From today's reading we look at two versions of constructionism which concentrated on how language and signification (the use of signs in language) works to produce meanings -- one is after Barthers and Saussure we called semiotics; th other is Foucault who concerned about how discourse produce knowledge. In semiotics, we see the importance of signifier/signified, langue/parole and 'myth', and how the marking of difference and binary oppositions are crucial for meaning. In the discursive approach, we see discursive formations, power/knowledge, the idea of 'a regime of truth', the way discourse also produces the subject and defines the subject-positions from discourse, and also 'the subject' to the field of representation.
In this essay, Barthes argues that the relations of writer, reader and observer is changed by movement from work to text. In this light, we can observe Barthes's propositions of the differences between work and text in terms of method, genres, signs, plurality, filiation, reading, and pleasure.
First of all, Barthes thought that the Text is a "methodological field" rather then a portion of the space of books", that is the work (170). Like Lacan's distinction between "reality" and "real": the work is displayed (the reality which is out there, concrete), the text is a process of demonstration which is held in language. "The text is experienced only in an activity of production": the text is writable through tracing the flickering of presence and absence of the chain of signifiers. So the text "cannot stop" because the process of language does not come to an end; the meaning is always suspended, something deferred or still to come. Then, the subversive power of the text is that it cannot be contained in a hierarchy or a simple division of genres. The text tries to place itself very exactly behind the limit of genres -- all literary texts are woven out of other literary texts. There is no literary 'originality': all literature is 'intertextual' and paradoxical. Thirdly, the Text can be approached, experienced in reaction to the sign. That is, the work closes on a signified which falls under the scope of an interpretation. The text, on the contrary, practices the infinite deferment of the signified. The infinity of the signifier refers a playing -- to play with the disconnections, overlappings, and variations between signifier and signified. In this respect, the text is filled with symbolic energy -- like language, it is structured but decentered, without closure.
From the Text to Myth, we can see Barthes's contribution through language to culture, from linguistics to semiotics. His Mythologies is constructed by a double theoretical framework: on the one hand, a critique on the language of mass culture; on the other, to analyse semiologically the mechanics of this language. Firstly, Barthes saw the language of mass culture (myth) as a collective representations of sign-systems, a second-order semiological system which is constructed by signifier (eg, clothes like evening dress, a bow tie, jeans), signified (certain concepts like 'elegance', 'formality', 'casual-nerss') and sign (the language of fashion). Also, myth is a metalanguage, in which it speaks about the first. Through the analysis of myth, Barthes treats myth (books and paintings, the slogans, trivia, toys, food and popular rituals like eating, marriage, wrestling matches) as a text to read and tries to demystified the ideology that mass culture's been an universal nature. Meaning, one of the functions of ideology is to 'naturalize' social reality, to make it seems as innocent as Nature itself. Ideology uses the 'natural' sign as one of its weapons -- saluting a flag, or agreeing that Western democracy represents the true meaning of the word 'freedom'. In this sense, ideology is a kind of contemporary mythology.
After Barthes, here is a shift of attention in Foucault from 'language' to 'discourse'.
He studied not language, but discourse
as a system of representation. According to Foucault, we see that 'discourse'
(a group of statements) is a way of representing the knowledge about a
particular topic at a particular historical moment. Discourse constructs
the topic. It defines and produces the objects of our knowledge. It also
influences how ideas are put into practice and used to regulate the conduct
of others. So the meaning is constructed through discourse, nothing has
any meaning outside of discourse.
The main point here is the way discourse, representation, knowledge and 'truth' are historicized by Foucault, in contrast to the ahistorical tendency in semiotics. That is, things meant something and were 'true' only within a specific historical context. He thought that in each period, discourse produced forms of knowledge, objects, subjects and practices of knowledge which differed from period to period, with no necessary continuity between them. For instance, there may always have been what we now call homosexual forms of behaviour. But 'the homosexual' as a specific kind of social subject which was produced, and could only make its appearance within the moral, legal, medical and psychiatric discourses, practices and institutional apparatuses of the late nineteenth century, with their particular theories of sexual perversity. Knowledge about and practices around all these subjects were historically and culturally specific.
The question of the application and effectiveness
of power/knowledge was more important, Foucault thought, than
the question of its 'truth'. He thought that knowledge linked to power,
not only assumes the authority of 'the truth' but has the power to make
itself true. All knowledge, once applied in the real world, has real
effects, and in that sense 'becomes true'. So there is no 'Truth'
of knowledge in the absolute sense -- a Truth, whatever the period, setting,
context, is a discursive formation sustaining a regime of truth (not
'what is true' but 'what counts as true').