modifications of touch 'divided in different ways and localised in different points' (p.132).

Power and the Gaze
Throughout various classical mythological narratives and folklores, the power of the gaze is very much evident and manifested as the evil eye with the power to bewitch or even kill just by looking at a subject. We have Gorgon's gaze, Eurydice, and even Lot's wife who have all had that extraordinary power.

Nowadays though with the advent of etiquette, the power of the gaze has been pretty much subdued under the new rule: it's rude to stare. Maybe that's why homogenising people through uniform efforts at school, or in the army, or even prison, is linked to this code of conduct; so that other members of their group will not be attracted to look at them. But at the same time when you're wearing uniform amidst non-uniform wearers you do tend to stick out like a sore thumb, for paradoxically uniform at the same time causes wearers to look different than non-uniform wearers, and so become the active or passive objects of the gaze.

Adding to this Michel Foucalt contends that power and the dynamics of the gaze are inseparable. He traces this by observing different displays of power in pre-modern and modern societies. He observes that in pre-modern societies 'the powerful advertise their authority by putting themselves on display and thus awing the impotent masses into submission', compared to modern societies whereby 'power is relatively invisible and controls us by seeing everything whilst remaining unseen' (Cavallaro, p.133). This is so because modern societies rely on being surveilled rather than 'spectacle'. Foucalt attributes these shifts in the modern societies to the rise of 'modern disciplining practices centred on technology' and subjecting them to 'visual control'.

This brings us to the structure of the Panopticon. The Panopticon is defined as 'an ideal prison where each inmate is subjected to an unrelenting gaze without being able to see his/her observer' (Cavallaro, p.133). This architecture is not just limited to a literal prison, but can also be used in the building of schools or hospitals too. Funnily, 'Big Brother' comes to mind here..!

Foucalt also adds that the gaze plays an important role in the medical field, whereby nowadays the body's inner functions are available to science's gaze.

The Socialization of Vision
Starting off this section, Jacques Lacan hypothesises that 'the world of inanimate objects is not passive, but actually looks back at the perceiver' (Cavallaro, p.134). He believes that what we see is always pretty much a function of what and how we are meant to see. Accordingly, the inanimate world watches us to the extent that there is 'someone or something that expects us to see things in certain ways' (p.134).

Nonetheless, the socialisation of vision relies on the unification of vision. Reducing literal vision from two eyes, to one singular I, to one point of view. But the belief that there is one correct way of seeing, or one correct way of representing the world, is logically incorrect because each of a person's eyes sees differently. So the mind is figured as a sealed space where images are reviewed by an inner eye, and everything is processed independent from external reality, and shielded from sensory life.

So as camera obscura, like perspectivism, is pronged on the principle of monocularity (one-eyed vision) and desensualization, these functions are supposed to 'socialize vision according to shared cultural values' (Cavallaro, p.135).

Emphasised by Jean Paul Sartre, an individual's gaze is 'inevitably caught in an inter-subjective network of perception' (Cavallaro, p.135). To Sartre, an individual human's identity is infact a product of the gaze. Also stressing the point that 'nobody is ever the sole master of their visual domain, no individual is free to look at the world through purely subjective lenses of our own making' (Cavallaro, p.136), simply because we have to share this vision with others. In turn, each individual's sense of identity actually depends on the presence of another individual.

Physiology establishes a relationship between knowledge and biological/anatomical structures. The unity of vision is challenged by the discovery that different nerves relate to senses differently, and that from one nerve to another, the same sensation can be felt differently too. Which pretty much brings to a conclusion promulgating that no one subject can process the world in a singular way, but would depend on multiple channels.

The gaze is associated with four concepts
  • Scopophilia: refers to the experience of pleasure that arises from the act of looking
  • Voyeurism: denotes the sense of excitement produced by viewing other bodies
  • Fetishism: the tendency to feel strongly, obsessively even, attracted to objects associated with a sexual partner, rather than the actual body
  • Sadism: to derive pleasure from the observation of another person's pain, gaze is only pleasing when subjected to cruelty and violence

Laura Mulvey, Sexuality and Power

Laura Mulvey ascertains that sexuality is explicitly intertwined with power, which is in turn inseparable from the eye. Through her analyses of Mainstream Hollywood movies she contributes that this tradition pivots on the point that 'inscribes woman as the image and man as the bearer of the look' (Cavallaro, p.137), and that female movie characters are actually controlled by the male's gaze. This can be seen on two levels
  • The male protagonist objectifies the heroin through his gaze
  • The male spectator identifies with the filmic hero and uses his own gaze to frame the heroine as a passive object
According to Mulvey, this male urge to control the female erupts from her lack of a penis which implies 'the threat of castration', and so becomes a source of anxiety. Men, in turn have two ways to cope with this apparent state of anxiety
  • The woman is devalued, demonised and pictured as a symbol of sexual corruption, connected to sadism; or
  • The woman is over-valued, transformed into a desexualised icon and worshipped from a distance, connected with fetishism (fetishistic scopophilia)
Lynda Nead in her studies of the nude, also contends that the male urge tries to control a supposedly dangerous femininity through his gaze. With context to the female nude she says 'femininity and female sexuality are considered undisciplined and excessive...and that the female body is seen as disturbing and even obscene' (Cavallaro, p.138), hence the related ideological connotations that have existed since forever that try to contain femininity and female sexuality.

