Class Notes (808,754)
Canada (493,378)
Anthropology (273)
ANTH 1001 (146)
Lecture 8

Lecture 8.docx

15 Pages
Unlock Document

Carleton University
ANTH 1001
Bernhard Leistle

Lecture 8: Metaphor, Universalism and Relativism 1. EssayAssignment -How is The Rules a performance? What does it tells us about “dating” in particular, and culture in general as performance? And similarly, with respect to today’s lecture, what metaphors are employed in The Rules, and what is the message, the “web of meaning” produced by these metaphors? 2. Recapitulation: Performance Last time I have said on the one hand that culture is an open-ended process of communication and that communication is to be broadly understood as the exchange of signs (in the likewise broad sense of something that stands for something else). On the other hand I have said (referring to Goffman) that culture is performed and that cultural reality is produced in performances (another way of formulating this, that is commonly used in anthropology is to say that culture is performatively produced. I want you to be clear about the connection between these two statements and to realize that they are not contradictory but connected with each other in a coherent manner. They are two ways of stating the same state of affairs. I have said that from a semiotic perspective, all our behavior (from breathing to speaking and writing) is significant, has sign-character. Even the physiological processes of the body (like blood circulation, metabolism, etc.) say something, that is: stand for something else than themselves for myself and for the other person. That doesn’t mean that my heartbeat exhausts itself in its signifying function. After all, my beating heart is what keeps my organism alive, independent of whether I or somebody else thinks about it. But that is not the point. The point is that as soon as I start to think about my heart, or write about, like I do now, I am bound to use signs to do so, and my heart inevitably becomes something else than just my heart. It stands for other things, is embedded in a context, acquires representative function, for example in a metaphor for vitality and centrality: “The captain is the heart and soul of the team”. In sum, we are continuously emitting and interpreting signs, we are always communicating whether we intend it or not, whether we are conscious and in control of our communications or not. Goffman has introduced the two terms expression given, for intended and consciously controlled communication, and expression given off, for communications which are interpreted as unintended and involuntary. Expression given, we have said, can be illustrated by the example of the information content of verbal speech, as when somebody says: “I am a very self- 1 confident person”. Expression given off is communicated in the posture and gesturing, the “body language”, that accompanies that self-presentation. It is also contained in the tone of voice in which the message is delivered. Goffman says that the audience of expression given for the purpose of self-presentation can use the expression given off to check the performance for its truthfulness. If somebody presents himself to us as a doctor, policeman, or city official, we want to be sure that they are what they claim to be. We therefore don’t just trust in their words but look for other identifiers, sometimes even an identity card. If such markers are not available, or not relevant (for example, if somebody claims: “I am a nice guy”), we turn towards the expression given off to find out the truth. Words can be falsified very easily and it is commonly assumed that the body is a more accurate description of the actual reality. But the famous semiotician Umberto Eco has defined semiotics as the study of everything that can be used to tell a lie, and he certainly includes signs of the body in this definition. We have to remember, therefore, that the distinction between these two types of communication, expression given and given off, is not absolute in actual social life. Here, actors can aim at controlling the expression they give off, to trick potential interpreters in the audience. This, by the way, is the advice that The Rules give to women: control your expression given off so that you present yourself to men as elusive, hence desirable. In everyday social life, we present ourselves to each other, switching the roles of performers and audience seamlessly and effortlessly. It is important to understand that this is nothing else than saying that we are communicating with each other. Self-presentation is nothing else than emitting signs that say how one wants to be perceived by others (as “confident”, “mysterious”, “clever”, “simple”, “easy-going”, “dangerous”). Some of these signs are wittingly produced, others are sent unwittingly; some messages, esp. the ones that are expressly given, are socially approved (presenting oneself as “dynamic”, “energetic”), others are perceived negatively (presenting oneself as “lazy”). Those self-presentations that are socially disapproved off often take place in the medium of expressions given off. Self-presentation is therefore nothing else than a socially important mode of communication. And this mode can with justification be called a performance since it consists in a claim, a pretension. It is a suggestion to the other persons present to pretend as if the presented self was indeed the real self.At the same time we know that this is not the case, since everyone of us continuously switches between different roles that are not our “true self” but as 2 which we present ourselves when interacting with others. We assume, however, that our true self actually exists and that it lives somewhere behind those other selves that we pretend to be, somehow keeping them together. But there is also a deep anxiety that this might not really be the case, that behind those multiple roles we play, and those facades we present, there is nothing. Another crucial point that I have stressed is that communication is the production of reality. Repeated successful communication convinces us that we live in a shared world that is objectively given, that is, in other words, natural to us.According to Goffman, the performance of self-presentation achieves this for social reality. By presenting ourselves to each other in a specific manner, by playing certain roles (as “professor”, “student”, “customer”, etc.) we assure ourselves of a world in which these self-presentations are a fact. We believe in them because they have worked for us in the past, continue to work for us in the present, and we assume that they will work for us in the future. We possess an intuitive awareness of the inevitability of change, but we pretend as if we didn’t know. I have also said that communication and performance are conceptual tools to acquire an anthropological perspective. That perspective consists, to repeat, in the simultaneous discovery of the self and in the Other, one’s own culture in the other culture, and of the Other in the self, the other culture in one’s own. If we now look at our social life, our everyday culture, as performatively produced, we discover that it is a belief, something quite unverified, assumed but not actually known and understood. If our assumptions and expectations regarding a situation are unfulfilled and frustrated, we are drastically reminded how fragile the reality is that we have built for ourselves. When the conventions are not respected, our reality, including things that we arguably hold very dear and are deeply ingrained in us, like “civility” and even “humanity” dissolves, and disorder, chaos and violence can follow. The clip from the Andy Kaufman movie made that quite clear I believe. But in this fragility there is also the possibility of change, of “progress”, a hope for a better world, a utopia. This, and not just chaos, is what modern artists like Kaufman, work towards. Whether we yearn for change or whether we dread it, what we perceive as reality, as “our culture”, is in either case accompanied by an Other. In the way we live, other ways of living are implied as alternatives. This follows from what I have called the paradigm of communication, and from understanding social acting as performance. Thinking of culture as communication means to acknowledge the Other in the self, the possibility of one’s own culture being different, 3 other than itself. When we move in the other direction, looking at the other culture, can we see ourselves in it? One of the most “exotic”, i.e. spectacularly different cultural phenomena is spirit possession. The belief that immaterial, spiritual entities (spirits, demons, Gods) take possession of the body of a human being and cause him to behave according to their will. The concept of performance allows us to look at this belief and the practices in which it is expressed as performatively produced. We have said about ourselves that we believed in our everyday reality, but not absolutely, not beyond the shadow of a doubt; rather, the doubt is a necessary accompaniment of the belief. When we say other peoples believe in the existence of spirits from a traditional anthropological standpoint, we disqualify their own assertions. Because people who believe in spirit possession affirm that the spirits are real, not just made up, as implied by our conventional understanding of belief which makes us oppose it to knowledge. But from the perspective of the communication/performance paradigm, this opposition doesn’t uphold. What we take to be our “knowledge”, the social reality in which we play certain roles, has in the last analysis be seen to be nothing other than a belief. We can now assume that others believe in their reality in the same way in which we believe in ours – as unverified, taken-for-granted knowledge. This must not only apply to mundane activities but also to somewhat extraordinary domains, like religion, including spirit possession. We can therefore say that other peoples believe in spirits like we believe in “professors” and “students” and that we all produce our respective beliefs in performances. Consequentially, there must be a rest of a doubt as to the existence of spirits, the belief in them must be somewhat ambivalent.And this ambivalence is indeed what we find when we look at how anthropologists approach spirit possession from the perspective of performance. For further reading, see for example Edward Schieffelin: Failure and Performance. Throwing the Medium out of the Séance, In: Laderman, Carole and Roseman, Marina (eds.) 1996. The Performance of Healing. 3. Metaphor 4 Examples for metaphor: “Life is a journey”, “Love is blind”, “Argument is War”, “Love is a Battlefield”, “the eye of heaven” (referring to the sun, which must not be mentioned explicitly) Like performance, metaphor is a paradigmatic concept, one that allows you to see reality in general in a certain light. In this case this means that we can view our reality as metaphorically structured. Just consider the sentence before the last one: By using the expression “to see reality in a certain light”, I have used a metaphor to describe the complex notion of “reality”. I have presented “reality” as something “visible”, thereby making use of an old metaphor that connects the sense of sight with knowledge and truth, or in its proverbial version, “seeing is believing”. In this simple example already we notice something quite fundamental for the contemporary understanding of metaphor: that metaphor is much more ubiquitous than we normally assume, and that it is a much wider phenomenon than it was taken to be in literary studies, where the term has its traditional home. The modern understanding of metaphor, which is commonly associated with George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s work Metaphors we live by, assigns metaphor a fundamental role in thought. It even argues that human thought, in the sense of concept formation, is in its essence metaphorical. How is this claim to be understood? We have said that communication is exchange of signs, i.e. of things that stand for other things. The seemingly simplest thing for which a thing can be a sign is a material object, something that exists out there in the world, say for example a dog. But using the word /dog/ for the animal that we experience in our environment doesn’t give us the real dog, the one we actually have before us; the word dog contains an abstraction of the real dog; it doesn’t capture the life-dog, but represents it in a typical way: a four-legged, furry, carnivorous animal, with a tail, and a long tongue that licks hands and hangs out when it gets hot. It is because of this abstraction that we can use the word without a particular dog being present. We can therefore say