Extending the scope and depth of analysis using multiple squares.

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Extending the scope and depth of analysis using multiple squares

This discussion assumes that you are reasonably familiar with the construction and application of a single semiotic square. It further assumes that you have begun to think about examples where the expansion of the square discussed last week will be appropriate.

But here’s a reminder:- The semiotic square is a way of extending the analysis of opposite meanings by increasing the number of analytical classes. So, starting from a familiar opposition – two contraries – we might select life and death; using the square we get such curiosities as life and death (the living dead), and neither life nor death (angels). With expansion there are 10 classes:-

The ten classes with terminology:- 5=(1+2) complex term 1 term A 2 term B 3 term NOT-B 4 term NOT- A 6=(3+4) neutral term 9=(1+4) and 10=(2+3) contradictories 7=(1+3) positive deixis 8=(2+4) negative deixis The + sign indicates the location of synthesis points – called metaterms. Other aspects of analysis are objects (things identified in the square), subjects (those doing the classifying), and time (the ‘story’ context).

So, the semiotic square is composed of four terms, the first two form the opposition (the contrary relation) and the other two are produced through their negation. Here’s a familiar worked and expanded example:- 1. Masculine ‘man’ 2. Feminine ‘woman’ 3. Not-feminine ‘mannish’, ‘macha’. 4. Not- masculine ‘effeminate’. 9? and 10? 5. Masculine+Feminine ‘androgyne’ or hermaphrodite. 6. Not-feminine+Not-masculine ‘angel’ 7. Masculine+Not- feminine ‘real man’, ‘macho’. 8. Feminine+Not- masculine ‘ultra-feminine’, ‘vamp’.

From the point of view of your assignment, the most important thing to recognise is that this square, and many of the examples given in your notes for week 9, rely on ‘abstract’ terms that have been generated by thinking about their typical usage/meanings in contemporary English. However, normally, as with the examples for ‘The Juniper Tree’, Jameson’s analysis of Bleak House, and my sketch for Silence of the Lambs, the squares and their terms represent a specific media text – although so far, mainly through abstract terms. But in any real application there are three types of analysis you should think about.

1. Do the terms in each of the possible positions on the square correspond to objects that exist in reality? (For example, how do you feel about angels?) 2. Can a position on the square be ‘lexicalised’ - represented by standard language usage? (Careful – your should start with the abstract ‘class’ or ‘generic’ words before seizing upon a specific example which might be a character in the media text – or a complicated phrase.) 3. Is each of the possible positions on the square identified in abstract or concrete terms within your text? (This is a powerful analytic tool, since it allows you to identify those objects which the author designates within the network of meaning s/he is constructing, and those which s/he does not.)

So you can also talk of there being ‘levels’ of analysis for each square that you identify as being relevant for a particular media-text. The ideal is for each square you produce to hold constant the level of generality or specificity by which its terms/objects are being named. For example, if the top-left corner has the abstract term ‘life’, it entails that every other term should be similarly abstract. Alternatively, if you use a name, such as Frankenstein, then the other positions must be similarly represented by characters. In practice, sometimes one may try to cut corners in a presentation and put a concrete term alongside its corresponding abstract class name, but for this assignment keep them separate. If you do this, for every square that you develop it will be possible to compare and contrast it with a matching abstract or concrete one, opening up possibilities for discussion – why is this idea general, why made a person?

Finally, there is the issue that may have been troubling you – how does anyone establish if this stuff is true? The proper term for this is the ‘veridictory status’ of the square. Suppose a recent narrative describes two sets of individuals, one set believing in the rightness of the Nazi cause, and the other considering it vile. The Wansee Conference takes place and the Nazi high command agree that the concentration camps and ghettos will become places of mass extermination. On the face of it, there are two sets of ‘observing subjects’ to this event: the pro- and anti-nazis believers at the time. But now add the recent authorial voice - a third, perhaps ‘neutral’, observing subject. The confusion is resolved by reserving the ‘reference’ observing subject for the author, while all other observing positions are said to be ‘assumptive’. Usually a text validates certain assumptive positions and denies or ignores the validity of others.

The semiotic square is used in two principal ways. A ‘semantic’ approach attempts to identify a given structure of meaning which exists at a particular time and place for a given set of observers. A ‘syntactic’ approach plots the sequence of changes to semantic meaning that occur for one or more ‘subjects’ over time.

Semantic Analysis (This approach has featured in all explanations so far. Even those for Bleak House and Silence of the Lambs relied on a single semantic square, despite our talk of changes to meaning in these texts.) Identify a specific observing position, e.g. Gradgrind. Identify (for them) any contraries and project the sub-contraries (e.g. facts v fancy gives not-facts v not-fancy) and then draw the diagonals. Generate the metaterms (fact+fancy, not-fact+not-fancy) by finding appropriate lexicalisations if you can, e.g. fact + fancy might be a picture or sculpture. (N.B. meanings shift.) Examine the text for all ten of the semantic possibilities – noting those present and those absent (use phrases or names if the class word in absent from the text).