The nude in high art offers a cleaned-down version of femininity for the male viewer's consumption: 'it frames the flesh, conceals its flaws and achieves a kind of magical regulation of the female body' (Cavallaro, p.139). Not only that, but it also creates a more desirable image as there is no fear that it will fight back.

In investigating the relationship between naked and nude, Kenneth Clark says '[t]o be naked is to be deprived of our clothes and the word implies some of the embarrassment which most of us feel in that condition...nude...carries, in educated usage, no uncomfortable overtone' (Cavallaro, p.139). Considering the conjured images too, when the word naked is projected in one's head a huddled and defenseless body comes to mind, whereas nude brings an image of balance, prosperity and confidence. Yet naked or nude, to Nead the body is an 'effect of cultural practices and established codes of vision' (Cavallaro, p.140).

Elizabeth Bronfen though brings in a very different concept of the subjection of the female body to a powerful male gaze without the fear of woman in cue: the female corpse. Apparently, according to Bronfen, the female corpse makes mortality alot more bearable, as it covers the fact that death is ugly, disturbing and disrupting. With a beautiful female corpse death is transformed into something 'soothing' even!

To Objectify or Not To Objectify?
Some thinkers and critics argue that in order to rescue the female body from this visual objectification, it should be removed from representation as they are constantly subjected to an oppressive and sexist gaze. On the other hand though, this would entail a future of guaranteed exclusion.

Nonetheless though we must always be in constant reminder that gazing is not merely about looking, in fact it's about 'the consequences of how we use the sense of sight' (Cavallaro, p.140).

I See Me Through You: The Other

What is The Other?

A concept used by G. W. F. Hegel argues that 'human consciousness is incapable of perceiving itself without recognition by others' (Cavallaro, p.120). Using a parable of Master and Slave, Hegel states they are both self defining in a mutual way where a Master's self awareness depends on the existence of the slave to acquire recognition; similarly the slave attains self recognition by being forced to labour unconditionally in order to fulfil his master's desires and needs, transferring himself and the natural world on which his labour effects.

Madan Sarup also adds that 'work is the primary means through which the enslaved subject may transcend his situation: it is because work is an auto-creative act that it can raise him from slavery to freedom' (Cavallaro, p.120).

Phenomenology, Existentialism and Jean Paul Sartre.

Taking the Phenomenological and Existentialist view, the Other is the factor that helps the individual to build up an image of oneself. In fact the Other 'is the person or group that confers meaning upon the subject by either helping it or forcing it to adopt a particular world view and to define its position therein' (Cavallaro, p.121).

Specifically, the concept of the Other is used to view perception and knowledge away from just merely the perspective of the individual, bringing us to another further concepts: solipsism. Solipsism accordingly holds the view of nothing exists except me, my thoughts and feelings. Solipsism thus contrasts to what phenomenology and existentialism proposes.

Proposed by phenomenology and existentialism is a world of inter-subjectivity where any one individual's interpretations of reality fuse and interact with countless other people's, and thus are always open to redefinition. This is confirmed by Jean Paul Sartre who believes that 'our sense of self depends on our being the object of another's gaze' (Cavallaro, p.121). Whereby our existence is an effect of some Other individual's recognition of us, but apparently according to Sartre, what actually deprives us of any sense of autonomy is the Other's gaze in itself.

Psychoanalysis and Jacques Lacan

In the field of psychoanalysis, Jacques Lacan argues that it is in fact our existence as subjects, 'is a function of our relationship with the Other' (Cavallaro, p.121). This is further emphasised in the following three points:

· The Other is everything that individuals must learn to separate themselves from in order to develop into adult individuals (for example, one's parents)
· The Other is a fictional image of oneself which one tends to identify yet must understand that it is actually separate from the physical body (for example, a mirror image)
· The Other is the domain of language, laws, regulations and constitutions which one is required to live as socialised individuals

According to Julia Kristeva, the concept of 'difference' should be understood as an internal condition, rather than a matter of external attributes such as gender or skin colour.

Indeed, the Other is within us.

