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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Jacques Lacan and Subjectivity

22 December, 2010

Notes by: Sneha Sharon

'I' might seem a mono-syllabic innocent usage but it has been subjected to a wide range of observations. This 'I' is seen as a realisation of oneself and modern as well as post modern set ups have wondered whether one's usage of 'I' is similar or different to somebody else's usage of 'I'. If so, how similar or how different is it? Does an individual's usage of 'I' also differ from situation to circumstances?

Platonian notion of Essence preceedes existence and the Aristotelian notion of existence preceeds essence to Descartes idea of 'I think therefore I'm' have been followed up by the Marxists who understood consciousness as being determined by social existence; Freud, wherein this notion of the 'I' is broken and Lacan who re-read Freud thus extending him today is a widely read name in the field of philosophy, psychoanalysis and contemporary feminist art.

In the cultural theories of understanding of the 'self', 'subject' is a major keyword such that many a times it has been used as though it were a substitute for the other. The 'self' is therefore subject to the manifold concerns we as humans face today be it social, cultural, economical or political.

Subjectivity is therefore something that connects us with the outside world- the 'self' is not a sole entity, it is always being played upon by circumstances governed from the world outside. Subjectivity then helps us understand why the 'I' and the 'other' are so linked. It is then to understand that the 'subject' is a construct.

Lacan's most influential statement has been- "the unconscious is structured like a language". This gave a feeling that the unconscious too then was a system just like language and thus was the communication/ language was the very thread of subjectivity. Lacan could be taken to have followed a certain Sassurean understanding too.

According to Lacan, there are three stages - The real, imaginary and the symbolic. The real for Lacan is not reality per se. This 'real' is but outside language and is thoroughly different from the symbolic. It is a 'need' stage, all your needs are fulfilled but you are not aware of the same. This is the stage where you do not other your mother, do not find yourself as being separate from her. It is therefore an organic/ whole stage. Between the 'real' and the 'imaginary' is a gap. The 'self' is 'real' but the 'subject' is 'imaginary' and thus displaced. The 'subject' stage is when you start realising yourself as a separate, individual entity. The imaginary dwells in the realm of of imagination and deceptions. The relationship between the ego and the image within the mirror stage are also places of radical isolations, a narcissitic relationship. This stage is that of wants.

The Symbolic order is a stage of desires, the big 'other'. You are then the subject as well as the perpetrator. Meaning to say that one becomes a desiring subject, always needing something but still not being able to achieve it. Desire then comes as a component to fill up the void between the real and the imaginary orders, that is the 'needs' and 'want' stages. For Freud, this lack was a sexual lack. This order is not in the lines of language but restraints. It is somewhere understood as being in the dimensions of the signifier. In this order, the unconscious is the discourse of the 'other'. It is also a realm of the culture unlike the Imaginary which was a realm of the nature.

Thus, it is to understand that in the questioning of the 'I', there is no particular 'I'. It is either the 'self' or the 'subject' or both used interchangeably.

Abraham, Renu. Subjectivity. Christ University. 22 Dec. 2010. Lecture. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sign Systems Studies

Sign Systems Studies

Humanist Literary Theory

Following notes are by  Jyotsna S. of  II Year PSEng.
In the latter half of the chapter on Humanist theory, the traditions and thoughts of many influential thinkers stemming from both Platonic and Aristotelian thought have been examined. Before even attempting to consider what these thinkers have put down in literature and philosophy as their own traditions, it is necessary to examine exactly what the oral traditions of Plato and Aristotle themselves is.
The society of ancient Greece was one that thrived in almost all aspects that modern society can achieve standards of excellence in. It had highly developed and advanced systems of education, legislation and administration; some however arguing that literature itself was incomplete at the time, as ancient Greece only had to make do with drama and poetry. Nevertheless, the influence of Greece spread all across the rest of Europe and the world due to these main events: (not listed in chronological order)
1. The conquests of Alexander the Great
2. Trade routes including what would formally be called the silk route later on
3. Greece becoming a roman colony around 46 BCE.
4. The spread of Christianity across Europe
This helped the spread of Greek thought all across Europe, then Persia and Ethiopia and is the reason why most scholars refer to Greek philosophy as the foundation of western thought.
I’ve also put up a link to more on Greek philosophy:
The philosophers listed agree with either Plato and/or Aristotle in part, or disagree with both.
Coming to the philosophers and writers who explore the tradition of Platonic and Aristotelian thought, the first of them is:

Horace mainly explains that the purpose of poetry, or literature in general is that it is ‘dulce et utile’, or sweet and useful. Horace insists that poetry serves the didactic purpose that Plato seeks, but provides pleasure at the same time; therefore in essence, Horace states that the two goals are not incompatible. He says that poetry is a useful teaching tool because of its pleasure which makes it accessible. Like Plato, Horace also sees nature as the primary source for poetry but argues that poets should imitate both nature and other authors. Horace’s ideas are especially important as they define the ideas about literature that can be traced from the ancient world to the renaissance. Among other such important philosophers is the Neo Platonist St. Thomas Aquinas. Therefore you can see some traces of agreement with Plato on poetry.