that what is encoded in the word “dog” is the concept of a dog, an idea of what a dog is like typically. Now, if our signs are concepts then communication becomes a process of sending and receiving th such concepts (this was already pointed out at the beginning of the 20 century by the “father of structural linguistics”, Ferdinand de Saussure). But many of the concepts we use, at least in language, are not of the simple kind of representations of material things like “dog” or “chair” (dog already, being a domesticated animal that lives in an intimate relationship with humans is probably a quite complex concept). Many concepts refer to things that do not materially exist in the outside world; they characterize truly abstract notions like “love”, “friendship”, “nation”, 5 “loyalty”, “reality”, etc. etc. In such concepts we encounter not signs referring to objects, but rather signs referring to other signs. If we want to describe, and think more precisely what “reality”, or what “love” is, we have to relate them to other signs, since they don’t exist as perceptual objects out there. In such cases, we resort to metaphor, we build a metaphorical concept. We say that one sign, “love”, is the other sign, “blindness” with the objective to get a cognitive grasp on what we try to understand. In the example, what we try to understand is love, a fundamental human emotion and one of life’s enigmas, and for this purpose we use a simpler concept, that of blindness. The metaphor “love is blind” allows us to understand certain aspects and qualities of the love emotion that have hitherto been hidden from us. The identification with the condition of blindness allows us to highlight these aspects, to make them accessible to our thinking. Lakoff and Johnson are defining metaphor in purely conceptual terms: “The essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another” (5) In order to understand their perspective better we first have to consider from what it distinguished itself. The literature on metaphor is vast and varied, with thousands of scientific publications on the topic appearing every year. However, we might distinguish between a traditional and a modern approach.As is so often the case, the older approaches are not totally discarded and have actually formulated principles which are still relevant today. 3.1. Traditional understandings Metaphor was traditionally regarded as one of a variety of rhetorical figures or tropes, used by orators to persuade their listeners (therefore linked to pragmatic aspects of language use and trad. contrasted to poetics, which deal with semantic aspects) Key ideas which have informed the understanding of metaphor since antiquity are “transfer” and “similarity”. Atypical trad. definition of metaphor sounds like this: Webster’s dictionary: “a figure of speech in which a word or a phrase denoting one kind of object or action is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them” 6 The idea of transfer is already embedded in the etymology of the Greek word, which is composed of the two lexems meta, “over” and pherein, “ to carry”, lit.: to carry from one place to another – i.e. from the literal meaning of a word to figurative one. -Traditionally, there can be distinguished between two usages of the term “metaphor”: In a broad meaning it was employed as a generic term, encompassing all elements of figurative speech (in everyday language it is still used in this sense: everything that is not literal is “metaphorical”.The narrower meaning of the term designates it as one of a number of rhetorical figures, like metonymy. Metonymy is sometimes difficult to distinguish from metaphor, but nevertheless implies a different underlying process. It does not involve the idea of a transfer, rather that of replacement, representation in the sense of how a part represents the whole. Trad. Def. of Metonymy: substitution of a word x for another, y, where the referential objects of x and y are existentially or habitually connected, such as crown for king, white house for the president and his staff, or gold for money (see Noth 341 re). Other related tropes are synecdoche, a very productive type of metonymy which takes the part as representing the whole (“the face is the person”) and simile, which can fulfill much the same functions as metaphor, but does so on an explicitly comparative level, by introducing the comparative particle “like”: “love is like war”. It can be regarded as related but secondary to metaphor (seeAristotle, who regarded comparison as a special variety of metaphor) 3.2. Modern Understandings -the modern approach, assigns tropes, esp. metaphor a much more important function: It sees tropes as reflection and even instruments of concept formation. Far from being mere rhetoric ornament, part of the surface structure of communication, metaphor is regarded as a fundamental way of thinking, of bringing disparate entities together and forming a new unit out of them. The modern understanding of metaphor as a tool of concept formation was inaugurated by the philosopher I.A. Richards “The Philosophy of Rhetoric” (1936). He introduced the terms tenor (sometimes also called topic) and vehicle into the analysis of metaphor: 7 Tenor refers to the underlying theme of the metaphor, the sign onto which the figurative meaning is projected: e.g. in the metaphor the “eye of heaven”, the tenor of the metaphor is the sun, which is the underlying topic of the metaphoric phrase. The “eye of heaven” itself is the vehicle, which transports the metaphorical concept of a likeness between the human visual organ and the celestial body. -in the terminology of the cognitive sciences and taking the conceptual function of metaphor into account, the term tenor was substituted by the term “target domain” and vehicle by “source domain”: the formation of a metaphorical concept (which is embod
More Less

Related notes for ANTH 1001

Log In


Don't have an account?

Join OneClass

Access over 10 million pages of study
documents for 1.3 million courses.

Sign up

Join to view


By registering, I agree to the Terms and Privacy Policies
Already have an account?
Just a few more details

So we can recommend you notes for your school.

Reset Password

Please enter below the email address you registered with and we will send you a link to reset your password.

Add your courses

Get notes from the top students in your class.