It is advocated that when a culture, society or community marginalises certain individuals as Other, what is being done here is actually an attempt to 'exclude or repress a part of itself which it finds difficult to understand, let alone accept' (Cavallaro, p.129). It is true to say that no culture is ever unified, and hence an individual's identity with the conscious and unconscious constantly competing with one another within its fabric, both divulge and create a sense of vulnerability and impermanence. To combat these ensued senses of insecurity, society henceforth reacts by creating divisions between the parts of themselves that it wishes to retain, and those which they abhor to as the Other. Thus, it should be a reminder that when one discriminates against, or abuses another what is actually being rejected is a part of the individual's own self: 'a society's treatment of strangers mirrors the individual's attitude to his/her unconscious fears and desires' (Cavallaro, p.129).

Western Philosophy and Marginalisation

Philosophically, the Other is related to the theory of knowledge called the 'other minds' which is concerned with three factors:

· Whether we can know that other beings have thoughts and feelings, and how we can know it
· Whether other beings have mental lives that resembled our own
· Whether we can interpret other being's physical, cultural or linguistic behaviour as a reliable reflection of how they feel and think

Questions as those are important as assumptions and prejudices associated with others are created from an inability to know how they function. For, as they say we are usually afraid of that which we don't understand. Advocating this point, Emmanuel Levinas quotes that 'Western philosophy has insistently repressed the other by striving to give it a definite place' (Cavallaro, p.122). Concurrently though because the Other rises above any structure, any attempt to domesticating or categorizing it, in effect actually ends up colonising it instead.

Traditionally that is what happened, because other people's conduct struck them as unfamiliar, they were automatically classed as incompatible and this assumption drew a conclusion whereby the Other's thoughts and feelings were not just different, but also 'crude and inferior'.

Yet since the commencement of post-structuralism this marginalisation of the Other has increased in popularity, specifically women, gays, people of colour and the disabled. These groups for example, have incessantly been a deviation from white society and heterosexual society.

In the case of women as the Other, women is seen as 'everything which man is not supposed to be, and man as everything which woman is not able to be' (Cavallaro, p.123). Whereas throughout history classifying the disabled as the Other, as Leo Barton believes, is tied to the 'body perfect' myth, and relatedly ignoring the disabled people's 'social productivity' is in turn an effect of this. Yet, although medically, disability is considered a form of biological or psychological inferiority, interpretations of disability more often than not conjure abuse, oppression, disempowerment and discrimination towards the disabled, and any Other.

Throughout history, the disabled have pretty much always been regarded as the Other. The Greeks damned disability, the Romans encouraged infanticide of frail babies, and even treated disability as a form of entertainment through staged fights between female and male slave dwarves. In the Middle Ages, disabled bodies were regarded as the works of Satan, and Tudor and Stuart England regarded physical impairment as a show of spectacle. Nevertheless though, with the 'body perfect' myth still alive and kicking, it is no surprise that disability is still adorned by myth and fantasises even until today.

Imperialism, Nationalism, Race and Violence

According to Cavallaro, imperialism 'is a state's forceful extension of its powers through the conquest and exploitation of other territories' (p.124). These extension of powers usually take on a guise of agents of civilisation gifted with racial and cultural superiority. V. I. U. Lenin says 'imperialism results from monopoly capitalist's determination to maximise their profits by exploiting foreign regions: using their raw materials, strengthening existing markets through the introduction of new goods made from such materials, and augmenting their investment opportunities' (Cavallaro, p.124-125). Hence, although economy plays a big role in modern imperialism, issues of nationalism and race must be mentioned too.

Nationalism is the promotion of a nation's territorial and ideological supremacy. It is thrust upon the notion that certain groups of people are held together by a common race, history and language associated with a particular territory. Territory here means a cultural and political organisation; not just a geographical area, which is both 'physical and conceptual, a region whose boundaries must be guarded against alien intrusions, and an ideology to be exalted and divulged' (Cavallaro, p.125). Race is the categorization of people on the basis of 'racially distinctive' features, such as the colour of their skin.

These two factors have contributed significantly to the creation of national and territorial identities, and the advancement of ideologies through both imperial and colonial power. In order to establish one superior nation's ideology over another, there has to be an Other that is marginalised as inferior. This sense of contrast between inferiority and superiority cannot be established until the self and Other are too, established. Racial differences have been the greatest scapegoats in this ploy: the more remote and primitive a colonised population appears to be, the more justifiable the oppression and exploitation.

Although decolonisation (the process whereby a once dependent nation has achieved state sovereignty) has more or less been achieved across the world, newer modifications have become apparent through direct, or indirect, control of Third World economies, and foreign governments. These new and improved recipes for colonisation have now evolved, changed their names slightly and are now known as: neo-colonisation and neo-imperialisation.