One of the most prominent figures of the Elizabethan age, Sir Philip Sidney is most famous for his ‘’The Defence of Poetry’’, sometimes cited as the defence of poesy. Apparently he was influenced at least in part by Stephen Gosson. Sir Philip Sidney directly attacks Plato for his thoughts on poetry, the essence of his defence being that poetry , by combining the liveliness of history with the ethical focus of philosophy, is more effective than either history or philosophy in rousing it’s readers to virtue.
He also says that poetry completes a process that is left incomplete by nature, therefore teaching readers the inner meaning of the things and events of the material world. Finally, Sir Philip Sidney says that the mimetic form of poetry, instead of reflecting inferiority, presents a higher level of reality, something which lends shape to the otherwise raw observation of nature.

Perhaps the most striking element about Bacon is that he not only refers back to Elizabethan tradition, but defends it passionately. He follows Aristotle in the thought that poetry does not present an inferior representation of the world we live in, rather a world better than the one we live in. He also says that history and reason, although tied to human experience, only present the sensory world. Bacon argues that imagination can create realities not yet manifested if not limited by sensory or other experiences. He disagrees with Plato on the fact that poetry manipulates and lies to the reader, but instead Sir Francis Bacon says that poetry presents a ‘feigned history’ which speaks directly to the human soul. More importantly, Bacon felt that poetry is greater than rationality because reason can only observe the pre-existing material world, but poetry allows the mind to create its own worlds and rule over them.

Joseph Addison, of the Addison and Steele duo was not only famous for his numerous plays, but also for his thoughts on poetry, following Plato in the sense that he too is concerned with what poetry does to the minds of the readers, although unlike Plato he is less concerned with a poem’s moral effect, rather with its aesthetics; what he calls how the poem ‘delights’ rather than how it instructs. Influences of John Locke can also be seen in his ideas. Addison describes two types of pleasure in imagination:
· Primary pleasure- from the immediate experience of objects through sensory perception , such as seeing the vivid colours of a changing tree
· Secondary pleasure- the experience of ideas from the representation of objects, when those objects are not present. For instance, reminiscing about the tree and writing a poem describing it’s beauty or painting a picture of it.

Even though Addison gives more importance to the aesthetic quality of a poem or of literature in general, he states that imagination itself is less refined that the faculty of reason and is more commonly found in untrained minds. This he says because of his belief that reason investigates the cause of things whereas imagination is only content with experiencing them either directly or through representation.

Since Burke’s thoughts are somewhat vaster and can be traced back to many other schools of thought, I took the liberty of putting up one link that may prove useful.
Burke also follows John Locke in stating that all human knowledge comes from sensory experiences. Burke explains that imagination is a creative power that works in two ways-
1. To represent images of nature as perceived by the senses
2. To combine these images in new ways
Burke also says that imagination cannot achieve creations that are completely original, it only combines the images received from the sensory world, but imagination is not tied to the natural world. For burke, art is not a copy of the natural world, but a sort of recreation itself.
Burke also opposes Plato’s argument that art is merely a copy; instead says that the critical assessment of art must be based on the concept of taste. A shoemaker may want an accurate picture of a shoe, while a dancer may want a picture that gives a sense of the shoe’s motion and liveliness; an emotional rather than physical quality.

Taste is a matter of sensibility according to Burke, rather than a matter of reason or logic. He goes on to say that reason requires education and training, but sensibility can be developed to a greater or lesser degree in all individuals. In this aspect he seems to reflect the thoughts of Addison.
A concept which would further help to understand Burke is the Lethe, or the river of forgetfulness, a concept found in Greek mythology.
One important aspect to keep in mind while examining the thoughts of Samuel Johnson is that of the birth of fiction around the 18th century, following the rise of the novel as an important element of literature. Johnson says that fiction depends on the idea of mimesis, presenting stories which imitate nature or real life, unlike poetry or drama, however fiction depends on the idea of realism, presenting stories to readers as though these individuals were real people.
To understand Johnson, one must also look at the mixed concepts of fiction, poetry and realism, for which the roots of all these concepts must be looked at:
-the restoration
-the post reformation period of the 18th century
Like others, Johnson is concerned with the morality of literature. Quite simply, in his view good art is one that has a positive message and bad art contains a negative message, encouraging readers to replicate the behaviour found in literature. Therefore, Johnson feels that novels are potentially more harmful than poetry as they are more realistic in form; being easily mistaken for descriptions of real life. He also argues that Greek and Roman writers presented the best models for any literary art, which is why any critic or writer must have a thorough knowledge of the classical literary tradition.

