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I know this is rather old material, but during our discussion about Gramsci, I managed to scrawl down a theory I came up with about the development of attitudes toward traditional intellectuals that I’d like to share (not sure anyone will read it at this point, though).
Just to rehash: In “The Formation of the Intellectuals”, Gramsci breaks down what it means to be an intellectual as well as the two categories of intellectuals and their roles in society. Gramsci theorizes that the two “types” of intellectuals are traditional intellectuals and organic intellectuals. Traditional intellectuals are the easiest to pinpoint, in that they tend to be the only people we consider “real” intellectuals on a superficial level (that is, before reading Gramsci). According to Gramsci, these traditional intellectuals are scientists, philosophers, educators, doctors, clergymen, judges, etc. Traditional intellectuals are those who work primarily with their minds and regard themselves as autonomous and above the dominant social group (the “ignorant masses”, I guess one could say). They’re also considered transhistorical, in that they persist in spite of social upheaval. The less obvious of the two types of intellectuals are what Gramsci calls the organic intellectuals. These intellectuals are bound to class and have a direct relationship to production, and are thus embedded in the work structure. As Gramsci states, “These organic intellectuals would come from within the working class and stay within the working class working towards a counter-hegemony by actively engaging and leading in social relations”. They can be the intellectuals who work with their hands, like manual labourers or mechanics, but can also include union leaders amongst others who could be mistaken for traditional intellectuals. Although some may mistake organic intellectuals as being lowly or subservient to traditional intellectuals, they are often counter-hegemonic and responsible for social change.
What I really want to talk about in this blog post is a tangent I went on during the class discussion on this text. When we were discussing traditional intellectuals, I had this thought about exactly why traditional intellectuals are seen as more intellectual than organic intellectuals or those intellectuals who are more directly physically involved in their work (but all intellectual activity requires some physical interaction, really). I scrawled the following on the subject:
“-Viewed higher– work more w/ mind (intellect) as opposed to the physical realm, which is associated with lowliness + servitude. What is traditionally seen as the intellectual realm transcends the physical, moving toward the spiritual. (Is this at all rooted in religion, and the denial of the body and glorification of the mental/spiritual? [think purity, denial of the physical body and “lusts of the flesh”]).
“Resistance/denial of physicality/physical desires (almost moving toward asceticism), elevation of the intellectual and therefore the intangible (thoughts). Is this why society and ideology instructs us to value those who primarily work with their minds (traditional intellectuals) over those who work with their hands?”
I’d like to map this out more clearly eventually, probably over the break, but I think I might be onto something…
This image is important:
As an intersectional feminist who is well aware of the sexual objectification of women in media, Mulvey didn’t have much to say that I haven’t surmised before; nevertheless, it’s always great to see academic work on the subject, and even better to be assigned such a reading, as I’m aware most people are deeply lacking in a feminist education. I truly think courses on feminism should be mandatory at the college level if not high school level. But I digress…
So, in her essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, Laura Mulvey deconstructs the ways in which film thrives on the sexual objectification of women. Clearly drenched in psychoanalytical theory, Mulvey writes that the (cis-)women’s biological “lack” (the absence of a penis) instills fear in males– to be specific, castration anxiety. Men feel threatened by women’s lack of a penis, which symbolizes male power, and subsequently feel fit to degrade and subjugate women due to that perceived threat. It seems to me that by this theory, the root of patriarchy is this castration anxiety, although it’s hard to say who decided that presence as opposed to lack is indicative of power. Perhaps lack (the vagina) is analogous to death, and presence (the penis) is analogous to life. But men aren’t the ones giving birth anyway.
Mulvey asserts that this phenomenon is pervasive in cinema (particularly classic Hollywood films, which I lament as a TCM fan) as well, which isn’t at all surprising as the field is dominated by men. Mulvey came up with three looks in cinema that serve to objectify women in a sexual manner in other to facilitate male pleasure and position the male viewer as the “hero”. The first look is from the perspective of the dominant male in the film looking at the female character who he sexualizes and objectifies (he perceives her as a sexual object because men are always entitled to women’s bodies, naturally). The second look is from the perspective of the audience, and the third look is a conglomerate of the first and second looks, in which the male audience makes the female character his personal sex object through his voyeurism and absurd self-identification with the male hero in the film.
Basically, none of this is unexpected to me. When I do go to the movies on rare occasion, I go anticipating being offended, although I try to take a step back and analyze what I’m viewing and still allow myself to enjoy the parts of it that aren’t so dehumanizing. Something else I’ve been mulling over is how cinema has changed for women since the classic Hollywood era. Although most women in films from the 20s-50s (and I guess the first half of the 60s counts too?) do match up to what is expected of a woman (that is, traditional femininity), there wasn’t nearly as much graphic sexual content (like why is that even necessary and how does that ever further a plot, please go away with your sad teenage fantasies thank you). Women were implicitly, but not explicitly, sexual objects of male desire. I think it can be argued that in that regard, maybe women had it better in classic Hollywood films, but then again it can also be argued that the sexual liberty of modern and contemporary films promote the idea that women are sexual beings, do like sex, and shouldn’t be ashamed of it.