Violence is a very essential component of colonialism and racism: it is a quick and easy device of oppression towards the Other. Cleverly articulated, violence committed by the oppressor is set aside, whereas violence committed by the oppressed is made publicly renowned and coloured to the public as terrorism, sadism and crime. Franz Fanon in examining the repercussions of racism and colonialism of black people argues that 'the promotion of justice and…the psychological liberation of the oppressed requires recourse to violence' (Cavallaro, p.126). Although he does not encourage violence for the sake of violence, he concludes that violence is endemic: the coloniser uses violence against the colonised who will use it against one another in despair and frustration; but it is only by channelling violence at the oppressor will the 'wretched of the Earth' change their circumstances.


Edward Said contends that Orientalism is defined as the phenomenon where the East has been reconstructed by the West since the Renaissance. Accordingly, Orientalism's objective is to 'validate Western values, political and economic systems and structures of domination, by posting as Other anyone or anything apparently at odds with Western institutions' (Cavallaro, p.126). Said also adds that the West has more often than not tried to make sense of the unfamiliar and mysterious East by comparing it to textual bodies and narratives that are not more than merely 'mythical presuppositions' (p.127).

Art Exclusion and Post-modernism

Less than violent oppression has been witnessed by the exclusion of non-Western artists, for until recently art history and aesthetic appreciation has been dominated by a Eurocentric outlook that has excluded the Other as primitive, savage and naïve even.

Traditionally, Western definitions of art also tended to group all non-Western works into one single group, collected and put in cabinets even. Hence the popularity of museological practices and methodologies whose primary objective was to present non-Western cultures and artefacts as alien, relying on stereotypes of race and society to make them 'intelligible to a Western public' (Cavallaro, p.128).

Although the advent of post-modernism and globalisation have enabled the crossing over of cultures through the more flattened space and time realm, in the process some traditional Western and non-Western distinctions have become disintegrated. Many non-Western cultures across the planet have even started to show signs of post-modernism, yet there is still a concern with crisis and social disintegration because of the different historical, political and environmental factors experienced by that culture.

I Feel Lost…Help!

Ending this acquaintance with the Other, Julia Kristeva sheds some light as to how to deal with the Other. She argues that instead of trying to make sense of the Other, individuals should learn to respect what they cannot know or understand. As all to often than not, fear of the Other usually ends up generating blind hatred and other sentiments such as fascism, racism, genocide, and an obsession with national identities, languages and territories. Not forgetting that incorporating and integrating the Other into dominant cultural structures cab lead to them being denied their exclusive differences, and hence their right to be different. She also adds that by accepting the unknown in ourselves, enables us to learn and accept the unknown in others.

So simply put, embrace the unknown, have no fear and respect the Other!

John Berger's Ways of Seeing: The Language of Advertising

During week 3 of our Theory module's session we watched John Berger's ‘Ways of Seeing, Episode 4: The Language of Advertising’.

Although this episode is filmed and set in the 1970s, last week, over thirty years on, it was still very inspiring and pretty innovative to the novice, but nonetheless I thought it was very educational and thought-stimulating. Hence, our assignment for week 4 is to comment on the video with regards to the following aspects of semiotic analysis:

· The distinction between signifier and signified of the sign
· The transfers of signifieds between signs
· The codes that structure this transfer of signifiers
· The wider structures of meaning which are the ideologies or mythologies
· The ways of seeing that can challenge the signs, codes and ideologies and mythologies
· The social conditions and means of mechanical reproduction that are articulated through the images themselves

Let's start off my analysis with firstly acquainting ourselves with this video episode that caused so much controversy when it was first released over thirty years ago. Part of a four episode series, this episode looks at the phenomenon of publicity with a comparison to oil paintings.

Everyday we are subjected to messages, either mobile on the sides of buses or fixed on walls of tall buildings, nonetheless each of these messages call out to one thing: the promise of another way of life. But then Berger goes on to further stimulate our brain buds by questioning 'where is this other way of life?', and indeed where is it?

Berger then goes on to say that publicity emulates works of art, indeed pieces of art are actually used by publicity to echo certain devices, or signs such as atmosphere, glamour, romance, idyllic settings, places, objects, poses, symbols of prestige, gestures and even, signs of love. And these signs are used constantly in publicity, maybe even to give it a sense of credibility and psychological association. Where oil paintings reflect what people have, publicity shows the aspirations humans want to achieve.

With a technological jump from the oil painting to the more modern device of capturing images, we can turn to the camera. Colour photography and oil painting are definitely related to each other as they both perform the same function. As colour photography is a tool of publicity, homogenising publicity with the colour photographic images it contains, Berger says that publicity and oil painting both scream: ''You Are What You Have''. With the oil painting, we can see that from the settings they are displayed in, back in the days paintings were shown in the comfortable abode of the artist and the grand, rich and expensive frames that held the painting in place; whereas with publicity and the colour photograph what easier way to value what is being publicised than by its popularity, number of exposures and most importantly, its profit margin.