Reynolds follows Plato in arguing that the highest and soundest kind of art and criticism refers to an eternal immutable nature of things, a kind of universal idea common to all times and all forms of art.
He is referring to a sort of irrefutable art that transcends time and genre, but the question of refuting art itself is derogated by Reynolds as he says that the assessment of a critic is subjective as he is but mortal. The solution to this problem, therefore, is to ‘’try and discover the principles of human nature on which all forms of imaginative art are founded, and then try to base an aesthetic standard on those principles.’’ He also agrees that one cannot be trained to feel just as one is trained to reason, however it is a well trained faculty to know when reason should give way to feeling.
In essence, Reynolds says that the great end of all art is to make an impression on the human faculties of imagination and sensibility, not on the faculty of reason.

Wordsworth broadly follows Aristotelian thought and also reflects the ideas of the school of romanticism, stating that anything closer to nature was superior to anything artificial.
Why did Wordsworth turn his attention to the language of speech and writing of the common man, so to speak? The answer lies in the examination of economic and social events of change at the time, that is, a poet catered to the common man more than ever, for the first time in history. Up until the mid 18th century, the subjects of poems were royalty as they were the sole patrons of poets. Now however, poets wrote about the common man who could afford to subscribe to them. He represented a large scale shift in European poetry towards the common man, infusing it with pastoral tradition. However, one can question as to how accurate Wordsworth’s descriptions of the common man are as he himself came from a feudal background and may have had little or no exposure to the average lifestyle or common man.

Keats’s views on poetry probably represent at best, Hellenism. According to him, rational thought breaks the world into subject and object for the purposes of classification and analysis in the Aristotelian process called ‘science’.
Keats speaks about an interplay , in the sense that sensations and empathetic experiences ( including poetry) break down the barriers between subject and object and insist on this interaction between the two entities. However, Keats also feels that poetry and science, empathy and reason are two incompatible elements which are also oppositional.
However, the most important key to understanding Keats in this context is negative capability, which in essence is the ability to stay comfortable with uncertainty and doubt without the need to find certainty. This is different from nihilism, which has an ingrained sense of hopelessness in it.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Raymond Williams on 'Culture'

Based on excerpts from Williams' Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society

In his essay on Culture within Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, Williams begins by tracing the origin and development of the word. For him, it is one of the most complicated words in the English language not just due to its intricate historical development but mainly due to its relevance and undisputable impact in other systems of thought.

Williams then goes on to map the treatment that the word has undergone (in Latin and French), along with the range of meanings it has been a host to, until it got passed on to English. "The primary meaning was then in husbandry, the tending of natural growth." This then explains the metaphoric meaning (a noun of process) it undertook when "the tending of natural growth was extended to the process of human development". This, along with the meaning in husbandry, was the main sense until 1C18 and eC19.

Williams points out that this sense developed crucially towards a "degree of habituation" being added to the metaphor as well as "an extension of particular processes to a general process, which the word could abstractly carry". It is from here that the independent noun 'culture' began its complicated modern history with its complicated latencies of meaning.

Williams refers to a letter from 1730 (Bishop of Killala to Mrs. Clayton) which he cites from John H. Plumb's England in the Eighteenth Century as one of the earliest recorded references of 'culture' in English appearing as an independent noun, an abstract process or the product of such a process. He then quotes Mark Akenside (1744), William Wordsworth (1805) and Jane Austen (1816) on their uses of the word 'culture' to make clear the fact that "culture was developing in English towards some of its modern senses before the decisive effects of a new social and intellectual movement".

