When I first read these words I was a little convinced I would never be able to comprehend their meaning. And so I wanted to record what I have retained about them so far in an attempt to make some of it stick.
Paradigmatic analysis – “In the case of film… (comparing it, not necessarily consciously with the use of alternative kinds of shot)” (loc 1605) (Context)
Syntagmatic analysis – “comparing it with preceeding and following shots” (Shape)
“Paradigmatic seeks to identify various paradigms (or pre-existing sets of signifiers)… analysis involves a consideration of the positive or negative connotations …(and) underlying thematic paradigms”. “Signs take their value within linguistic system from what they are not.”(loc 1613) What is missing from a sign collective (story, advert, narrative) is just as important in analysis and comprehension as what is present. So, in the Hunter photograph discussed previously for instance, the absence of the reveal curtain or the curtain flicked over the window in the background, along with the crucial opposite of the window being open, is informative; absence and opposites become salient. (Regardless of whether or not the photographer consciously decided on those aspects – but more of authorship along with human group expression, collective consciousness and the impact of Freudian analysis on modern paradigms in another post.)
Two examples of common sayings in Chandler’s book to illustrate absence and its affect on meaning:
“What goes without saying …” & “What is conspicuous by its absence” (loc 1622)
“Paradigmatic analysis involves comparing and contrasting each of the signifiers present in the text with absent signifiers which in similar circumstances might have been chosen, and considering the significance of the choices made…” (loc 1622)
“Roman Jakobson argued that binarism is essential; without it the structure of language would be lost” (Jacobson 1973, 321) (loc 1654)
(This is an interesting comment in relation to concerns expressed over the use of “he/she” and “they” in today’s more ‘gender-actualisation’ sensitive world. Some aspects of binarism cause discomfort in various groups nowadays, revealing not only a frustration with old fashioned values, but also a lack of confidence in the acceptance, never mind celebration, of difference. Sexual differences and the fact that sometimes sexuality is not defined simply or easily means that the pronouns ‘he’ and ‘she’ might be replaced with the plural ‘they’. “Bob is looking at colleges. They (rather than he) is thinking of Edinburgh.” People argue over the grammatical correctitude of ‘they’ when referring to a single person (and I agree that ‘they’ sounds clumsy, despite the fact they it might have been used in this way in the past, and so isn’t new (Oxford)). It is nevertheless interesting that there is this intolerance towards classifying the sex of a person: 1. it comes across as sexist – it shouldn’t matter whether or not a person is a he or she 2. some people are born with both he and she attributes, in physical or emotional terms. However, if Jakobson’s statement above is to given any value then the argument about he and she suggests we are retreating from at least some structure which may or may not be worth holding onto. I would argue that we should be working towards a world where both he and she have equal value and so it wouldn’t matter if one or the other were used. We’re not in that world yet; it’s an ideal to aim for. But nevertheless he/she fails to answer to questions raised about people with complex and less easily defined physical gender attributes or senses of self.)
Binaries and categorisation are essential to language, especially when one considers the relationship of absence, but they feed into dilemmas which we are forced to overcome (or not). Chandler quotes Jakobson again later; “In an opposite duality, if one of the terms is given, then the other, though not present, is evoked in thought. To the idea of white there is opposed only that of black, to the idea of beauty that of ugliness, to the idea of large that of small, to the idea of closed, that of open, and so on. Opposites are so intimately interconnected that the appearance of one of them inevitably elicits the other.” (Jakobson 1976, 235;cf. 1973, 321) (loc 1675) I see the importance of this concept in books given to my children, aimed at teaching them the basics of language and through lessons they are given in class during the early years. Although this sort of contrasty ‘ordering’ of the world provides a great deal of clarity, it also lacks any nuance whatsoever and is the sort of thing that advertisers and propagandists employ and perpetuate, in order to tap into the inner fears they so effectively utilise to convince buyers/voters that the messages they’re peddling are valid and true. i.e. If you own this car you will be ‘this’ which means you won’t be ‘that’. If you vote for ‘this’ then you won’t be identified with ‘that’. ‘This’ is good. ‘That’ is evil. Synonymous with dangerously simplistic cultural values.
