Sunday, May 13, 2018

Short summary: The Laugh of the Medusa / Helene Cixous

In her seminal work "The Laugh of the Medusa" feminist thinker Helene Cixous deals with the topic of feminine writing. Her main point in the article is that women should pursue writing despite attempts to drive them away from the field in the past. She also demonstrates how feminine writing can look like through the text itself.

Cixous holds that women seldom wrote in history since they were denied such a position. If a woman did write it was considered "nonsense". The point in urging women to write is so that they can "write women", women created and written by women and not the by men. Cixous stresses that women should not internalize images projected onto them by men, images that alienated women from a sense of self-worth found in writing. Even when women did write they tended to adopt a male's point of view, and so the history of western writing is deeply phalluscentric .

Cixous argues in "The Laugh of the Medusa" that a woman should write texts and herself in two ways: on a personal and historical level. On the personal level the woman will return to her body to feel comfortable in it. By censoring women's writing the female body was also censored. Writing according to Cixous will give the woman back her assets and pleasures which were bounded and set her free from guilt. On the general-historical level a woman's writing marks her active entrance into history has an agent with initiative.

Cixous also holds that the woman always preserves someone else's potency. The ability a mother has to give love which is not destructive leads her to understand other human beings and especially other women.

As a subject of history the woman has always functioned in several positions. This is why Cixous thinks she has the potential to take apart a unified, hegemonic and organized thinking of history. A woman links all women together, her private history entwined with the national and global one. Cixous wants to break the rules of the game by not defining what feminine writing is, since any theorization of it will fall into the subordination of phalluscentric economy.

Women cannot avoid using men's language according to Cixous, but they should not be driven back by this. If a woman was always the opposite signifier of man, it's time to take a new position within discourse and make the signifier her own. For Cixous any feminine text has to be subversive, the mere act of it. A woman can write from a position that no man can have  

Sherry Ortner / Is Female to Male as Nature to Culture? - Summary, Review and Criticism

Sherry Ortner’s “Is Female to Male as Nature to Culture?” 1972 article stirred up feminist and anthropological discourse of the time by elucidating the observation stated plainly by its title. In “Is Female to Male as Nature to Culture?” Ortner argues that empirical findings show that all human cultures distinguish male from female, while favoring the former. The base for this distinction lies in the universal search for that which distinguished mankind from all other animals, “the superiority of man over beast (Ecclesiastes, 3, 19). This search leads us to separate the body (found with all animals and often very similar to that of humans in terms of bodily functions) and mind (which is perceived as unique to humans). This distinction between body and mind is a base for a binary structure which seperates nature and culture, earthly and spiritual, pure and profane (see also Mary Douglas / Purity and Danger and Julia Kristeva’s “Powers of Horror”) and so forth. The woman was driven to the nature side of this binary equation while the man was assigned to culture. The woman’s ability to bear and nourish children placed her closer to nature (see Simone de Beauvoir / The Second Sex).


According to Ortner, because the female was a human in the full sense, it was possible to turn her into a complete “other” - like me but not me. The otherness of the woman was hence institutionalized in various social formations such as family, politics and economy. This was a grand scale project aimed at maintaining Man’s sense of a special place within existence. This project did not stop with men and women and also moved on to races, religions and classes as part of the attempt to portray the “correct” and worthy human.


Ortner’s article drew wide scale attention, commentary and controversy and turned into one of the most quoted texts in Feminism. Criticism came in the form of arguments holding that Ortner is working through Western Judeo-Christian concepts which cannot be universalized. Ortner’s “Is Female to Male as Nature to Culture?” was also criticized for undermining the Feminist agenda by essentializing the difference between men and women and weaving it into the fabrics of human culture and even ontology.  