Looking at the material conditions of reproduction, Berger shows us what is visible behind the image with the publicised image of the perfume decorated with the beautiful model adorning it and the contrasting monotonous real ladies working at the factory packing and producing the perfume. This shows us another truth: what is visible is the wealth, but not how it was accumulated.

What oil painting's function was for centuries, publicity has taken over to not just consolidate one's own value, but to enhance it too. But, as Berger asks again: 'Where did this wealth come from?'

As we can see from the many oil paintings of the past, the human body was pretty much glorified as a symbol of beauty, nowadays that human beauty has been renamed to glamour, and replaced in publicity images and messages to the model, replacing the beautiful goddesses of past oil paintings.

According to the Online Encarta English Dictionary, glamour is defined as 'an irresistible alluring quality that somebody or something possesses by virtue of seeming much more exciting, romantic, or fashionable than ordinary people or things' and also 'striking physical good looks or sexual impact, especially when it is enhanced with highly fashionable clothes or make-up'. As we can conclude, the magic words here are that glamorous people or glamorous things are considered to be much more exciting than ordinary people or ordinary things, and the enhancement of seemingly ordinary things or ordinary people with fashionable clothes or make-up seem to do the trick in the transformation to glamour. Thus, adding excitement, romance and fashion to oneself seemingly creates glamour, yet also dries the pocket: as they all entail the provision, and constant funding, of money.

Henceforth, publicity is the process to being glamorous, and glamour is pretty much having what other 'ordinary' people, or objects, don't have through acquiring money which fuels glamour. And with the promulgation of money in the oh-so-fabulous equation of glamour, a state of envy is declared. Therefore, glamour is the state of being envied, and indeed, glamour cannot exist without social envy.

And what better cliché to avert to than 'money is the root of all evil', than now! And what better device to fuel this than publicity? But how I hear you ask. Well frankly put by Berger, publicity appeals to the way of life we aspire to. In other words publicity creates this delusion that our life will be different and our relationships will be radiant but, and there's a very big BUT to follow here, only achievable if money is available, and so creates an anxiety to make more money. For those who lack money, and in turn, lack glamour become faceless: undesirable and inadequate.

Yet the funny thing about it is that we are actually in turn, consoled by a mere dream! For, the more monotonous our present is, the more aspirable, and imaginative our futures can be, and that's pretty much the core philosophy of publicity that makes it almost credible and desirable: The Free World of the Future.

Going back to our original question of where this other way of life is, we can come to the conclusion that there isn't actually another way of life, well not realistically, but psychologically. Publicity creates a mad culture where ideologies control its system, so funnily enough it's all in our heads, construed by what is known as the publicity dream.

There are three main dreams:

· The dream of later tonight
· The skin dream
· The dream of a far away place

The first dream of 'later tonight' takes us to the thought that if we buy a bottle of Vodka Smirnoff and wear the latest Gucci's we will bring the most pleasure, and create the most fun atmosphere, and might even end up waking up in the morning next to the best looking person we pulled during our night of enjoyment. The second dream, 'the skin dream' brings to us the feel of skin, by heightening on our need for the sense of touch; deluding us, or compensating even, with reciprocity almost. Finally, 'the dream of a far away place' takes us to places we only see in travel brochures, giving the sense of distances without horizons; almost like being in two places at the same time. But all adieus to purchasing some object that is publicised in that way will we, supposedly, get to feel and be a part of those dreams.

Thus as is emphasised, only through the spending of money towards the purchase of the publicised image associated with the neutral object, such as perfume or jeans, that we get to be a part of that dream.

This in turn, brings us to the all destructive force of the all mighty capitalism: the power to acquire through spending hard earned money. Capitalism pretty much states that the sum of everything is money, and on that note Berger contends that, the anxiety on which publicity plays is the fear that having nothing you will be nothing. Money is life. Not that if you don't have money you will starve, but in the sense that money is the token of, and the key to, every human capacity: The power to spend money is the power to live.

With this view of money is everything and wealth equates to happiness, and the reality that forces us to be efficient and economic at the same time, two very contrasting worlds are created because publicity abuses reality to make objects seem more attractive to the individual. This is very apparent with images of the luxurious West versus images of the poverty stricken East with hardly anything to eat. That's when the mythology of the free capitalist culture comes into play.

Mythology and ideology both create a sense of denaturalisation of what seems natural. This can be shown by the excessive publicity of fashion where for example, if you buy Chanel No.5 you will automatically be transformed to look like the advertised model or the image of wealth and prosperity that is portrayed.

