Monday, April 4, 2011

final in progress

Choosing a text or an approach was not an easy task, especially because I sort of enjoyed reading many of the articles assigned in class. However, for my final paper I decided to combine two fields of study: Literary Theory and Latin American Studies.

In my essay I'd like to explore not the role of the reader but the construction of the reader as a predisposed subject who interprets 'the object of study' based on what s/he has been taught about that object. By 'predisposed subject' I mean that the interpretation of the reader is produced by what Stanley E. Fish calls interpretative communities which each one of them hold a particular ideology. Fish defines this concept in the following way: 

Interpretative communities are made up of those who share interpretive strategies not for reading (in the conventional sense) but for writing texts, for constituting their properties and assigning their intentions. In other words these strategies exist prior to the act of reading and therefore determine the shape of what is read rather than, as is usually assumed, the other way around.

Considering the tight relationship between reader and writer, I am planning on using Foucault's essay What is an Author? to explore the role of the author is today's culture. Also I would like to use his article titled “disciplines and sciences of the individual”. Since I plan to mention the notion of ideology, I thought of including Althusser's essay.

As I mentioned above, in my paper I am combining literary theory with Latin American Studies. And in regard to the second one, I decided to focus on the political project so-called Latin American Subaltern Studies. This project was formed in the 1990s by the Latin American Subaltern group located in the North American academia influenced by the Subaltern Studies group in India. The emergence of this group produced a great debate among intellectuals for many reasons: they were accused of 'disregarding specificities of Latin America' by using a theory developed for other purposes; also, they were accused of using theory from places other then countries in Latin America; their theory was tagged by Latin American intellectuals as “traveling theory” ('teorías que nacen en cualquier lugar del mundo y se aplican aquí'), etc. This debate brought many things to question. We now have a latinamericanism from non-Latin Americans (metropolitan universities) and a Latinamericanism from Latin American (from Latin America).

As a reader, therefore, what does one first think about when s/he hears the term Latin America? And, Latin American Subaltern Studies? Is Latin America today seeing as the Orient was (is) seeing by (manly) Westerners (Orientalism)? How is the Latin American Subaltern group's ideology contributing to the construction of a vision? Are they representing, evoking or recreating? Is this group using the reader to perpetuate their vision?

Stanley E Fish claims that it's not the text that produces the reader; it's not the reader that produces the text, but it's the interpretative community that produces the reader who in turn produces the text.

The article then proposes a discussion on the construction of the reader who reads about Latin America. The article suggest that, although this might be only a political project, it will not only influence the vision of the person outside, but it will transform the local voices through this sort of polarized statement....

The texts I plan to study are “The Founding Statementwriting by this group and “Reading Subalterns Across Texts, Disciplines and Theories: From Representation to Recognition” by Rodriguez, another member of the group.

I know it sounds hard for me to do, but I think I could try.......

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The decentralized other in The Prose of Counter-Insurgency

The texts and the approach Guha uses in his essay The Prose of Counter-Insurgency to study the different types of discourses makes it hard not to think of the chronicles written by the colonizers in the 1500s about what today is known as Latin America. A Peruvian cultural critic, Cornejo Polar, discusses the myths created to construct the history of those countries situated in the Andes. He argues about the misrepresentation of the Incas in these chronicles showing that the vision of the colonized was not presented in the stories told, in what Guha refers to as primary,secondary and tertiary discourses/proses; therefore, this misrepresentation also affected their representation in history. In Cornejo Polar's essay Escribir en el Aire (1994) the author claims that the portrayal of the moment when “the dialogue” between Atahualpa and Valverde became a confrontation, the written testimonies turned the Spaniard into the oppressor/ savor and the Inca into the subjugated/ignorant for not accepting a bible. Although there were two versions of the story, one was written and the other one remained in the the oral tradition. And it was the first one (the version of the colonizer) which became the official historical discourse, presenting the event as it was meant to be that way inviting people to accept their fate. It is through the eyes of the colonizer that the colonized knows his/her history.

Both critics, Guha and Cornejo Polar seem to agree on the power of writing. It is through writing that the central self is created and, at the same time, the decentralized other. Guha and Cornejo Polar also seem to associate the word author with the word authority, as it shows in Guha's analysis of historiography (p.46). In the following passage Guha says:

     Those narratives of this category in which their authors figure among the protagonists are of course suspect almost by definition, and the presence of the grammatical first person in these must be acknowledged as a sign of complicity. (p. 59)

The author is also an important component of the construction of the discourse, after all, we're talking about prose (p. 67). What historiography seems to do, according to Guha, is constructing a mindset toward (in this case) the insurgency which is dictating a certain way of structuring one's thought's about them, which is negative. Is a discourse premised upon exteriority, according to Said (in his essay on Orientalism). 

Some of the questions we could ask:
  • Are we out of colonialism?
  • What is Post- Colonial criticism?
  • Some of the terms used in Guha's essay were knowledge, author and discourses. Foucault seems to be present but, literature as well. What is the role of literature? Should literature have a role?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

No more authors but figures of discursivity

I found an interesting review by Christopher Bray's interesting, so I thought I'd share it.