Additional reading:


Monday, March 19, 2018

Short Summary: One Dimensional man / Marcuse

In his 1964 "One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society" Neo-Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse (of the Frankfurt School) describes the state of society under capitalism. Marcuse introduces the concept of the "one dimensional man" as someone who is subjected to a new kind of totalitarianism in the form of consumerist and technological capitalism. Rationalism for Marcuse is a form of oppression which denies the possibility of change.
Marxism traditionally relied on discontent which arises from internal conflict as the motor for historical change. The problem with 20th century capitalism, according to Marcuse, is that conflicts concealed my mass consumer society in a manner which precludes change. We are a type of "blissful slaves", willingly obeying a system which keep us distractedly entertained and numbingly sated. A man under capitalism is "one dimensional" since he bears no trace of the conflicts which make him multi-dimensional and capable of change. This is why Marcuse believe that people under Liberal Western capitalism are no freer than people under totalitarian role, their oppression is just transparent. Capitalism is "enslaving us softly", not by mean of violent oppression but rather through comfortable temptation.
For Marcuse the one dimensional man is closely related to both consumerism and mass media that together serve as an ideological apparatus which reproduces itself through its subjects. This apparatus promotes conformity and is aimed at preventing resistance.      

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Political Unconscious Explained (Jameson)

The political unconscious is a term coined by Neo-Marxist American thinker Fredric Jameson which holds that the cultural text is tied to an ideological-political "unconscious" which underlies it. This political hidden background expresses a class conflict which is expressed in the text in a complex manner. The function of the cultural text, according to Jameson, is to aesthetically reconcile to conflict which cannot be bridged in the material-historical level. A thorough analysis of a text can uncover its political unconscious and discover "symptoms" of the historical condition. The analysis Jameson offers for uncovering the political unconscious combines Marxist, semiotic and psychoanalytic analysis.
In his 1981 "The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act" Jameson suggests reading the text as an allegory, an ideological signifying method which functions in the gap between signifier and signified. Tracing back the function of the allegory an lay bare the hidden social content which function at the basis of the text like the Freudian unconscious functions at the base of the individual. Jameson is after the collective-unconscious and he therefore adds in semiotics and Marxism to his analysis of the political unconscious.
The way the texts manifest the political unconscious for Jameson is similar to some extent to the "Aestheticizing" function of art described by Walter Benjamin in "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction". The text or art product try to symbolically resolve tensions and conflicts and thus contain them.       

See also:

More by Fred:

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Indirect Speech Acts - Definition and Examples

