Monthly Archives: May 2008

Wrestling With Politics: Language & Literature

Recently I tubed into a couple of hysterical  moments in American Politics:

The Democratic Race Comes To RAW

Mr.President: Deal or No Deal?

OK!…Lets talk about Kamal’s missed opportunity – this could have been his  stepping stone into Hollywood… All he had to do was show up to WWE RAW in his George Bush costume to promote DASAVATHARAM.

But we should not have Kamal saying ” Do you smell what the Rock is cooking? ” … Instead, Kamal’s promo as Bush will be followed by this song from UNNAL MUDIYUM THAMBI:


Poor Aristotle thought:

All who have meditated on the art of governing have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth

Empire rhymes nicely with vampire… And thankfully, I don’t know if this Fate was meant to be Good or Bad…

Oops! I did it again (Thank You Miss Spears)… Once again, I sucked you into my moronic world.

As I was watching these clips, passages from Philosopher William Irwin’s essay ( published in 2004)  kept flashing in my mind.  And I must thank Amardeep Singh for including this particular passage in his article (Link: “Intertextuality” is under attack” ) :

Perhaps the notion that social and historical phenomena are texts is not such a difficult pill to swallow. Historians and lay people alike speak of such things as their interpretations of the French Revolution or the Clinton presidency. If a text is just an object of interpretation, such things can and should be recognized as texts. It is not just eminent and lofty socio-historical matters that Kristeva would have us take as part of the textual system, however. Rather, as Manfred Pfister says, for Kristeva, “everything—or, at least, every cultural formation—counts as a text within this general semiotics of culture.”8 Everything is a text; not just revolutions and administrations, but professional wrestling and detergent are texts to be interpreted—as, in fact, they are by Barthes. Still, even this is not too disconcerting when taken in the proper spirit. Certainly an adept interpreter can garner interesting insights about the drama and symbolism of professional wrestling and the marketing ploys that determine the color of our detergent. This is not all that Kristeva has in mind, however. There is no separation of the social text and the literary text, but rather the two must be woven together to produce the tapestry. As Graham Allen captures Kristeva’s point, “we must give up the notion that texts present a unified meaning and begin to view them as the combination and compilation of sections of the social text. As such, texts have no unity or unified meaning on their own, they are thoroughly connected to on-going cultural and social processes” (p. 37).

I could write a whole book to defend the so-called illogical position, but I will give you a few simple reasons. 

First, bits & bites on textual lores

Starts with the three basic positions on the meaning of text:

(1) Every literary text is determined, has a predetermined meaning which the reader or critic seeks to discover.

(2) Every literary text is indeterminate, having no predetermined meaning, so the reader or critic can impose or discover whatever meaning he/she wishes;

(3) Over a period of historical time and/or place, any specific literary text may lend itself to a variety of readings, but the text itself has boundaries set by its structures and codes, and these latter limit the range of possible meanings.


Major Codes = Social, psychological, economic, political, moral, intertextual and religious codes which may dominate a text.

Minor Codes = food, dress, etc…

Local Codes = SOCIOLECT +/- IDIOLECT ( SOCIOLECT refers to a widely available social store of lore and knowledge. IDIOLECT refers to the store of subjective experience of the writer. )


Realist Text: equilibrium-disequilibrium-equilibrium

Dialectic: thesis-antithesis-synthesis

Metanarrative: sequences of the above in an ascending order

Then it all gets too fuzzy : Age of Reason, Romanticism, Surrealism, Expressionism, DADA, Cubism, Realism,  Modernism, Post-Modernism, Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, Genres, Simple, Complex & Multiple Plots, Plotless, etc

 OK! Back to Mr.Irwin’s bitter pills

(1) As a reader (I’m not qualified to be a critic,  so I read and deliver), I have no intention of changing the following definitions:

Signifier – the sound or image that forms the  word we use; the squiggly lines on a page or the waves in the air that reach our eardrums.

Signified – the object that the word refers to;

Sign – the sound/image itself that combines the two concepts above; the piece of language that is the thing we call a “word” 

Significatum – The object to which a sign refers. An “object” may be a thing or a concept, it may be in the empirical world or inside language.

Transitive Sign – A mental concept with its referent significatum will refer to a concrete object in the empirical world.

Intransitive Sign – refers inwards to the processes of thought and language.

(2) English Grammarians can have their fun  with the Subject-Verb-Object syntax…

But as a multilingual simpleton, I shall enjoy FOCAT and ARREST to say:

Mind Your Language – The First Lesson Clip 1

Mind Your Language – The First Lesson Clip 2

Mind Your Language – The First Lesson Clip 3

Mind Your Language – The First Lesson Clip 4

Sure… You can argue that the characterization in this sitcom involves stereotyping with politically incorrect dialogues, but try focusing on the problems with English Grammar…

(3)  The word “theory” when applied to Literary, Historical and Cultural studies is mostly speculative ( hard to compare it with the “theory of relativity” used in science). 

(4) Forcing a reader to take a logical position will cause more people to accept  the fallacy of the ideal reader. There is no ideal reader – only individuals with different ranges of reading competence and general experience. A simple example would be a person following a plot linearly and ignoring all literary devices or even trying to identify themselves with a fictional character.

5) To a certain extent, cultural and historical studies (esp. the ones involved with studying pop and mass culture) swallows literary studies, but I have yet to see it destroy Literature. 

6) Irwin is trying to sell a direct comparision between a book and a film (aka auetur theory from 1960s). When I’m viewing a film in a theater, I become a watcher not a reader… I have no control over the speed at which images are moving ( unless you’re watching a film on DVD, video or Internet, but that’s a luxury only some enjoy), but when it comes to a book, I have total control of turning page to page, focusing on particular words or even the syntax (i.e. the normal English version involving Subject – Verb – Object syntax or the prose norm involving FOCAT and ARREST). 



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