The ‘Technology’ of Song

In his discussion of the formation of convictions (values) through the development of ‘concrete thoughts’ (i.e. imagistic thinking: cf p89-92) d’Avray turns to the use of song as an instrument in the Reformation and elsewhere:

“Techniques similar to those used by religions – notably songs – have been employed as well by secular workers’ movements. This ‘technology’ for the emotions is not manipulative unless those whose emotions are aroused intended no such thing. It is on the contrary quite normal for the adherents of value systems to use instrumental technologies quite deliberately to bring their feelings into line with principles.” d’Avray Rationalities in History p113-114

Ideology & discourse are thus, in some aspects, means. They are instrumental systems as much as they are orders of convictions & values. The sense in which we use them to bring ourselves into line with those messy orders of convictions and values emphasises the role of people in the social construction of society itself.


Instrumental Rationality: Universal Chameleon of Milieu

d’Avray (Rationalities in History: a Weberian Essay in Comparison, Cambridge, 2010) makes a compelling case for ‘instrumental rationality’ – zweckrationalitat – being a universal aspect of human society that, because of the role played by ‘value rationality’ in its structuring, is not necessarily recognisable as such because “instrumental rationality is a chameleon that takes the colour of the values in its mental milieu” (p59). This obfuscation of ‘ends-means’ rationality is the result of the “combination of values and instrumental reasoning” (p59) in which the local colour of values paints over the universality of instrumentality because the local values are so amazing the everyday means go unremarked. Indeed, in order to recognise this universality “one needs to abstract instrumental rationality from its various value contexts” and realise that it cannot be mobilised to resolve conflicts of ‘world-view’ or ‘value contexts’ (p59). 

Culture in Discourse

Society is interaction; culture is the product(s) [both physical & conceptual] of that interaction; discourse is the frameworks of articulation all of this is placed in and which is used in that very interaction. 

In discourse we therefore find culture.  One set of the conceptual products of social interaction (which we give names such as ‘common-sense’ or doxa or discursive fragment and which are concepts, phrases & ideas which have established a ‘life of their own’, so to speak, in the interactional repertoires of individuals) are taken up by participants and used in their discourse & interaction. Language itself would be the foundational example of culture’s presence in discourse. 

This folding into each other, through use, of social interaction, culture, & discourse establishes the unity of these three things which are too often treated-as separate and analysable as  such. On the contrary Society-Culture-Discourse is one thing and any attempt to wield the ‘or’ of discipline to cleave them into different domaines of study is already a failure. 

Point of Exit

Barthes S/Z XCII The Three Points of Entry

“… it is fatal, the text [Sarrasine] says, to remove the dividing line, the paradigmatic slash mark which permits meaning to function (the wall of the Antithesis), life to reproduce, (the opposition of the sexes), property to be protected (rule of contract).”

Critical (re-)reading of the text result in “an unrestrained metonymy” a metonymy that collapses the very dividing line we were warned against.  The result is that  “by abolishing the paradigmatic barriers, this abolishes the power of legal substitution on which meaning is based … it is no longer possible to safeguard an order of equivalence” and the force of meaning, which derives from the power structures of society, can no longer hold.

The ethical question is whether to heed the warning and obey its injunction or allow the unrestrained metonymy to dismiss the warning, erase the barriers and abolish its power.

The Poverty of the Code of Culture is the Impoverishment of the Commodity.

Barthes S/Z LXXXVII The Voice of Science

S/Z is typically remembered for its discussion of codes and voices of narrative but these are merely means of trying to unravel the mechanism of production of the text in & by society. Barthes offers us the codes of this text, of Sarrasine, and not of all texts because the modes of production of culture are so messy, so massive, so situated that it is not possible to enumerate them all. What is essential is to acknowledge the system of production and the structuring of that system of cultural production by the action of power. Indeed, following Benjamin in The Author as Producer, we can see Barthes’ gradual unraveling of S/Z as an examination of where the writer stands in their relations of production.

It is this focus on the system of production of the text by society (by an ‘art world’ in Becker’s sense) that pushes S/Z away from structuralism & into the post-structuralist camp (but only to effect a greater engagement with the critique of capital: post-structuralism, and it’s monster child deconstruction, is not a retreat into the text as some of the current crop of object-fetishist claim). The codes are the functioning of society on the text and are not part of a system of universals of human culture (although this remains the greatest lesson of structuralism and we would be unwise to dismiss it). The hermeneutic & proairetic codes do seem to posses a structural applicability, what narrative lacks plot, but the other codes of the S in S/Z are more specifically situated and are only expressions of a more general, more structural, idea. Even the two more universal codes are dependent on the particular text concerned and must end with the narrative (cf S/Z LXXXVI).