In most language use in the world, there are three main types of sentences. They are declarative, interrogative, and imperative. Each of these sentence types has a different illocutionary force. Declarative for instance, has the asserting illocutionary force, while interrogative is for asking/questioning, and imperative is for ordering/requesting. These are the examples of the sentences types:
[1.8 a]. I am a man. (declarative/stating)
[1.8 b]. I am a man? (interrogative/asking)
[1.8 c]. Be a man! (Imperative/ordering)
[1.8 d]. I (hereby) order you to be a man. (imperative/ordering)
In these sentences it is possible to see the distinctions of the sentence types of declarative, interrogative, and imperative. However, other forms of sentences are sometimes used for an intention or illocutionary force other than the one that is duly intended in using the sentence types.
Searle (1979) introduced the idea of indirect illocutionary act which also known as indirect speech act. This is speaker's act of communicating with hearer more than what is actually said. It relies on the knowledgeable background information about the conversation shared by both speaker and hearer. In other words, indirect speech acts is the act of conducting an illocutionary act indirectly. For example, one might say "Could you open the door?", thereby asking the hearer if he/she could open the door. Nevertheless, this interrogative sentence also requests the hearer to open the window indirectly. Searle (1979:33) made a point by using this example:
[1.9] A says to a friend say: "Let's go to the movie tonight."
            the friend B answers: "I have to study for an exam."
In this example [1.9] it shows that B (second utterance) doesn't answered A's question, but instead he/she utter a declarative sentence and asserts that he/she needs to study for an exam. This utterance is in fact, a form of an indirect speech act, and an act of refusal. As quoted from Mey (2001), Searle proofs that the second utterance in [1.9] is an act of refusing A's suggestion to the movie using 10 steps:
Step 1: A has made a suggestion (to go to the movies) and B has uttered a statement (about having to study for exam). These are facts that happen between both speaker.(Factual background)
Step 2: A assumes that B to be cooperative in the conversation and expect an answer that is more relevant in fulfillment of the Cooperative principle's maxim of relevance.(Cooperative principle)
Step 3: Relevant answers in this case should be among the following: acceptance(yes, sure), rejection(no, thanks), counter-suggestion(Why don't we make it tomorrow?), suggestion for further discussion(That entirely depends on what's on), etc.(Theory of speech act)
Step 4: No relevant answer in step 3 matches the answer made by B. so it is possible to say that it is not one of these. (Taken from step 1 to 3). (Inference of step 3)
Step 5: Therefore, it is possible to assume that B means more (or something entirely different), assuming that his answer is relevant, his illocutionary must differ from the literal one. Step 2 and 4 is the most important step in this argument, as Searle says "unless we can distinguish the primary from the literal, there is no way of making sense of indirect speech act"(Inference from step 2 and 4)
Step 6: Studying for exam usually takes a lot of time which is precious while going to a movie will also take some precious times. This is something that a student cannot afford to lose, especially in pre-exam condition. (Factual background information)
Step 7: Hence, it seems that B cannot do both studying for the exam and going to the movie.(inferring step 6)
Step 8: Preparatory condition of a proposal are the ability and willingness to do the proposed act.(Theory of speech act)
Step 9: Therefore, it is possible to assume that B having to do something else, cannot accept the proposal to go to the movie. (Inferring from step 1, 7, and 8)
Step 10: Therefore, his utterance about having to study for exam is probably a form of rejection of A's proposal. (Inferring step 5 and 9)
            Indirect speech acts theory is closely related to the theory of Grice's maxim of cooperative principles, which will be explained in subchapter 2.2.1 Incongruity theory. As mentioned by Huang (2007), Searle uses Cooperative principles to find inferences to identify indirect speech acts. He also mentioned that Searle has developed three approaches to analyze whether an utterance is a direct or indirect speech act. First, by assuming dual illocutionary act. The first one is literal or direct and the other one is non-literal or indirect. Second, find the relevant felicity conditions. The third step is as mentioned above, using the cooperative principles.
            On the other hand, if the illocutionary force and the sentence type is matched directly, it is called a direct speech act. Like in example [1.8.d], in that sentence the speaker clearly says his/her intention which is ordering. 


Felicity Condition - Definition and Explanation (speech acts)