Williams then looks at the developments in other languages, especially in German, to follow the development of 'culture' in English. German borrowed the word from French, Cultur and later spelt Kultur, its main use synonymous to 'cultivation': first in the abstract sense of a general process of becoming 'civilized or cultivated'; second in the sense which had already been established for civilization by the historians of the Enlightenment as a description of the secular process of human development. Then Johann Gottfried von Herder, according to Williams, in his unfinished Ideas on the Philosophy of the History of Mankind (1784--91), brought about a decisive change of use in the word where he challenged the universal histories' assumption that civilization or culture - the historical self development of humanity - was a unilinear process; an assumption that led to the "high and dominant point of C18 European Culture" and thereby attacking that very dominant claim to a superior culture. Taking up from Herder, "cultures in the plural" were looked at; to speak of "cultures of the plural: the specific and variable cultures of different nations and periods, but also the specific and variable cultures of social and economic groups within a nation." This sense of culture was widely developed in the Romantic movement as an alternative to the orthodox and dominant 'civilization'. And from here, the new concept of 'folk-culture' emerged, emphasizing national and traditional cultures. this sense of culture was primarily a response to the emergence of the "mechanical character of the new civilization", and was used to distinguish between "human and material development". However, the 1840's in Germany saw Kultur being used very much in the sense of civilization as used in the C18 universal histories. Williams uses G F Klemms' Allgemeine Kulturgeschichte de Menschheit - 'Genreal Cultural History of Mankind' (1843-52) - to show this use of Kultur in the sense of tracing human development from savagery through domestication to freedom.

These various treatments of 'culture' contribute to its modern usage and complexity. There is then the literal continuity of physical process as used in say 'sugar-beet culture' or 'germ culture'. Beyond this physical reference, Williams recognises three broad categories of usage:

(i) The independent and abstract noun which describes a general process of intellectual, spiritual and aesthetic development, from C18.

(ii) The independent noun, whether used generally or specifically, which indicates a particular way of life, whether of a people, aperiod, a group, or humanity in general, from Herder and Klemm.

(iii)the independent and abstract noun which describes the works and practices of intellectual and especially artistic activity.

The third category, a relatively late category according to Williams, seems to lend itself to the widespread usage of 'culture' to be music, literature, painting and sculpture, theatre and film.

The complex and still active history of the word, along with the complex senses, "indicates a complex argument about the relations between general human development and a particular way of life, and between both and the works and the practices of art and intelligence". Embedded within the complex argument are also the opposed as well as as overlapping positions, thereby further complicating the argument. Rather than trying to reduce the complexity of usage, Williams advocates that "The complexity, that is to say, is not finally in the word but in the problems which its variations of use significantly indicate".

Original Text: Williams, Raymond. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Britain: Croom Helm. 1976.

[Note: This is part of an article contributed by me on Wikipedia as CIA II for Mr.Pinto's 'Cultural Theory' paper, II MA English. Link: Click here for the Wikipedia entry]

Thank you Mr.Pinto for encouraging us to be 'givers' and not just 'users' of cyber resources! :)

p2pu | Learning for everyone, by everyone, about almost anything

p2pu | Learning for everyone, by everyone, about almost anything

Questions from the Classroom

Questions from the Classroom

Following are the questions that have come to me from the classroom while teaching various courses. I do not have answers for them, either because of my lack of exposure to the disciplines, or schools of thinking from where these come from, or because of the limitation of my own intellectual work, or ….

I put them here so that they are not lost to me or to someone else who might be asking similar questions.

I wish to address them either through guest lectures, or through falling back on accessible resources. In case someone out there wishes to help us from any part of the globe with a guest lecture via skype or similar technologies, you are most welcome. You may also refer to a book or essay which we can read.

Your response can
a. help us understand or articulate the question better
b. resolve the issue raised in the question.

While giving out the questions I will also attempt to give the title of the course where the question came up, the essay that gave rise to the question and the date and place. Names of the those who came up with these questions will be disclosed only with prior permission. However, some acronym will be used to identify the person in case of need for further clarity in the future.

The Questions
1. Can we have experience without a linguistic referent for it? Can we understand an experience without having a signifier for it in language? Can there be signifieds without signifiers? Do we understand a word only because of its linguistic property or because of other concrete experience. E.g. How do i understand the word justice. Don’t I require a situation to understand it?

2. Do feminists, esp. Cixous and Irigary believe that experience is accessible only through language?

3. How are sense perception, experience, thought, and language different?

( All the above questions come from Translation Studies Course taught for MA English while discussing Roman Jakobson’s “On the Linguistic Aspects of Translation on 10 Dec 2010 @ CU. Came in the discussion with DR) 

4. What is knowledge? Is there a difference between knowledge in sciences and knowledge in social sciences? Is social science knowledge not sound?

5. Is all knowledge, including that generated by science, male knowledge? If so is feminist epistemology possible/conceivable? 