The production of the text by codes is the point at issue not the universality or otherwise of the codes in question. The text as culture is the product of society and its networks of interactions and the codes of a text are just the particular productive forces of society used in the construction of that text. As such the codes are the functioning of society expressed in the text and it is from this that they attain their seeming universality. The cultural code (the voice of science) is the weft of intertextuality and cultural reference of the text & the essential point for Barthes is the poverty of this thread of reference. Barthes shows that the extent of other works necessary to engage with the cultural code of Sarrasine is minuscule: “the School Manual”. Here the cultural code “generally corresponds to the set of seven or eight handbooks accessible to a diligent student in the classical bourgeois educational system” and is not a genuine engagement with a much wider set of cultural fields. The purpose of this limited and weak engagement with the rest of bourgeois culture (note, not the whole of culture the School Manual is mechanism of exclusion) apart from being “a basis for reasoning or to lend its written authority to emotions” is to replicate the caste function of that very education.

Kaster and Heather have shown the cultural poverty of Late Roman education and the caste function of this self-imposed cultural limitation and Bourdieu demonstrated the same thing for late/industrial society more generally in Distinction. The culture of the dominant has to be accessible to the members of that group no matter how dim they are or they will not be able to mobilise the necessary cultural capital to acceptably retain their position in that dominant social faction. Capitalist systems of education replicate capitalism and one aspect of that replication is the development of replacement members of the bourgeoisie who must be trained & coached into the necessary cultural capital. So one of the means of production of the text is the very system of education it then becomes an object of and because all works of bourgeois culture are produced from the same system of education (to differing degrees of elaboration: cf this post) any text which adheres to these strict limits will also find a willing audience for it’s caste function and any text that does not will (following Howie Becker) have great difficulty finding or will never find an audience.

This is why Barthes dismisses any “critique of the references” as having “never been tenable except through trickery” for “how can one code [of references; ours perhaps] be superior to another without abusively closing off the plurality of codes?”. This ‘imperialism’ of language is a force of exclusion but it is a force in society not in the text. Indicating the framework of intertexts is merely pointing towards the machine on which the text was woven and not towards the networks of relations of power that caused this creation. In this sense intertextuality is the incorporation of the commodity fetish into the text because it it replaces the relationship of person-with-person (the social relationship) with that of person-with-commodity: the relationship of person-with-text-as-commodity. The explosion of intertexuality into culture in the late 20th century is an expression of late-capitalism as surely a the explosion of realism into culture in the 19th century was the expression of high-capitalsm (cf The Reality Effect).

Everything Holds Together: the centre can hold

Barthes S/Z LXXVII The Readerly II: Determined/ Determinant 

“… the law of solidarity which governs the readerly: everything holds together, everything must hold together as well as possible.”

The texts of bourgeois culture cannot be incomplete or undetermined. To violate this law is to acknowledge the pseudo-plenitude of the whole society not just of the text or narrative system concerned

“The moral law, the law of value of the readerly, is to fill in the chains of causality for thus each determinant must be, insofar as possible, determined, so that every notation is intermediary, doubly oriented, caught up in an ultimate progression..”

This necessity of causal completeness, which leads to the narrativisation of explanation and understanding, is not a function of narrative but of the use narrative is put to by the dominant part of society in the authorised culture of that society. The social space from which this need for causal completeness emerges is the abode of the dominant part of society and the presence of this mode of thought is a sign of the presence of the dominant social group. It is for this reason that so much analysis of life in society ( e.g. in academe) rejects the discontinuous, fragmentary, parataxic, and the anti-programmatic. Such approaches are an affront to their dominion. 

“This is the narrative fabric: seemingly subject to the discontinuity of messages, each of which, when it comes into play, is received as a useless supplement (whose very gratuitousness serves to authenticate the fiction by what we have called the reality effect), but is in fact saturated with pseudo-logical links, relays, doubly oriented terms: in short, it is calculation which effects the plenitude of this literature: here dissemination is not the random scattering of meaning towards the infinity of the language but a simple – temporary – suspension of affinitive, already magnetized elements, before they ate summoned together to take their place, economically, in the same package.”

It is both too simple and too complex to say that narrative is a commodity and thus participates in the system of obfuscation of the commodity-fetish. Too simple because as discourse narrative is entangled with the self and the psychological. Too complex because narrative is a more basic element of the system of social ordering & domination than the commodity.