Felicity condition is referred to the effectiveness of speech acts use of the speaker. Austin (1962), said that in using speech acts one has to fulfill certain conditions regarding the act that is being uttered. For example, when one is making a promise to another person, he/she has to fulfill the condition of that the hearer or the promisee to have a need something to be promised, and the speaker or the promiser will have the intention to fulfill that need; therefore the act of promising will be valid to be regarded as felicitous condition. In definition felicity condition is a state when the utterances made has met the appropriate conditions such as, appropriate context, conventional existence, authority, and also speaker’s sincerity. Another example is when a speaker says such as [1.7], this kind of utterance are only validly recognized as a felicitous speech acts if the speaker meets required condition to be able to validate the context. This kind of utterance is usually used by a priest or any other religious leader to pronounce a marriage between a man and woman. Then this kind of utterance should be brought upon the wedding in a for instance, church. Moreover, without the special privilege of a priest (or any other individuals given the special privilege to marry people) this kind of utterance will not be recognized as an appropriate use of speech acts or it has a different intention.
[1.7] “I pronounce you husband and wife”
According to Yule (1996), there are several types of pre-conditions, the first there is a general conditions which referred to the participants, for instance, the language used must be understood by both speaker and hearer and it is used in serious matter. Second, there are content conditions which concern the content of the utterance; it has to be about future matter which affects the future act of the speaker.
Searle (1969) has set some more detailed rules concerning felicity condition for each illocutionary acts. In his accordance, several conditions have to be fulfilled for a sentence to be felicitous. These rules mostly regarding with psychological and the beliefs of the speaker or hearer and each one of them has to be fulfilled in order to create a felicitous act. These rules are prepositional content, preparatory condition, sincerity condition, and essential condition as explained in the following:
1.      Propositional content: Propositional content condition explains about the illocutionary forces specify the acceptable conditions regarding with propositional content. In other words, it is the proposed condition of the speaker or hearer.
2.      Preparatory condition: In attempt to conduct a felicitous illocutionary act the speaker has to have a certain beliefs about the speaker's act and conditions and also, the speaker is required to have the power of authority over the hearer.
3.      Sincerity condition: In performing felicitous act the performer must have a certain psychological attitude concerning the propositional content of the utterance. For example, when a person is making a promise, he/she must have an intention of keeping it.
4.      Essential condition: Essential condition of an utterance has to do with its intention to get the hearer to perform the intended act.
These are some felicity conditions as proposed by Searle (1969, p.66-67):
1.      Felicity conditions: Request
            Propositional content: Future act A of H.
            Preparatory condition: (i) H is able to do A.(ii) It is not obvious to both S and H    that H will do A in the normal course of events of his own accord.
            Sincerity condition: S wants H to do A.
            Essential condition: Counts as an attempt to get H to do A.
2.      Felicity conditions: Asserting/Stating
            Propositional content: Any proposition p.
            Preparatory condition: (i) S has evidence (reasons, etc) for the truth of p. (ii) It is   not obvious for both S and H that H knows (does not need to be reminded of,   etc) p.
            Sincerity condition: S believes p.
            Essential condition: Counts as an undertaking to the effect that p represents an      actual state of affairs.
3.      Felicity conditions: Question
            Propositional content: Any proposition.
            Preparatory condition: (i) S does not know the answer (ii) It is not obvious that H   will provide the information without being asked.
            Sincerity condition: S wants this information.
            Essential condition: Counts as an attempt to elicit this information.
4.      Felicity conditions: Thanking
            Propositional content: Past act A done by H.
            Preparatory condition: A benefits S and S believes A benefits S.
            Sincerity condition: S feels grateful or appreciative for A.
            Essential condition: Counts as an expression of gratitude or appreciation.
5.      Felicity conditions: Advising
            Propositional content: Future act A of H.
            Preparatory condition: (i) S has some reason to believe A will benefit H (ii) It is     not obvious to both S and H that H will do A in the normal course of events.
            Sincerity condition: S believes A will benefit H.
            Essential condition: Counts as an undertaking to the effect that A is in H‘s best     interest.
6.      Felicity conditions: Warning
Propositional content: Future event E.
            Preparatory condition: (i) S thinks E will occur and is not in H’s interest (ii) S         thinks it is not obvious to H that E will occur.
            Sincerity condition: S believes E is not in H’s best interest.
            Essential condition: Counts as an undertaking that E is not in H’s best interest.
7.      Felicity conditions: Congratulating
            Propositional content: Some event, act, etc., E related to H
Preparatory condition: (i)  E is in H's interest.
            Sincerity condition: S is pleased at E.
            Essential condition: Counts as an expression of pleasure at E.
8.      Felicity conditions: Greeting
            Propositional content: None
            Preparatory condition: S has just encountered (or been introduced to, etc.) H.
            Sincerity condition: None
            Essential condition: Counts as courteous recognition of H by S.
9.      Felicity conditions: Promising
Propositional content: Future action A by S
Preparatory condition: (i) S believes H wants A done (ii) S is able to do A. (iii) A has not already been done. (iv) H will benefit from A.
Sincerity condition: S is willing to do A.
Essential condition: Counts as attempt of S to make H believes about the future act A to be done by S.
            There are also some other revelation of felicity conditions by another linguists. According to Cook (1989), felicity condition of an order are:
10.  Felicity Conditions: Order
Propositional content: Future act A by H
Preparatory condition: (i) S believes A needs to be done (ii) H is able to do A (iii) H has the obligation to do A (iv) S has right to tell H to do A
Sincerity condition: S wants H to do A
Essential condition: Counts as an attempt to get H to do A. (p.36)
The difference with the requesting is that in ordering the speaker needs to have a right to do so and the hearer needs to have the obligation to do the act.
            Another revelation is made by Anne Barron (2003). She deduce the felicity condition of offering as 2 types of commisives (offer to do x) and commisives-directives  as following:

