Sunday, April 20, 2014

Ideology and Denotations

Steve Wheeler, "Young Man Talking to His Mother-in-Law"

A Socratic preference for the spoken word, and a corresponding rejection of writing, is inherently nonideological. [Alvin W. Gouldner, The Dialectic of Ideology and Technology, p. 80]
Ideologies, I think, depend upon ignoring the denotations, and thereby the truth or falsity, of what is being said.  And writing, even the one-sided "spoken word" of a broadcast, cannot depend upon the denotations of what is being said.  The experiences of all the readers and/or listeners are too diverse to rely on how the terms and phrases will track to back to those experiences. Writing, along with all manner of broadcast communications, must operate within a context of "cascading" connotations.

Face-to-face conversations, on the other hand, are a different breed, an endangered species in this postmodern world, but one where denotations are naturally shared and tested as the words are spoken.  In an example from Peirce:

Two men meet on a country road.  One says to the other, "that house is on fire."  "What house?" "Why, the house about a mile to my right."  … It is not the language alone, with its mere associations of similarity, but the language taken in connection with the auditor's own experiential associations of contiguity, which determines for him what house is meant.  [CP 3.419]
Face-to-face conversations employ those "experiential associations of contiguity" that the writer and broadcaster cannot presume and that the ideologue willfully ignores.

It's not that the denotations cannot be reconstructed by those of us who are willing to do so.  In the text omitted above, Peirce writes:
Let this speech be taken down and shown to anybody in the neighboring village, and it will appear that the language by itself does not fix the house.  But the person addressed sees where the speaker is standing, recognises his right hand side (a word having a most singular mode of signification) estimates a mile (a length having no geometrical properties different from other lengths), and looking there, sees a house. [Ibid.]
But such reconstructions require a lot of effort, an effort that will be a waste of time if those denotations where intentionally ignored, obscured, or distorted in the first place.

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