This is why publicity is a very manipulative play on words, especially when it comes to semiotics, rhetoric tropes, allegories and metaphors too. Publicity uses these devices to transfer meaning to a neutral object. Publicity does this by having an advert or image of a model posing on a beach looking beautiful with a bottle of perfume cradled in the sand beside her, for example. In such an image, beauty is transferred to the purchase of the perfume, entailing with it the desire and sense of wantonness that follows in cue. In this case, the signified, the beautiful model, transfers an image of association to the signifier, the perfume bottle.

Although Berger says in short, that publicity is an abuse of reality, he concludes his documentary by saying that each individual should regard the images/advertised message according to one's experience.

Pondering that though, I wonder how an individual from the oh-so-far-away poverty stricken Africa would react to our glorified Western images of wealth and capitalist ideologies..

What's the Difference? Fuck It! Rhetorically I Mean.

What is Rhetoric?

According to Cavallaro, rhetoric is the art of 'expression and persuasion', an art which consists of tropes, images and figures of speech. Rhetoric also shapes meaning, for pretty much any utterance can be read rhetorically as well as literally.

The mechanisms of rhetoric can be shown on two levels:
  • In everyday sign systems such as advertising and political slogans
  • Through the displacement of referential meaning through images

Because all words can be seen as metaphors, words don't refer transparently to objects or ideas, instead they 'displace them by translating them into abstract and arbitrary signs' (Cavallaro, p.28).

New Criticism and Positivism

Inspired by critics such as T. S. Eliot, Cleanth Brooks, R. P. Blackmur, Allen Tate, W. K. Wimsatt, M. C. Beardsley and R. Penn Warren in the 1940s and 1950s, New Criticism's ideology sees that 'rhetorical devices are a distinctive feature of literary texts' (Cavallaro, p.29). New Critics see the text as a 'complex structure of meaning, or organisation of language, to be analysed with close reference to its rhetorical devices and specifically with a focus on irony, paradox, tension and ambiguity' (Cavallaro, p.29).

On the other hand though, Positivism seeks to view language as a neutral medium for the transcription of facts, and that literature manipulates language through rhetorical devices that make it far from transparent.
New Critics' tasks consisted of isolating the devices through which a text is built-up, and the produced effects, independently of the reader's emotions and the intentions of the writer. But this tactic, according to Wimsatt and Beardsley in The Verbal Icon creates two fallacies: Intentional, confusing the text and its origin; and Affective, the text and its results. Later developments in this field went on to emphasise the importance of the text itself rather than its origins or results.

And so, New Criticism's approach to rhetoric proposes that:
  1. A text's obscurities and contradictions produced by its rhetorical structure must be clarified and resolved; rhetoric must be domesticated
  2. Rhetorical language must be divorced from ordinary language

This re-evaluation of rhetorical language came with the writings of Formalist Critic and linguist Roman Jakobson who believes that poetic mechanisms (especially rhetorical ones as images, tropes, sound, rhythm and rhyme) constitute 'a special kind of language rather than a superficial decoration of so-called ordinary language' (Cavallaro, p.30).

Rhetoric and Ideology

Rhetorical language often eminently serves ideological objectives, hence the intertwination of rhetoric and ideology. For centuries, classical theorists were eager to define the codes and conventions of rhetoric as a command of this art was essential to the successful outcomes in the manipulation of language, more often than not, for political purposes.

Many Greek and Roman writers such as the great Aristotle, Cicero and Quintilian, among others have paid homage to this doctrine of rhetoric. For one, Cicero prescribed the rules for oral and written composition as comprising of five processes:
  • Invention: the discovery of appropriate verbal material
  • Arrangement: organisation into structure
  • Style: formulation of the mode of delivery relevant to the occasion
  • Memory: the ability to store and recycle utterances and images
  • Delivery: the elaboration of techniques for producing a successful rhetorical package
Therefore, a culture's understanding of rhetoric tends to mirror its dominant ideology; many classical and Renaissance approaches to rhetoric show that rhetorical language defines and affects people's actions because it is an important aspect of human behaviour.

Discoveries in the philosophy of language have shown that speech is a species of language. J. L. Austin argues that 'in any use of language, a speaker performs many acts' (Cavallaro, p.32), and that there are three main types of speech act.
  1. Locutionary: the act of saying something (stating)
  2. Illocutionary: an act done in saying something (reminding)
  3. Prelocutionary: an act done by saying something (warning)

As language constructs reality, rhetoric takes over language in all its manifestation, so that without rhetoric 'there may be no reality for us to speak or write about' (Cavallaro, p.32). Where language displaces reality by 'substituting disembodied and conventional signs for concrete objects..[r]hetoric throws this overtly capitalizing on tropes' (Cavallaro, p.32). Tropes can be defined as strategies which turn something into something else.