11.  Felicity Conditions: Offer (commisives)
Propositional Content: S predicates a future act x of S
Preparatory condition: (i) S is able to perform x (ii) H wants S to perform x
Sincerity condition: S intends to do x
            Essential condition: Counts as the undertaking by S of an obligation to do x,                                           should S want H to do so. (p.126)
12.  Felicity conditions: Offer (commisives-directive)
Propositional Content: S predicates a future act x of S
Preparatory condition: (i) S is able to perform x. (ii) H wants S to perform x
Sincerity condition: (i) S intends to do x. (ii) S wants H to do x
Essential condition: (i) Counts as the undertaking by S of an obligation to do x,                          should S want H to. (ii) As an attempt by S to get H to do                            x. (p.126)
She also points out the felicity condition for refusal for an offer as following:
13.  Felicity condition: Refusal of offer
Propositional Content: S predicates a future act x of H
Preparatory condition: (i) H is able to (not) perform x. S believes H is able (not)                             to perform x. (ii) It is obvious that H would (not) do x                           without being asked.
Sincerity condition: S wants H (not) to do x
Essential condition: Counts as an attempt to get H (not) to do x. (p.128)


Speech Acts Classifications

Searle (1979) suggests that speech acts consist of five general classifications to classify the functions or illocutionary of speech acts; these are declarations, representatives, expressives, directives, and commissive.
Declaration speech act is the act that makes the propositional content corresponds with the reality. This type of speech act is the same as Austin’s performative sentence. In order to perform a declarations effectively, the speaker must have a special contextual privileges that allow him/her to perform an also contextual declaration. For example, when a priest says “I pronounce you husband and wife”, the priest (in the context of marriage) has the privilege to pronounce marriage and when this utterance is performed, the man and woman is then changed from singles into married people from the moment on. On the contrary, if the speaker is not a priest or has the privilege to marry people, the utterance will not be effective.
The next type of speech act is commisive. Commissives speech acts are the act of commiting to future actions. This type of speech act shows the intention of the speaker in the future which will be made to happen in later moment. One example of commissive is “I will come to your home tonight”. This example shows that the speaker intends to come to the hearer’s home at the night time of the day the utterance is said. Therefore the speaker commits that he/she will come to the speaker’s home at night. In simple English, the term of this speech act is commonly called promise.
Expressives are the type of speech act that shows the expression of the speaker via utterance. For example, “I’m sorry”, “I like it”, “Thank you”. These examples show how the speaker feels about a situation. In time when the speaker spoils coffee over someone else’s shirt he/she will say “I’m sorry”, when in time the speaker is given a slice of cheese and likes it then he/she will say “I like it” or “Thank you”, and so on.
Other type of speech act is directives. This type of speech act aims to make someone else to do something that the speaker desires. For instance, “could you lend me a pen?” this utterance shows that the speaker requests a pen from someone else, he/she indirectly order the other person to lend him a pen this gesture is also available in a more direct way as “Lend me a pen!” The intention of these utterances is to make the hearer to perform the action conveyed in the utterance itself. Directives are also known as asking, ordering, requesting, inviting, advising, and begging.
The last type of speech act is representative. In representative speech act, the speaker’s intention is to assert the speaker’s belief. One example is “I’m a good guy”, the intention of this utterance is to show that the speaker is to make believe the hearer that the speaker is a good guy. 

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