Thinking the Impossible: French Philosophy Since 1960 by Gary Gutting – review
The theories of Derrida and Foucault are revisited in this fair-minded history of French deconstructionism, and guess what?


The idea of the Panopticon

Technologies facilitate the objectification of the body”

First, we discussed the concept of ideology. This implied that it was all a matter of ideas (the manipulation of the mind). But, later, we saw that these ideas derived from our perspective of things. Now, perspective is based on what we see; therefore, we judge based on appearances (this reminds me a little bit about the dancing shadows in Plato's allegory of the cave). Therefore, if everything is judged by how it looks, then we can see why bodies are so important (and even why some people have written in literature about the body and portray it as a prison). Now that we have come this far, we can understand that mind and body are crucial in the process of the objectification of the subject since this allows for divisions and categorizations. Is it normal or natural to categorize things? Can human beings be categorized? Should human beings be categorized? Foucault is interested, as Paul Rabinow states in his introduction, in fighting against political violence. Power is an elements involved in this practice and in order to be able to keep such power there is a need for subjects to maintain that power. Therefore, Foucault is also interested in what is involved in the process “by which...human beings are made into subjects” leading to objectifying the subject through different practices of division (7). Social and personal identities, for example, are therefore categories to divide society and justify certain practices by normalizing some and condemning other and, of course, to turn humans into subjects.

I was especially fascinated, and frightened at the same time, by the idea of the Panopticon (a model prison by Jeremy Bentham—1748-1832) as it “offers a particularly vivid instance of how political technologies of the body function (18).The author in his study of power notes how technology becomes part of one of the most diabolical plans. “The cells become small theaters, in which each actor is alone, perfectly individualized and constantly visible...If the prisoner is never sure when he is observed he becomes his own guardian (19). Technologies are employed to discipline and weaken the body in order to be “subjected, used, transformed and improved”. This inevitably reminds me of Pavlov's experiments with dogs who used different kinds of drills and repetitions to make the dogs associate what he wanted with what he wanted (I also remember how his studies were included in teaching textbooks =/...). I found his analysis on individualization techniques and also on totalization procedures extremely interesting. Not to mention the normative rationality and technologies of normalization.


1. Foucault is anti-Hegelian and anti-Marx for not searching for a theory of history. What is this theory of history?

2. The Panopticon: people are being observed, if they did not know that they are being observed,
a) would it be correct to say that they hold a naïve ideological consciousness?
b) If they knew that they are being watched and acted as if nothing wrong was happening, would it be correct to say that they practice a cynical ideology?
c) And last, if the prisoner knows and does not do anything but not because he does not care, in fact, he's worried, but because he is afraid, so he decides to live in denial, what would this be called?
3. Are social networks technologies of discipline and confession (21)? Are they the new Panopticon? Are people willing to be subjected to the omnipotent eye? 

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Multiaccentuality of the Ideological Sign

In simple terms one could summarize Volosinov's essay by saying that this particular text is about the instability of language within the same sign community. First, Volosinov speaks about the form of the sign and how this is shaped by the forms of social interaction (279). This statement is followed by his discussion on “the content of the sign and the evaluative accentuation [(meaning)] that accompanies all content” (279). According to the author, ideological communication depends on a collective work; therefore, it must be accepted by a group of people in order to be considered an ideological accent. A group of people is capable of creating its own restricted group of items which allow them to communicate among themselves since these items “achieve sign formation and become objects in semiotic communication” (279). However, these items have to have social value to be accepted into “the world of ideology, take shape, and establish [themselves] there (279). Volosinov claims that all ideological accents have to be socially recognized (understood) in order to be considered an ideological material.

As the title of the essay announces, the study is not only about language but about language from a Marxist point of view. One could ask, what is the importance of sign formation and this social multiaccentuality (heteroglossia) according to Marxism? The author points out the following: “Existence reflected in signs is not merely reflected by refracted. How is this refraction of existence in the ideological sign determined? By an intersecting of different oriented social interests within one and the same sign community, i.e., by the class struggle” (280).

Although the language used is the same, each social class will create its own circle of items establishing an intersection of meaning with that of the dominant ideology. And here we see the eruption of new meanings. Nevertheless, the dominant ideology opts to adopt a reactionary attitude towards the ideological sign to refract and distort the latter (281).

Valosinov's essay seems to suggest that language can also be used by the non-dominant classes as another way of resistance. However, I wonder what the role of “truth” would be in this ideological phenomena. Is it possible to have an ideology and see the real state of things at the same time? Does an ideology become mystified when the individual is enable to see the Real (Lacan's Real as used in Zizek's essay)?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility" (1939)

 traditional art
art in the age of reproducibility
decay of aura
unique existence
("here and now")
mass existence
ritual basis
political basis
cult value
exhibition value
distraction [Zerstreung]
art absorbs viewer
viewer absorbs art
architecture, photography,
masses react in hostility
masses react progressively
aestheticizing of politics
politicizing of art