Roman Jakobson’s Functions of Language


The six factors of communication

The Referential Function 
corresponds to the factor of Context and describes a situation, object or mental state. The descriptive statements of the referential function can consist of both definite descriptions and deictic words, e.g. “The autumn leaves have all fallen now.”

The Expressive (alternatively called “emotive” or “affective”) Function 
relates to the Addresser (sender) and is best exemplified by interjections and other sound changes that do not alter the denotative meaning of an utterance but do add information about the Addresser’s (speaker’s) internal state, e.g. “Wow, what a view!”

The Conative Function 
engages the Addressee (receiver) directly and is best illustrated by vocatives and imperatives, e.g. “Tom! Come inside and eat!”

The Poetic Function 
focuses on “the message for its own sake”[3] (the code itself, and how it is used) and is the operative function in poetry as well as slogans.

The Phatic Function 
is language for the sake of interaction and is therefore associated with the Contact/Channel factor. The Phatic Function can be observed in greetings and casual discussions of the weather, particularly with strangers. It also provides the keys to open, maintain, verify or close the communication channel: “Hello?”, “Ok?”, “Hummm”, “Bye”…

The Metalingual (alternatively called “metalinguistic” or “reflexive”) Function 
is the use of language (what Jakobson calls “Code”) to discuss or describe itself. (All this article is an example of metalinguistic Function).

Chomsky and Foucault, 1971

Two kinds of thinkers here. With all due respect for Foucault’s brilliant insights over the course of his career, I can’t help but perceive a cynicism in him that really comes out here in contrast to Chomsky. His disinterest in envisioning the proper future society and his insistence on throwing out all current ideals in the name of a proletarian revolution (a class he doesn’t belong to) just don’t ring true to me the way Chomsky’s argument that we should “make the system more just, not do away with justice.” It reminds me of the self-aggrandizing tendencies of Zizek, whose recalcitrant, dogmatic calls for overturning the current order are completely out of sync with his own lifestyle and also seem unrealizable. Chomsky’s attempts to formulate clear, concrete measures to change society seem like an earnest attempt to address the problems they are debating. Maybe it’s an oversimplification, but isn’t this ‘throwing out the baby with the bathwater’ the fundamental problem with much of deconstruction?

Freud’s “The Interpretation of Dreams” and a Few Words on the Id, Ego and Superego

Courtesy of The Writer’s Almanac:


Sigmund Freud’s book The Interpretation of Dreams was first published on this date in 1899. Freud, a neurologist by training, had noticed in treating his patients that they often ended up talking about their dreams during their sessions with him. He came up with the theory of the unconscious mind, and believed that dreams can reveal important things about the mental state and motivations of an individual. We’re all familiar with that concept now, but it was a revolutionary leap in Freud’s time; most people thought dreams were just nonsense. After analyzing his own dreams, and the dreams of his patients, he came to believe that they represented a way for the unconscious to work out conflicts.

In Freud’s theory, the personality is composed of three elements — the id, the superego, and the ego — that work together to shape our behavior. The id is Continue reading

Louis Althusser and Ideology


Althusser’s Two Key Insights in brief

1) His definition of ideology granted ideology a positive (and not merely a reflective or expressive) role. Ideology was itself a structural determinant in the mode of production. Following from the positive role attributed to ideology, the subject was regarded as a political and ideological effect and its agency diminished.

2) His description of the systematic mechanisms through which dominant ideology both reproduces itself and determines individual subjectivity, which consist of RSAs–Repressive State Apparatuses–(penal system, police, military) and ISAs–Ideological State Apparatuses–(educational curriculum, the media, etc.).

Hegel, Marx, Lukacs and Lacan: Althusser’s Influences

Althusser’s work is a reaction to Marxist economism and Hegelian humanist historicism. Hegel regarded history as the progressive understanding and development of the human spirit or Geist. Continue reading

Steven Greenblatt’s “Self-fashioning”

Self-fashioning is a term coined by the literary scholar Stephen Greenblatt (1980) to describe how middle-class individuals in Renaissance England constructed and presented their selfhood through the manipulation of social standards, norms, and products. His analysis is based on the premise that “there is in the early modern period a change in the intellectual, social, psychological, and aesthetic structures that govern the generation of identities” (1980:1). According to Greenblatt, this change, in turn, produced “an increased self-consciousness about the fashioning of human identity as a manipulable, artful process” (1980:2). In his study of Renaissance self-fashioning, Greenblatt employs a methodology that includes both literary works and the ‘real’ lives of selected Renaissance cultural and political figures, arguing that 

social actions are themselves always embedded in systems of public signification, always grasped, even by their makers, in acts of interpretation, while the words that constitute the works of literature that we discuss here are by their very nature the manifest assurance of a similar embededness. (1980:5)

Postcolonialism in ‘Heart of Darkness’, ‘Apocalypse Now’ and ‘Трудно быть богом’

Great article (unfortunately in Russian only):

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On the nature of postcolonial texts: 

Постколониальный взгляд — не тот, что смотрит исключительно на зло, которое его народу причиняют или причинили иноземные захватчики, но тот, что пытается понять всю сложность и двусмысленность положения, в котором пребывает объект колонизации, включенный так или иначе в культуру колонизаторов.

Постколониальный сюжет в России — это история про человека, который понял, что он сам себе объект и субъект. От майора Ковалева ушел внезапно сепаратистский нос. Хорошего человека Голядкина подсидел негодяйский человек — Голядкин. В некотором приближении постколониальным можно считать сюжет «Зависти» Олеши, но там лишний интеллигент Кавалеров уступает торжествующему советскому человеку Бабичеву власть физическую, а власть называния, обозначения остается у него в полной мере.

On Russia’s ‘internal colonization’ (per Aleksandr Etkind): 

Continue reading

Lisa Duggan – The Twilight of Equality: Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics and the Attack on Democracy


Duggan’s characterization of the limits of American political discourse today: “The newly more visible conflicts among elites is accompanied by an overlapping conflict over cultural politics. On one side is the residual strategy of cultural traditionalism deployed during the late 20th century ‘culture wars’ — energetic attacks against “multiculturalism” and “permissiveness” intended to shrink the funding bases as well as popular support for sites of non market politics—the arts, education and social services. On the other side is a newly emergent ‘equality’ politics that supports ‘diversity’ and ‘tolerance’ but defines these in the narrowest terms, and entirely within the framework of globalist neoliberalism.”

How much of the left has been co-opted by neoliberalism and shifted rightward:  “During the 1990s, neoliberal politics and policies enjoyed years of breathtaking global dominance, seeming invincibility Continue reading