Monday, March 24, 2014

ERROR #43 Tyler Bennett: Art is always subversive – aesthetics and politics in early and late Lotman

TYLER BENNETT, a doctoral student of Semiotics at Tartu university, is talking about aesthetics and poilitcs in early and late Lotman

24.03.2014 Von Krahl Academy

Listen to the audio recording here.

Foto Kristin Orav

The study of rhetoric is the study of figure of speech and figures of expression known also as tropes. The study of rhetoric has more purposes than simply understanding or producing art. Rhetoric characterizes all forms of communication. When you understand the rhetoric nature of an artistic text you can recognize the rhetorical uses and abuses that take place in a political or historical discourse. In the times of crisis and times of transition, during a historical change, there is a tendency that those who are in control of political change tend to intensify rhetorics, not only artistic way of expressing new meaning, but also to deceive and conceal the truth on the ground within these rhetorical forms.

There are two uses of rhetoric:

1) subversive use of rhetorics that is associated with art. Subversion has to do with undermining dominant conceptual discourses. To subvert is to challange and question its legitimacy and create new subdiscourses which are closer to the reality.

2) abusive use of rhetorics that is associated with advertisment, politics. Rhetorics is used here to reinforce discourses.

Early period of Lotman is related with (structual analysis of) art. His later period makes the connection with art and politics. The power of art is revealed in its expressive power that is impossible to be encapsulated in any other form or in a non-artistic text. In his "Culture and Explosion" (1992) Lotman argues that it´s exactly the artistic expression that catalyzes historical change. Predictable future is ruptured by the unusual kind of meaning(s) for which many possible futures open up. Eventually, one future is selected and is followed by the irreversible historical change.

Meaning is related with its reference. The more concrete is the relation between a word and its object the greater is the meaning. The meaning of a metaphor can´t be predicted. Meaning as human experience leads to unpredictability, that is, the experinece of meaning is different to each person who encounters it.

Literal meanings can be rather tricky by being potentially more complex than you´d expect at the first glance. For this reason, literal meanings can be used as a deceptive tool in advertisment and/or politics.

What is essential to tropes is that we always encounter a contradiction. There are always two elements in each trope. For Lotman, a metaphor is in some sense present in all semiotic systems. 
Metaphorical comparison present two incompatible chain structures. You take the most significant elements that are essential to the identity of both elements and by comparing their relation to each other open the chain structures in a metaphor. Every person selects different elements. 

How does this mapping take place?

The choice of elements is more complex in terms of visual tropes as they are more open. On this image (Figure 1) we can detect a foot and a high heel in the center of the picture. On the up right corner there is a headline referring to the record rize of carbon dioxide. How are these two texts related? We might ask what does fashion have in common with carbon dioxide (climate change)? Out of number of elements that might be associated with these fields under investigation is that both are triggered by wealth.

Figure 1. Image from Kalle Lasn´s "Meme Wars" (2012)

An example of abusive rhetorics can be brough by institutions that are using rhetorics as a device against its own members/people. For instance, let´s take a look at the video "I am Ukrainian" (Figure 2) by Graham Mitchell which earned a lot of attention worldwide. What are its features/elements? Dramatic music. Clips of violent and intense actions on the Main Square in Kiev. Desire to be free of the control of the politics who care only about themselves. Who is the sender? Who is the intended audience?

Figure 2. Yulia Marushevska in "I am Ukrainian" by Graham Mitchell

Video available here.

The sender, when traced back, leads us to the U.S. State Department. This is emotional manipulation and propaganada straight from the West. The target audience was not the East. The intended audience must have been Western Europe and Americans. Question remains, why is American government concerned to picture this as Ukrainian uprising? Why do they invent this narrative to deceive their own people (also others)?
In the end, abusive rhetorics needs to stop. In times of crisis, rhetorics intensifies and becomes stronger. Let´s take a semiotic standpoint (lesson) and distance ourselves from the combined effect of a trope and analyse its elements separately, uncover its chain structures.


Is it possible to create effective propaganda by using less abusive or non-abusive rhetorics?
Graffity as counter reaction and as propaganda?

1 comment:

  1. Please refer to the correct author of the "I am Ukrainian" video,
    Graham Mitchell, who has also been working here in Estonia as a photographer. What does "tracing back" exactly mean? This video is mostly attacked by either Russian media or by "" style of institutions.

    From Graham Mitchells facebook page:
    "Perhaps some of you have already seen this video? I think it is safe now to reveal that I filmed it with my friend Julia one cold night (-15C) in Grushevskogo Street, after the dictatorship laws had been passed. The future of Ukraine looked very gloomy at that stage, police had started to kill protesters right behind us, and we wanted to get a message out to the world, in English, before all communication with the outside world was lost. Fortunately, things are looking much brighter today, but there is still much work to be done to fix this country.

    We didn't expect 7 million views either. The internet is an amazing tool for spreading a message!"