Which returns me to thoughts surrounding content and form. Form is fixed. Content isn’t. Content is subject to variables – social, cultural, historical – to having its meaning changed over time (long or short), dependent on the paradigm in which it is viewed/read. Form is not changeable. Although what it contains is. Therefore meaning is unreliable and can be changed, slowly or quickly – hence the need to alter media programming following a catastrophic event when suddenly something perfectly innocuous takes on a new significance. “The meaning of a sign is not in its relationship to other signs within the language system but rather in the social context of its use.” (Loc 401) And “Meaning is not ‘transmitted’ to us – we actively create it according to a complex interplay of codes or conventions of which we are normally unaware’. (Loc 423) If “symbols are not proxy for their objects but vehicles for the conception of objects….() it is the conceptions, not the things, that symbols directly mean”. (loc 486) Meaning is therefore fluid. “Saussure’s concept of the relational identity of signs is at the heart of structuralist theory.” (loc 542) I note there is a debate relating to levels of determinism in language between various semioticians. However, in relation to structuralist Chander writes, “As John Passmore puts it, ‘Languages differ by differentiating differently (Passmore 1985, 24)…()… Language plays a crucial role in constructing reality.” (loc 603)
An example that springs to mind immediately given my interest in childhood and childrearing is the habit of speaking to children in the third person. “Mummy thinks that’s a bad idea.” or “Oh dear, mummy made a mistake!” It would be interesting to compare the presence of such a habit with other cultures. I would suggest that by using the third person adults separate themselves intrinsically from the child, placing them in different spheres. The intention behind this trope may or may not be beneficial. That is perhaps irrelevant here. What is relevant is the reality it perpetuates and the assumption that the social norm is without alternatives. That it is unquestioned by most as being harmless, gentle banter used to soften relationships with children. It could also undoubtedly be presented as an example of a ‘natural’ consequence of separation and an expression of self/other dynamics in parent/child relationships. I don’t know enough about Lacan’s mirror phase but perhaps it might be argued as evidence of some aspect of that too. It is of interest to me that few consider the possibility that third person interaction with children feeds into and reflects romantic notions surrounding childhood, which in turn may be restrictive for them in terms of being active members of a social order, and therefore impactful on the adults those alienated children grow into. I see how this might be subject to a chicken and egg semantic argument – i.e. which came first? The linguistic habit of using third person when talking to children or the conceptual reality it might represent. Nevertheless, it is an an example of a form which is open to interpretation and therefore meaning. And it can be analysed using alternative examples such as direct single person speech instead – an alternative “kind of shot” (see opening definition)
“Structuralists study text as syntagmatic structures.” (Loc 1964) “Rules of combinations”
“….we express ourselves using… ()… groups of signs, organised into complexes which themselves are signs” (Saussure 1983, 127) (loc 1956) “Thinking and communication depend on discourse rather than isolated signs. The use of one syntagmatic structure rather than another within a text influences meaning”
Left to write, up/down, margin/central, Top – ideal, right – future, left – past, bottom – actual.
Beginning, middle, end – (Larkin: beginning, muddle, end) (Loc 2048) An event is defined by its sequential narrative
Barthes argued that ‘basically translatable – international, transhistorical, transcultural (Barthes, 1977a, 79) (loc 2048)
Some theorists argue the translatability of narrative makes it unlike other codes – narrative privileged status of ‘metacode’. “Narrative help to make strange familiar, provide structure, stability, predictability and coherence” (loc 2058) and answers to a “fundamental human drive to make meaning”.
“Narrative closure is comforting, reinforces the status quo” (2066)
Patterns, units, forumla,
“Barthes notes, structuralists avoid defining human agents in terms of ‘psychological essences’, and participants are defined by analysts not in terms of ‘what they are’ as characters but in terms of ‘what they do'”. (loc 2072). (This is the same in Stanislavskian acting theory – don’t try to embody a character based on archetypes; rather unit the script, break down and identify a chain of separate actions, and build a character out of the sequence. This, rather than donning a mask, will lead to ‘truthful’ performance according to that method. In actuality, different actors use varying combinations of those approaches more or less successfully dependent on commitment, suitability to genre, etc, which indicates to me that when analysing an image or advert as I later must do, I shall be right to rely on both paradigmatic as well as syntagmatic dimensions)
Myths are important helping humans to make sense of themselves in relation to animals and nature (2098) and myths are universal – e.g. Noah’s Ark, Gilgamesh and various other flood myths evident cross culturally. “However, meaning …. (to be found)… in the patterns underlying the myths of a given culture” (Loc 2098)
Chandler, D. (2001). Semiotics. London: Routledge.
http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/words/he-or-she-versus-they (Accessed 10/07/2016)