A quick note to remind you that there’s still time to evaluate the course. Like I said before, I am sort of “meh” on having my teaching sliced and diced into an “avalanche of numbers” in ways that would make Foucault chuckle from the grave. But I truly value your spontaneous written comments on my teaching and have learned a lot from them over the years.
Here’s the 411 on how to evaluate, from Hunter:
Students can complete their teacher evaluation(s) via 1 of 2 ways:
- Computer: www.hunter.cuny.edu/te
- Smartphone: www.hunter.cuny.edu/mobilete (strong WiFi connection is recommended)
They have received instructions for completing their teacher evaluations, but it is important that you take an active role in encouraging them to complete their evaluations. The following represent some important points to be shared in the classroom that will help to make the evaluation period a success.
- Inform students that the evaluation period has begun and an email was sent to their Hunter email account about this. Frequent reminders in the form of quick announcements at the beginning and end of each class might be useful.
- Spend the time that would otherwise be used to complete paper evaluations to invite students with laptops to fill out the online version. Encourage students without laptops to take that time to find free computers in the hallways.
- Assure students that the responses are completely anonymous, and that teachers can only see results after grades are released.
Also, the online system is equipped to inform you of your response rates for each of your sections throughout the evaluation period. To view this information simply log onto www.hunter.cuny.edu/te with your Hunter Netid and password. We encourage you to use this tool when assessing whether or not your section(s) have completed their evaluations.
More informally, have a safe and relaxing holiday and hope to see you around campus in the future.
Admittedly, the end to this class brings about bittersweet feelings. Thank you Professor Allred for an AMAZING semester. It was nice getting to know some of you and I found our discussions in class truly enlightening; you guys really are a bunch of smart cookies. Good luck to everyone in future endeavors and have a great holiday!
Nietzche and the unearthing of contradiction
Language is a beautiful device. It has the potential for all sorts of expressiveness and is the only real tool that we are capable of using for discourse on any level. It can be poetic, it can be literary and it can even invoke tone without any sort of verbal addition. However there are few things language simply cannot do. One of those things is to allow the existence of contradicting ideas.
Nietzsche’s “On truth and lying in a non moral sense” establishes an understanding of language that says that our ability to define one thing or another is shaped by the understanding of what that thing is not metaphorically. In his eyes a word is an utterance which allows itself to be associated with any number of metaphysical ideas about what that object is, and everything that that object is not is false. In other words everything that it is not, is considered by Nietzsche to be a lie.
For example there are a number of adjectives (which represent a separate set of metaphors entirely) that we can apply to a noun like flower. The adjectives, bulbous, fragrant, and alive will work but other adjectives such as hard, and noisy, are not effective. Although it seems obvious, what Nietzsche is unearthing is that this idea of something being bestowed acceptable characteristics, defines truth and lying. To bestow upon an object or a person and attribute that it does not possess is opposite to the truth, and is therefore a lie.
Language therefore does not allow itself to express contradicting ideals as it often asserts that while there are many accepted truths, none of those truths can exist at odds with one another.
The reading is a basis for so much discourse that it like many other essays, allows itself to zoom in on the human plight and realize what it means for us to have contradictions within ourselves.
Saussure and the meaning of things
It’s weird to now be typing this blog post in an after the fact sort of retrospective sense instead of in the up to the hour fresh reaction that this reading probably deserves. Saussure’s work on signs, signifier and signified and his work on semiology (invention actually) shaped philosophical discourse.
Saussure’s analysis brings him to one very important question, how does language as a structure rob objects and things in the material world of their intrinsic value. Saussure argues that a word a “signifier” such as leaf can only bring up a certain number of signs in the mind of the recipient. Hearing the word leaf allows our mind to conjure an image of a leaf and not much more. Beyond that adjectives must be used to give characteristics to the leaf, even if they are intrinsic to what the leaf is. Therefore, the word “leaf” is nothing more than a representation of an idea, one that is on its own incomplete and that has very little ability to reflect what a leaf is in its entirety. It is merely a substitute.
It is for this very same reason that Saussure describes man as an architect, greater than the architects of nature. Language is a sctructure and a system that involves conforming to using a set of signifiers for the process of universal comprehension, of having some experience with the sign the signifiers point to and lastly of agreeing to visualize that sign as a signified when a signifier is used.
Perhaps the most inaccurate of signifiers are names given to people, first names in particular. First names are used to identify people in our lives, and they not only fail to capture the essence of who they signify, but the names themselves often have their own meanings. With names for people being significantly less varied, the use of one name (signifier) can call up a signified of various different people all possessing the same name.
Saussure work method is primarily analysis, he is not avid about offering a solution to bridging the gap between the signified and the signifier, and that’s perhaps because it isn’t possible. At least not now, but as human kind continues to move forward technologically we may get closer to bridging that gap.