Syntactic Analysis The idea here is to plot the sequence of changing semantic positions that a specific ‘object’ occupies on an underlying semantic square as one travels through narrative time and finds out about the observing positions of the different protagonists and how they ‘see’ this object. The assumption is that you start by constructing a single square from a pair of contraries which you think will be relevant for the analysis of your chosen text, relative to its ‘objects’ and ‘subjects’. (As your earlier notes indicate, one has to consider three kinds of temporality – that of the narrative, that of the plot, and that of the ‘tactical’ temporality of any sequence within the text which you may be interested in following, i.e., how the scene is ‘expressed’.)

Syntactic analysis is usually shown in tabular form and the underlying picturing of the semantic square is often left out – it just being assumed that the reader will be able to generate it and its ten positions in their minds. You may prefer to show it! On the table the rising numbers on the left-hand side identify the order of a particular line of analysis and this allows you to make quick comparisons in your discussion. Using this technique we can follow the movements of meaning taking place in a text in terms of an identified form of temporality, and in terms of the possible shifts of meaning specific objects ‘take on’ for different observing subjects. For example, Sissy likes the idea of flowers on a carpet: Gradgrind hates it.

A sample table. The top line identifies the contraries being analysed (your underlying semantic square), while the second line gives specific headings. Contraries: ------/------ No. (of the analysis) TimeObject (s)Object’s position on the square (1- 10) Observing subject Justification, comment and so on …

Using Hard Times, for Gradgrind and his regard for his star pupil, Bitzer, at the start of the novel, we get something like this. Contraries: Fact/Fancy (see earlier webnotes on Jameson) No.TimeObject (s)Object’s position on the square (1- 10) Observing subject Justification, comment 1Plot Ch. 2., pp. 5-6. Bitzer1GradgrindHis demonstration that he ‘knows’ what a horse is. X?Plot Ch. ?., pp. ? Bitzer7AuthorDickens indicates his judgment of Bitzer, seeing him as the criminal triumph of fact over sympathy. and so on … but for Dickens as reference O. S. we get …

For your assignment, if you are using semantic analysis, three squares (implying that you have identified three separate contraries in the media-text) is the minimum expectation, supplemented by discussion. For those doing syntactic analysis, as illustrated on the previous slide, one table may suffice for the whole text. However, note that if you do use just one table, this implies that you will only feature one pair of contraries (those named in the top right of the table) as the means to analyse the whole text or selection – this is Jameson’s argument for Hard Times. If you do this, everything else that you discuss must be related to the same underlying square. Your analysis will consider how different ‘objects’ and observing positions feature in the text, how some objects may remain static for all observers, may vary depending on the protagonist, or may change its nature over time – BUT ALL RELATIVE TO YOUR INITIAL SEMANTIC SQUARE!

Ok – a bit more guidance on how to proceed. Irrespective of which form of analysis you decide to employ, both narratives – The Wizard of Oz and To Kill a Mockingbird – deal with a world seen in part through a child’s eyes, and their way of seeing changes. This aspect of both narratives can give rise to an initial abstract square, but there are many other possibilities, once you drop the attempt to keep both narratives in mind at the same time. As already indicated, at this point in your second year it’s appropriate to ask for your own interpretations – and so …

Suppose we are struck by how the narrative shows a child growing up – can we jump from this to an abstract square? You may be able to: I usually can’t. I find instead that I have to review some ‘concrete’ metaphors before I can select my abstract contraries with confidence. So, depending on what we think ‘growing up’ means in this text, we might think of something becoming rotten, something turning into a machine, something springing up out of a container, something moving between rooms, etc. Try to think of even more concrete examples for each of these, and select the one that you think offers the best metaphor for growth as represented in your chosen text.

Ok – my own version now. It occurs to me that the way growth is being represented is like insect metamorphosis – the child is like the larva, the crucial event is like the chrysalis, and the end of the story is like the hatching of the adult form – the imago. I’m torn between the idea of a butterfly and that of a dragonfly, but somewhere in here I think of the word ‘emergence’, and this tilts the balance towards the dragonfly, since the larva is aquatic. This gives me the initial square shown overleaf. I’ve put in bold the abstract class terms, and in italics I’ve suggested the concrete examples that came from my metaphor – note that it doesn’t cover all positions – few metaphors will. But from here on, rather than talking about butterflies and caterpillars, I need to produce a new square, or a table, that replaces the abstract words by names or events taken from the story – to save space I’ve also suggested those in italics. Note that I use the metaterms – locations of changing meaning – the four inner terms corresponding to more ‘static’ meanings.

1. merged 2. emerged 3. not emerged 4. not merged 5. merged+emerged Egg-laying imago The child as adult? 6. Not emerged + not merged The chrysalis The child during the big event? 7. merged + not emerged The larva The child? 8. emerged + not merged Hatched imago The child after the event? * 9. merged + not merged, and 10. emerged + not emerged. 9 and 10* My metaphor translated into metaterms, but a different one might just ‘fill’ terms, leaving you to work out those concepts in the narrative that seem to involve change or ambiguity. Remember, the metaphor just gets you going – it’s not the assignment!

So, to sum up, the interpretative skill you need to work on for this assignment, and for much of the rest of this degree, is the ability to spot the general in the particular, the particular in the general, and the ways in which narratives, theories, and arguments shift from one to the other. D.M.B. 2011.

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