Two major aspects of rhetoric which produce meaning by 'unsettling conventional assumptions' between a sign and the concept it is supposed to stand for are irony and allegory. Irony is used to say something by seeming to say something else: what is affirmed is at the same time negated. Allegory though is the device used to displace meaning by speaking otherwise: by stressing that the meanings of the sign are not inherent in the sign itself but attributed to something else.

Jacques Derrida: Deconstruction

Born 1930, Jacques Derrida classified all language as rhetorical and that was the main foundation of his deconstruction theory. Where everything is a text 'any set of signs can be explored and interpreted as an organisation of language' (Cavallaro, p.33). For Derrida, texts do not exist independently of how they are interpreted. Deconstruction, is mainly about showing how texts question themselves.

Derrida proposes the thought of a 'plural and culturally constructed subject' (Cavallaro, p.34), and he questions the convention of memisis: where texts are able to reflect reality truthfully, by emphasising that reality is an effect of how it is represented, interpreted, and distorted even. And in the domain of history, Derrida believes that what is recalled as history is actually different to what really happened. This is because real events are recorded, and shaped in that process by 'dominant systems of values' that put forth certain events and repressed, or marginalised, others. In turn as Derrida says 'there is not one single history..but rather histories' (Cavallaro, p.34).


Proposed by Saussure, difference is the mechanism whereby 'a sign derives meaning from its phonemic difference from another sign' (Cavallaro, p.35), for example 'cat' and 'rat', but one must not limit difference to minimal pairs only, for a sign leads to many other signs such as 'mat', 'sat', 'hat', etc.

Where Western thought is logocentric, in its efforts to differentiate between non-rhetorical (supposedly reliable), and rhetorical (unreliable) forms of text, this has created phonocentrism: the superiority of speech (phone) over writing.

Rhetoric enters our lives the moment a word is uttered, for in that moment an abstract symbol replaces a physical object. But traditional scholars wishing to hold onto the myth of an 'undistorted and undistorting' language, resisted the rhetorical side of human discourse.

Paul de Man: Grammar and Rhetoric

Paul de Man concentrates on the relationship between rhetoric and grammar, for rhetoric and grammar most often than not cross over into each other, and are interlocked at all times. According to him, rhetoric is everywhere language can be found.

Where grammar defines what is a properly formed sentence, it cannot tell how to interpret the sentence, nor can it deliver exact meanings. Rhetorical questions exemplify this, for a rhetorical question is defined as 'a question that does not expect an answer, or for which an answer is more or less obvious' (Cavallaro, p.37).

Thus as grammar plays a major role in the operations of language, by laying down rules, the realisation that grammar and rhetoric tend to merge makes them both an 'underpinning of human discourse' (Cavallaro, p.37).

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

My Head is Stuck in...

As well as the oh-so-informative, yet curriculed, Dani Cavallaro's 'Critical and Cultural Theory' book, I've currently also got my head stuck in the following books:

  1. 'Art in Modern Culture: An Anthology of Critical Texts', Edited by Francis Frascina and Jonathan Harris
  2. 'Making History: Art and Documentary in Britain from 1929 to Now', Tate Liverpool Albert Dock
  3. 'Power without Responsibility: The Press, Broadcasting, and New Media in Britain', James Curran and Jean Seaton
  4. 'Contemporary Arab Women's Art: Dialogues of the Present', Fran Lloyd
  5. 'The Network Society', Jan van Dijk

Monday, October 30, 2006

Let's Talk About Sex!

What is Sex?

Traditionally, the term 'sex' referred to the difference between males and females with regard to their reproductive organs, and the activity leading to reproduction.

Gender and Gender Role

Judith Butler argues that 'gender is performative' (Cavallaro, p108). Which means that the individual's 'gendered identity' is produced through performance and role-playing. Repetition also plays a major part in this process too; by performing certain acts repeatedly the individual acquires an apparently 'coherent identity'. Adding to this, repetition dictates dominant ideologies and ways of organizing sexual behaviour of what a particular culture expects of its members.

A gender role concurrently is built by 'various cultural discourses, and particularly by language'. Even statements, such as 'it's a boy' or 'it's a girl', contribute to the social construction of gendered identities 'and to the enforcement of performative acts associated with them' (Cavallaro, p109).

Sexual Morality

A field of ethical philosophy concerned with establishing the principles of moral behaviour in sexual matters: it seeks to define what sexual activities are permissible, and who is ethically or legally entitled to take part in them (Cavallaro, p110). Adding to this, cultures take different measures to control sexuality by addressing whom one may have morally sound relationships. And this erupts mainly from the view of sex an 'an unruly appetite hell-bent on loosening the social fabric' (Cavallaro, p111).


There are two apparent waves in the history of feminism. One that took place between 1830 and 1920, with its political campaign revolving around 'enfranchisement and the extension of civil rights'; and the second wave which emerged in the 1960's with connection to 'women's increasing access to the worlds of work and education, the availability of birth control, and the establishment of legislation on the right to abortion and on equal pay policies' (Cavallaro, p112).

