Ideological code-switching

Begins 3:59pm

It is difficult to detect a speakers world vision, Eco claims, perhaps explaining why ideological arguments may be considered “an extra-semiotic residue”.  But ideology “is an organized world-vision which must be subjected to a semiotic analysis.” (p 289)

[SS Here.  Here.  That relegates those ideologues to where they belong!]

In general anyone will turn to their own cultural inheritance to interpret a message:  choosing their own subcodes “to apply to the message”, thereby producing a partial world vision. (p 290)  This is why Marxists propose that ideology is “false conscience”.

[SS But I don’t understand?  Marxism is an ideology, so are Marxists acknowledging that they too have only a partial view of the world? Isn’t their view just as one-sided as the Capitalist one!]

[OS Yes.  That’s what Eco is getting at:  ideology offers only limited possibilities, often ignoring that which doesn’t fit.]

Ideology starts as factual description, then tries to justify the message theoretically.  The justification gradually becomes accepted by society through a process of overcoding.  The reasons behind the political or economic message are not relevant to semioticians.  Semiotics “is concerned to establish in what sense this new coding can be called ‘ideological'”. (p 290)

To find the answer Eco ‘builds’ an imaginary laboratory to replicate an experiment in thermodynamics.  He asks us to imagine a container with two halves he names Alpha and Beta. Between the two halves is “Maxwells demon” – an imaginary creature created by mathematician James Clerk Maxwell – who guards the point between the halves through which gases move.  The demon is able to change the balance of pressure between the two enclosures by allowing faster molecules to move in one direction and slower molecules to move in the other.  The result is an imbalance in pressure between the two. (p 290)

To measure the outcome of this thermodynamic process, provided the demon has a simple code of ‘yes vs no’, needs no more than an electric signal.  A sum of units if measured by a machine will produce a signal that registers <minimum> or <maximum> that the machine reacts and responds to without the registration or understanding of its meaning.  Repetitions of the signal produce a sum of the units of value.  Eco asks we take /Z/ to denote <<minimum>> for (heat and pressure) and /ZZZZ/ to denote <<maximum>>. (p 291)

If, however, the receiver is a human being his/her reaction transforms the signal into a sign.  The values of the sememe /Z/ and /ZZZZ/ will receive additional connotative markers to the denotative ones.   Values for heat and pressure will be assigned according to cultural bias.  “Both sememes, if they are to be established, require that culture subdivide the semantic space into a series of oppositional sub-systems of which only a limited number are taken into account by the various readings of the sememe.” (p 292) Human beings circumstantially select properties that support their bias.  Apart from examples of ideological elecutios discussed previously there are two other types of ideological arguments that the example reveals.

  1. An ideological inventio conceals or ignores contradictory properties.
  2. An ideological dispositio argument never makes clear that there even exists a contradictory premise.  Anything that upsets the linearity of the argument is excluded. (p 293)

In Eco’s recreation of the hypothetical thermodynamic laboratory ‘Dispositio’ does not take into account the potential contradictions between <<production and pressure>> and <<heating and pressure>>.  He asserts their semiotic relationships in Tables 58, 59 on p 294 and Table 60 on p 295.   Ideology splits discourse into either/or.  In the example above the ideological choice seems to be either a good heating system with comfort and danger, or a bad heating system with discomfort and safety.  What Eco suggests we need is honest, persuasive discourse “about the aims of a social group [that takes] into account all of these goals”: heating, comfort, safety, security. (p 296)

It is the “absolute (i.e logically formalised)” values that splits options into mutually exclusive pursuits. (p 296)  Instead, the values of the thermodynamic example are open and graded.  By calculating values in an open and graded way, ideology can be trespassed by “performing a critically persuasive discourse” without threat to the motivations or conclusions of the speaker. (p 296)

Ideology, Eco concludes, conceals options by over coding and code-shifting.  It is “a partial and disconnected world vision”. (p 297)

[SS It’s also so lazy.  Now I understand why Eco’s work is so hard – he goes right into the deep end of thought and even though we are mostly left in the depths there are moments where we get to visit the surface to catch a glimpse of a broader, wider, more complex world view.]

Ends 4: 56 pm

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