6. What is language? Can we think of thought and language as two independent domains? Can language truly capture all our emotions and feelings? Are feelings and thoughts separate cognitive domains? what is the difference between idea, concept, thought.
(These questions came from II BA JPEng class while teaching American Literature course in the last week of August 2010 during the interaction with SS, N, and others)

7. Can we distinguish between feeling and thought? Are they the same or are they different, if the originate from the same place – brain/mind? Does one follow the other – does feeling come after thought or though after feeling? (Nidhi v Krishna, 12 Jan 2011)

8. Even after understanding our positions within structures that govern us, most importantly ideological, why do we go back to the same subjective positions knowing that these structures and positions are oppressive/oppressing? (Nidhi v Krishna, Dec 2010)

9. Is there a difference between calling something 'theoretical' and 'philosophical'? In other words, what is the difference between theory and philosophy? Within Kantian epistemology, isn't philosophy supposed to do what theory is doing today - Reflect on and issue/subject?

10. What is the philosophic distinction between emotions and thoughts? "Tagore was keener on expressing his emotions rather than strictly translating his Bengali work." In this sentence how do we know we really are referring to emotions? (23 April 2011, Anil)

11. What is the distinction between thought, idea, concept, word, term, category? (6 July 2011, BA English Honours class, CU)

12. Do we have translation a concept for translation? If yes what is it?  (6 July 2011, BA English Honours class, CU)

13. What is the difference between ideology and discourse?

14. When and why did the ideas of holistic renaissance humanist scholar change? (14 July 2012, IMA English class)

10 Sept. 2012 (MPhil Psychology)
15. Can sensory experiences be quantified?

16. What do we quantify in research in psychology?

17. What is the purpose of quantitative research in psychology?

18. When did psychology feel the need for quantitative research?

19. What is the value of geometry to psychological research?

20. How do you establish truth through empirical research methods

21. What is the need of quantitative research in psychology?

22. Is psychology trying to imitate science through quantitative methods? If so, why does it  need to imitate? 

Thursday, December 09, 2010

List of Journals :::Academic Journals

List of Journals :::Academic Journals

CIA II for II yr CEP EST431 Literary Theory Course

The CIA II for II yr CEP EST431 Literary Theory Course will be conducted on Monday. It will be an objective type exam with 20 questions to be answered in 10 minutes. The questions will be a combination of fill in the blank, multiple choice and true or false. The questions will be based on the texts studied so far in the course, my lectures and discussion generated by your classmates.

I you wish to seek any clarifications, please use the comment section below.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Blackboards on classes

These snaps of the blackboard were taken at anil pinto's classes on Literary theory at 2nd CEP.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Film festival on American Hegemony @ Jaaga [Dec 4, 5]

A film festival on American hegemony is being organised at Jaaga - creative common ground on December 4th and 5th. An extract from the website-

Hello there! Are you alive right now? Yes, I believe? Well then you have been structured in many ways by ideologies, mainly economic, emerging from the United States of America in the last one century.

This film festival aims at presenting several issues which are usually not taken up in mainstream media (or hide behind the workings of mainstream media, as you shall see in a few of the films to be screened). We shall screen a personal selection of six films - a mix of mainstream movies and documentaries.

Entry is free, and you can come and go as you please.

December 4th, Saturday
2:00pm - 6:00pm
Start of film festival. Screening of the documentary War on Democracy and the movie Team America: World Police. Discussion [optional].

December 5th, Sunday
10:00pm - 1:00pm
Screening of documentaries The Corporation and Story of Stuff.

1:00pm - 2:00pm

2:00pm - 6.15pm
Screening of the documentary Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media and the movie Wag the Dog. Discussion [optional].

Jaaga Screening Room, Jaaga

Google Maps:
No. 16/1, Rhenius Street
Off Richmond Road
Opposite Hockey Stadium
Bangalore - 560025.

>> If you are getting here via auto-rickshaw or cab:

The primary landmarks are "Opposite the Hockey Stadium near Richmond Circle in Shanthinagar" once you get close we're "8 buildings to the right of the TV9 building, across from the Hockey Association Club main gate on Rhenius Street"

>> If you are driving:

- Get onto Richmond Road, going towards Richmond Circle (it's a one way road in the right direction)
- Take a left just before Richmond Circle at the Coffee Day (you'll be turning onto Rhenius St but the sign is hard to see)
- Just go straight and you'll pass TV9 on your left and the Hockey Stadium on your right.

* Look for a strange building with a red gate :)

For more information, visit:
[on the festival, schedule, contact, venue, location]
For more details, contact Mohan at 810 577 4016.