Of the demises of both the First and Second wave is the fact that their agendas sought to embody prominently white, Western and middle-class values. Women tended to seek the opportunities available to men from their own ethnic and class background.

But since late 1980 though, there has been a new emergence: 'post-feminism'. Literally meant as the after of feminism, post-feminism sees that 'universal emancipation has not been achieved, and contends that many women across the globe are still fighting for their most basic rights' (Cavallaro, p113). Needless to say though, post-feminism doesn't point to the downfall of feminism but rather redirects feminist concerns.

Nevertheless, according to Germaine Greer in 'The Whole Woman', she argues that although women have come a long way in the past thirty years, the battle is not yet over and that there is a danger of women becoming complacent about what has been achieved and settling for false forms of equality.

There are two categories of feminist theories:

· Essentialist
· Anti-essentialist

Essentialist feminism contends that there is 'a natural essence at the core of femininity', and contains three approaches: Humanist, experiential and radical feminism. Humanist feminism sees that there is a 'deep self' common to all women universally. Experiential feminism expands on humanist feminism to include material experiences too, such as motherhood. Radical feminism argues that dominant ideologies hinge on inclusion and exclusion factors which lead to certain groups of people being labelled as outsiders, and that this is the fate of women in patriarchy.

On the other hand though, anti-essentialist feminism is 'the product of culture and politics' (Cavallaro, p115), whereby sexual difference is culturally constructed and with that 'people's biological and anatomical characteristics are invested with mythical meanings', for example attributing men with reason and science, and women with nature and emotions. These are, simply said 'contingent decisions laden with ideological connotations', for masculinity and femininity are not realities carved in natural laws, but on the contrary they are cultural concepts that change completely through time and space.

Pairing femininity and nature gave rise to yet another approach: Eco-feminism. Eco-feminism sees that the Earth is a living, nurturing and all embracing force decorated by female and maternal elements. For eco-feminists argue that nature is a feminist issue, even so, at times femininity is 'animalized' and nature is devalued through metaphorical description as 'a female body available for male consumption' (Cavallaro, p116), inscriptions such as 'virgin' land for example, or the association of women with 'chicks, bitches' further emphasise this.

Homosocial, Heterosexism and Homosexuality

Homosocial refers to feelings generated by single sex institutions such as armies, or schools which lead to the bonding of people from the same sex. Heterosexism is the term used to describe language and behaviour that translates explicit hostility towards lesbians and gay individuals; this can even extend to generate an obsessive loathing known as homophobia.

Largely defined as 'erotic intercourse involving people of the same sex' (Cavallaro, p117), homosexuality is still surrounded by ambiguities as to whether homosexual preferences should be attributed to innate dispositions or environmental causes. Although the noun 'homosexual' intended to refer to both men and women, it has come of age to refer to primarily men. Homosexual women have been designated at 'lesbians' (from Lesbos, origin place of sixth century BC poet Sappho, who wrote about erotic relations amongst women).

Micheal Foucalt who argues that 'homosexuality is a social construction used by dominant ideologies to differentiate between normality and abnormality' (Cavallaro, p117), brings us to the issue of Lesbian women and Gay men's politics. Un-identical in their aims and concerns, certain divisions of Lesbian feminism argue that both heterosexuality and male homosexuality value men above women, and that lesbian relationships are the only way of asserting women's rights.

Sexual Diversity

Central to the approach of sexual diversity is an assertion to protrude the pleasures of multiple sexualities, thus bringing us to 'trans-genderists'. A trans-genderist is neither transsexual nor transvestite: s/he is not defined by cross-dressing or by a literal change of sex affected by medical technology. Rather s/he is someone who moves across conventional gender boundaries, regardless of sexual preferences (Cavallaro, p118).

So, in conclusion we can say that desires and pleasures associated with any of the different forms of sexuality are pretty much 'inseparable from the cultural circumstances in which they are experienced' (Cavallaro, p119). On one hand, radical feminism presents heterosexuality as a unified phenomenon, and actually accuses it of exposing women to 'defenceless exploitation'. And on the other hand, in contrast, homosexuality has been presented as a 'liberating' option.

Nonetheless though, according to Belsey and Moore (1997), culture itself is a limit of acquired knowledge, for there is no truth available outside culture where injustice can be challenged. Culture in itself is contradictory, making it thus, unstable too. So in an attempt to respect and acknowledge these differences, and to prevent them from being carved into mere labels, we must learn to read cultural products as stories that more often than not, perpetuate the disabling of gender stereotypes. But at the same time, we must also question where stereotypes come from, whose interests they serve and under what circumstances.