Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It's All Relative

Behold: Now I will blog about structuralism without understanding it all that well.

One idea that I can somewhat get my mind around is Saussure's statement, "signs function not through their intrinsic value but through their relative position." The signs we're interested in here are those of language, of course. Saussure opines that, because signs are comprised of an arbitrary relationship between signifier (the image or the sound) and signified (the concept or idea), we can only know one sign as it relates to another. Opposites and binaries are important in structuralism and this is because, according to the theory, we can only know a sign by clashing it against another. Man is not woman. Cat is not dog. Joker is not Batman. Etc. So, we arrive at the belief that signs are only interprettable as what we perceive them to be relative to other signs. We don't get meaning from a sign based on what it "essentially" is but what it is relative to its opposite and to everything else. Because Batman becomes justice and order, Joker manifests chance and chaos. And there can't be justice without chance and there can't be order without chaos, etc. It's all relative.

Starting on Post-structuralism made me understand these ideas a little bit better, mostly because Post-structuralism (apparently?/seemingly?) wishes to revel in a place where we can look past these oppositions and liberally assign meaning to each independent sign. I have a long way to go before I can speak particularly coherently about Post-structuralism, but at least starting on it has helped me really recognize how this binary system works and, as a result, how all signs we can know we know relatively. <---I think you're not supposed to end a sentence with an adverb, but I did it anyway.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Let's Talk Ideology

Dr. Christopher Craig's guest lecture on our class's central blog emphasizes ideology in understanding Marxism and Marxist theory. I'd like to first offer a big thank you to Dr. Craig for taking time out of his schedule to help our class further understand Marxism.

Dr. Craig's lecture pushes ideology as a central tennent of Marxism than we yet have in class. Definining ideology as "the representation of one particular group’s, or more specifically, one class’s outlook, values, and interests, as if they are 'universal' to all," Dr. Craig explores and explains the ways in which ideology shapes and perpetuates political and economic situations with an eye towards literary ideology.

A prominent example from the lecture is that of the image of Che Guevara, now sold by major corporations and bought by consumers to symbolize rebellion. These shirts are everywhere. Che became a popular man in the last decade or so. These shirts are also terribly ironic. Guevara's ideals have been marketed completely, becoming a part of ruling class ideology as a means by which to feel rebellious. For the consumer to feel this surge of adrenaline, though, he must first make that which he would theoretically rebel against more powerful by paying the company.

And so ideology has us locked in a system whereby we are constantly feeding the elite. I take issue with this, though. Does the fact that we recognize it not mean that we are free from it? Does it not provide for an opportunity to be a smart consumer? And isn't that enough? Or does Marxism want us to believe that we are not free until we've overturned the entire system? I disagree with this notion, if it is the case. An ability to see a system at work, perhaps through literary studies or perhaps through just good ol' astuteness should be enough to consider myself free - maybe not immediately free from the shackles of the system, but free to make a way within it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Marxism and liberal humanism are incongruent. And not just because Marxism makes me angry while liberal humanism and I are on decent terms.

Marxism responds violently (if not in a whiney way) to many of the ideas offered by liberal humanism. One of liberal humanism's basic tenets speaks of essential and unique individuality. Marxism denies this on several levels. It contends that there is no human nature (as theory tends to) and that our "essence" is simply the markings on a blank slate made by culture and politics, which in turn are both influenced by the economy. Art, then, is also influenced by these entirely materialistic factors. Liberal humanism argues that literature can bring us to human nature while Marxism argues that literature --- while perhaps not completely confined to the base-superstructure model --- can tell us no such thing, as no such thing exists. All it can show is a reflection of the text's cultural influence. And damn that culture if it's capitalist, the theory at least likes to hint with a wink and a nod.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Critical Theory and the Academy

Hello all out there. Starting a blog (or really any writing) is always a bit awkward, so I'll avoid tapdancing around that and just say something really strange so the rest of it goes smoothly from there. Does anybody know any way to dodge level 3 sex offender status? Oh, I'm asking for a friend, I swear.

Ahem. Alright. So, what do I foresee my blog becoming? Intelligent and fun. First I'll need to become intelligent (teah me, O Wise Professor), then I'll need to learn how to include pictures and such so as to make it fun. Actually, it looks like that might be pretty simple. But that can wait. Really, I would like to be able to put a somewhat witty tilt on what we're looking at in class without sacrificing any of the important aspects of the class content. This provides adequate segway into my next point for discussion in this entry: What do I already know about theory?

I suppose I've been gradually developing literary theory since English class became less about vowels and consonants and more about books and thoughts somewhere between my sophomore and junior years of high school. For a while, the only way I could pick up on feminist undertones or Marxist ideas in a text was to wikipedia the hell out of said text. But with some honing of the craft through classes, lots of reading, and my own personal writing, I've reached a point where I can't go into a kids movie or complete a video game without coming out of the experience with my mind exploring such ideas. This isn't at all to say I actually know what I'm doing with theory... I do look forward to being humiliated this semester.